Facing East – Facing Flak Without Improvement

Vinita Bhatia advises liberal doses of caution if visiting Facing East and suggests staying away till they get their act together.

Chinese is one cuisine that we Indians can call our own. Why? Because we have managed to warp the entire cuisine in entirety to suit our palate, and still call it Chinese. No harm in that, except that when you plan to eat Chinese, you already have some notions of the spicy and tasty food coming your way – irrespective of whether you are having it at your neighborhood hole-in-the-wall joint or a fancy-schmancy fine diner. What to do, we Indians are like that only!

So when I learnt a new Chinese restaurant had opened at Juhu, I asked around for some feedback. Of the few folks who had gone there, none had any great review to give about the food served at Facing East. Well, I thought, one can cut it some slack – after all, it’s a new joint and maybe they have improved since. Goes to show that there is some truth in the saying, “Only fools rush in where angels dread to tread.”

So, for starters, prepare to be confused when you enter Facing East. The doors are of the wooden swinging variety made popular by saloons in the Wild Wild West cowboy flicks. The al fresco area takes this feeling forward with the wooden slats on the ceiling-high windows, the dim lighting, wooden tables. In fact, the lighting is so dim that you have to strain your eyes to read the menu. Then you look around and see painting of geishas engaged in various activities, and you wonder exactly what is the cuisine served here – American, Chinese or Japanese, or an amalgamation of all?

When the waiter hands you the menu, this confusion further escalates. There are names thrown at you with a given that you would know it all! Bocai Noodles, for instance. The attentive server, though willing to oblige with the explanation, could only clear one stage – that it is medium-spicy gravy. Ah well, so much for help from those quarters!

We decided to order something out of the ordinary and ordered Lemongrass Wonton Soup (Rs 145). A clear soup with long stalks of lemongrass and small red chillies thrown in, the overpowering taste of lemongrass literally makes one’s tongue go numb after a while. As for the wontons, firstly given their size it was difficult to either break them into pieces with the soup spoon or gulp them. And where was the filling? Ah, there it was, right at the end sticking to the flour walls, fingernail-sized fillings. Miss that and all one tastes is steamed flour.

We decided to move on to appetisers and after plenty of deliberation, chose the Water Chestnut Corn Hong Kong style (Rs 205). Incidentally, for some reason, our waiter took great pains to keep reminding us that we were ordering vegetarian, almost as if our looks screamed out that we were dyed-in-the-wool carnivores who chomped on meat and bones all day long! This side dish came in a heaped plate in a medium spicy sauce and some fried cashewnuts. While the chestnuts were crunchy, the dish was strangely flavorless – a constant reminder all through our short meal.

In fact, this lack of flavor or any discerning taste was evident in all the subsequent dishes including the Red Snapper XO dry (Rs 375), which in addition to being tasteless, also reeked of fish that I felt was none too fresh. Even the XO sauce could not mask the fact that the fish was actually a bit off.

We had now relinquished all hopes for a nice dinner here, but bravely decided to tempt fate and ordered Spicy Lamb Basil Rice (Rs 255). This dish too was flavorless with no sign or taste of basil, and rubbery lamb to compound matters. Obviously the chef at Facing East believes in cooking all types of meat in the same fashion, be it fish, chicken or lamb, which accounted for none of them having retained their original taste and tasting quite like cardboard. The Straw Mushroom Chili Wine Chicken (Rs 275) was slightly better than the rest of the food we had eaten so far, but still nothing to write home about.

After a point, while eating at Facing East, you get inured to the tasteless food. But on the plus side, the quantities are huge and total value for money – if you are willing to accept the fact that paying for food that needs loads of seasoning. Since it has opened, Facing East has been getting loads of bad press, mainly because of the food (otherwise it is a nice joint to sit with some pals and talk away to glory, though they do not serve any liquor yet). And one would have expected that with that kind of flak flying in their face, the management would have got its kitchen and its act together. Sadly, some lessons aren’t learned well.

Ed: Cover photo not from this establishment.