I enjoy fusion in every aspect of my life. I love it in my fashion, decor, music and especially cuisine. I even love it in my dance (I teach a Bellydance Fusion class at Life in Synergy after all). So when I heard about an Indian Chinese restaurant taking over the spot once occupied by hotel The Jewel of Newbury at 254 Newbury Street I decided to see if this was a fusion made in foodie heaven.
Two strong cuisines such as Indian and Chinese stand on their own known for very specific and strong flavors, spices and cooking techniques. Mumbai Chopstix attempts to bring to Boston something I have to admit I’d never heard of; Indian Chinese food.
Green Line: Copley
617-927-4444 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 617-927-4444 end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Indian Chinese cuisine mixes Chinese spices and cooking techniques with Indian flavors. It is said to have originated in India, being developed by a small Chinese community there.
In an attempt to make the restaurant entice Newbury Street foot traffic, the hostesses are almost entirely of Eastern Asian descent and sport brightly colored, traditional Indian saris. This kitschy representation focused a bit too literally on the idea of fusing two cultures together. On a visit to Banq a few years back there was not an Asian man wearing a beret, yet one member of our party still walked out of (and into) the restaurant knowing that what they experienced was an original restructuring of two completely different cuisines. I, having never been to Banq, can’t back up this statement.
The wine list is an unexciting afterthought. Consisting of less than a dozen choices total, the diner is only given the option to enjoy old standbys, such as Mark West Pinot Noir. Mumbai Chopstix only offers a handful of choices all of which are easily found inside any suburban liquor store. At the bar on the lower level just inside the outdoor patio area below street level, there are a few tables set up and a casual, lounge feel. The bartender was attentive and fairly knowledgeable at wine recommendations.
When we requested a cocktail during our dinner, the specialty drink, which came recommended by our server, was an ultra-sweet combination of Sake, Chardonnay, and Rambutan Juice. Rambutan: a tropical fruit that’s similar to a lychee. Lychee: a fruit that is similar to a grape, only less juicy or “moist” (Wikipedia’s word not mine). There was no depth to it. The bartender, seemingly, created the drink in five minutes while scrambling before the shift. This unnamed concoction would have been palatable with any sparkling wine, but without the carbonation, or any other element, to cut through the sweetness of the rambutan juice, the swallowed drink sat on the tongue like slightly exotic grenadine. When we asked what type of sake had been used in our drinks the waitress said Nigori, and yet Nigori was not listed on the sake menu. I found it a little too confusing for a Sunday night.
An appetizer of Sweet Corn Soup with Crabmeat was simple and tasty. With a base flavor of a slightly salty broth thickened by corn starch the soup did not try to do too much and succeeded. The corn and roughly-chopped ginger worked well together, with carrots and peas floating in the mix. Chili Paneer was a sizable and incredibly spicy starter with thick strips of paneer cheese. I’m accustomed to cube-sized paneer in my go-to dish of spinach and paneer so this took some getting used to. Sauteed with fresh chilies, green and red peppers, as well as onions in a “light soya sauce” it felt heavy for a first course. The heat overpowered the flavor of the cheese, but I still couldn’t stop heating (I’m a spice masochist).
Service was pleasant, friendly, and not programmed. The young woman was friendly, but overly busy managing the entire front room of the upstairs portion of the restaurant. After clearing our appetizers she placed them on a tray stand five feet from the table on top of other discarded, used plates. They sat there, in all their unappetizing glory, until after our meal was served. When asked about a specific dish she timidly stated that it was "great" without elaborating at all.
The Hakka Chili Chicken entree I decided to order is described on the menu as an “Indo Chinese Classic.” You can choose to have it served dry or with light gravy. I opted for light gravy which ended up being an almost identical sauce to my Chili Paneer appetizer, and with the same veggies too. The boneless chicken had a heavy breading/flour/starch bath and was slightly better in flavor and texture than standard sesame chicken, your run of the mill Chinese restaurant staple.
A Chinese takeout menu staple, the Sweet and Sour Pork was chosen with intentions to compare the dish to its boxed, dinner-special-which-comes-
with-an-eggroll cousin. Vastly superior to what one would usually order at 2:30 a.m. and consumed in conjunction with a Keystone Light, the dish was covered in a pleasantly sweet sauce with a ketchup and soy base. Fresh bell peppers and pineapple chunks were tossed into the dish and well prepared. The subtle flavor of the pork was balanced well with mild, earthy Indian spices that added depth to the dish missing from the much-too-hot Paneer appetizer.
A side of Chopstix’ Vegetable Hakka Noodles, a Szechwan style spicy blend of lo mein and vegetables including baby corn, and mushrooms with roasted garlic, underwhelmed. Not only was it not spicy in any manner, but the flavor lacked depth. I was thrilled we ordered it however because I used it in between bites of my entree to calm the fire in my mouth from the fresh chilies.
Dessert was pleasantly refreshing and delicious in its simplicity. Rambutans with ice cream featured approximately eight of the round silver-dollar sized, half-inch thick fruit paired next to a scoop of strawberry ice cream. The presentation was non-existent with the little suckers sliding all over the place, but their palate-cleansing clean flavor and texture was a really nice way to end the meal. The standout of the whole evening was most definitely that strawberry ice cream. Talk about the perfect texture, the perfect amount of cream, and huge, full-strawberry sized pieces of the frozen fruit. It honestly tasted completely fresh and homemade. Another dessert of Apple Toffee with ice cream served with the same strawberry flavor was also very good. In retrospect I wish I’d snagged more of Andrew’s dessert rather than just the half apple sliced I forked. It was not overly sticky and had a nice toasted undertone that paired well with the ice cream.
The restaurant is operated by One World Cuisine a Boston group of restaurants, nightclubs and stores. Their very successful hot spots include the Indian restaurant Kashmir, Mela in the South End and Mantra Restaurant & Lounge in Downtown Boston. Corporate Chef Ranveer Brar is a warm and welcoming front of house presence divulging is hobby of art and paint (he even painted the murals in the restaurant). The decor in the restaurant includes a blend of contemporary lighting fixtures, and colorful wall art blending textures, tones and Indian, Chinese and contemporary basics.
You will enjoy Mumbai Chopstix, just as long as you are not expecting another overdone Newbury Street restaurant. On the surface the restaurant’s location and facade of mind-altering fusion, seems like it should be a level above what it is. However, upon entrance the reality is that you are about to experience a solid meal, with decent service, in a pleasant and attractive atmosphere.
Andrew Castronovo contributed to this report.