The Lalit Ashok, known as ‘The Grand Ashok’ back in those days, has always held a special place in my heart. When I was little, I remember attending many a cocktail dinner there, as part of Daddy’s office parties…family dinners in the evening, post their conferences during the day. I would get to meet Daddy’s colleagues children, and most of us being of the same age, we used to have great fun sneaking around the hotel. I remember once, a bunch of us kids quietly sneaked out of the banquet hall where Daddy’s office party was on, marched straight to the elevator. The elevator doors opened, and a suit-clad man marched out. We deftly got in and pressed the button with the number of the last floor on it. And where did we land? The top most floor of course. And it was some kind of pub/dance-floor, and as soon as we stepped out of the elevator, the elevator doors started closing. We shrieked, and started running back, cos we knew we weren’t supposed to be there, and if anyone caught us, all hell would break loose. If no one had noticed a bunch of kids coming in from the elevator till then, they definitely did when we shrieked!! And they were as shocked seeing a bunch of kids in there, as much as we were, for being discovered. The disco lights winking at us from all directions made it difficult to see anything clearly, but if you had managed to see our small faces then, it was a sight to see! We made a run for the lift and came down to the banquet hall and quietly slunk away into a corner, pretending to be playing by ourselves over there all the while. Who got naughty while the elders were busy partying? Not us, definitely not! 😉
The biggest attraction about going to the Grand Ashok for us kids then (apart from sneaking around) used to be a classic Grand Piano in the lobby area of the Hotel, and the frail old man who would always be seen playing the piano in the evenings. We kids would love to sit around him and watch him play with this nimble fingers. And right next to the piano, was a pastry shop where we would all stand and drool with wide open mouths. Good music and desserts…the best combo ever. Alas, both the piano and the pastry shop are no longer there in the hotel lobby now!
This November, thanks to fellow bloggers Deeba and Suma, and Tinky, PR executive from Perfect Relations Digital PR, I was going back to the Lalit Ashok after nearly two decades, for a taste-testing event and a Bangalore foodie blogger meet, as part of the second anniversary celebrations of the OKO, Lalit Ashok’s rooftop Pan Asian restaurant serving authentic Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese and Malaysian cuisines with live sushi, teppanyaki & oriental grill counters spread over starlit al-fresco & eclectic indoors. The place has changed so much, and the pub I sneakily saw back in the 80’s is now OKO; this time though, I didn’t have to sprint back into the elevator! What a transformation, from blinking disco lights to serene, sophisticatedly contemporary interiors, bathed in neon-blue lights, magical to boot! When you step out of the elevator, you are greeted by a reception desk to one side, and a beautiful, calmly standing figurine of Buddha on the other…a kind of Buddha I’d never seen before, but equally captivating nonetheless.
Once you step inside the doorway, beyond the Buddha, another Buddha, this time, in his classic pose, flanked by a couple of tall, fancy candle-stands, greets you into the restaurant and bar area, beyond which is the open-top bar and lounge, all of which beckon you with wide open arms. The soft neon-blue lights and the occasional aromatic candle, the fresh fragrance of flowers, all of it make you take in the plush interiors even more. Here’s how the place looks when you step in (to the left)…mesmerizing, isn’t it?
The perfect ambience to sit back and relax while you sip on the signature Lalit Cocktail – a peach iced tea with more than a hint of vodka and hiding some other mysteries which we were unable to fathom, though I’d certainly love to know. The making of the Lalit Cocktail was the highlight of the day. Unfortunately, couldn’t get a picture of it to share with you all. Next time perhaps. For now, let me walk you through the rest of the restaurant and tempt you with names of the dishes we ate at dinner that night.
Here’s the breathtakingly captivating lounge from where you get to see the winking lights of the Bangalore traffic from the roads below, and in the background, the skyline of the distant central business district, with the jolly looking, brightly lit UB City tower blinking in the near distance. It transforms you to another world altogether. I particularly loved the softly lit tables which added to the pristine white, yet warm and cozy ambience of the lounge area. The couches were waiting to be sunken into, and we, the bunch of B’lore food bloggers who made it to the OKO that night, did just that as we waited for the evening to unfold itself. The anniversary celebrations also included the Lalit Suri Golf Tournament earlier that day, and the who’s who of the Blore Golfing scene were expected shortly for the award ceremony, along with other special guests for the evening.
After the introductions and hi’s between us food bloggers, we ordered our drinks. I ordered the proverbial goblet of red wine while the others ordered drinks of their choice, and we were then ushered into the indoor seating area where we settled in and began our chitty-chat.
Here’s the bar in the lounge area –
I’d met bloggers Suma, Shubhada and Geetha earlier, however, was meeting Ramya for the first time. The others hadn’t met each other prior to this, but in just a few minutes, we were all comfortably chatting away, nineteen to the dozen, like good ol’ friends meeting after a long time, and you can bet your bottom rupee that the chitty-chat hovered around food, drink, baking, kitchens, clothes, shoes, and all things girly! Nobody seemed to be missing the men of course; did I really need to ‘men‘tion that now?!! 😉
That’s us ladies, taking a quick moment away from the chatter, food and drink, for a sweet picture. Don’t we all look so happy? I needn’t say more…cos this picture is definitely worth a thousand words!
(This was where we were seated. To be precise, we were at the table to the right).
Now that we were settled in, and the wine was slowly starting to settle in too (hic!), along came the starters. Before we settled into the comfortable couches though, we made sure we requested Tinky and the Chef to make sure that only vegetarian fare from the fixed menu reached our table, to which they readily obliged. The waiters started us off with 3 varieties of ‘Sushi’ – with asparagus, cucumber and pickled radish. That was the first time I was tasting Sushi, and I loved the experience of eating my sushi with horse-radish, soy sauce, and pickled japanese ginger. I relished all 3 varieties of the sushi, particularly the one with the tender asparagus, and I would love to go back to OKO for some more.
Next came the ‘Tofu with Vietnamese Spices’ (tofu marinated in fresh garlic, coriander and lemongrass, and I’m supposing, loads of red pepper powder too) on long skewers, and was it hot or what? It sure set my tongue on fire, but I loved it the way it was. The tofu was as soft as can be, resulting in a melt-in-the-mouth starter I just couldn’t get enough of! Am I going back for some more of this? Certainly!
After the spicy tofu on sticks, came the ‘Char grilled Okra in Teriyaki sauce’ and this one had everyone going ga-ga over it. The soy flavour complimented the char grilled okra, and when you bit into the juicy okra, it hit all the right notes. Never eaten anything quite like it, and I loved this one too.
The next starter though, was a little bit of a let-down. The ‘Assorted Mushrooms with Malaysian Spices’ (Garlic, Chilli and Shallot marinated mushrooms), though they looked really good, somehow didn’t seem very appealing taste-wise, and when I first bit into it, I thought it had chicken mixed with it. After that thought, though I love mushrooms and though we re-affirmed from the near-by waiter that it had no chicken in it, I didn’t really relish it, and the mushrooms in Malaysian spices didn’t sell very well at our table. Tough luck mushrooms! You could do better next time.
We did very well with the starters for quite some time, and we doubted if we could hardly take in the main course. Of course, the sushi, tofu and okra starters had us blown off our feet, we had devoured more of it than we actually should have! The Lalit Cocktail gave us good company too. I don’t know what gave me the courage to mix my couple goblets of wine and a couple goblets of the vodka-based Lalit Cocktail that night. I don’t usually mix my drinks, but luckily, no regrets! Hic! 😉
Before we even knew it, time was flying and the night was upon us; we requested for dinner to be served. The restaurant space was brimming with people already, so the waiters said we would be served our dinner right where we had our drinks. That was a little bit of a let-down again, b’cos we were the only people dining near the bar area, and it felt odd. Nonetheless, we readied ourselves for the main course. We were served some very delicious Tom Kha Phak soup (Thai style soup with coconut milk and flavoured with kafir lime leaves). The coconut flavour in the soup was distinct, yet very delicate, and I relished the soup to the last spoonful. The tender flavour from the kafir lime leaves was wonderful too. The next time I go to OKO, I must remember to ask the Chef where he gets his Kafir lime leaves from.
Now comes the main course – sadly, a big disappointment after all those terrific starters I must say. A disappointment definitely not in terms of taste, but in terms of the variety. Though the items on the menu card had some promising stuff, we were just served Vegetable fried rice (Nasi Goreng) and Wok-tossed noodles with vegetables with Yasai Salad (Iceberg lettuce with tempura crunch and miso mayonnaise dressing). The salad was definitely new, and refreshing. However, the fried rice and noodles were very passe` compared to the rest of the fare we had been served that night. And when I asked a waiter if there was no vegetable to go with the rice and noodles, he defiantly shook his head, and brought us more Yasai Salad instead. The Menu though, said there was ‘Assorted Vegetables with Thai Green Curry’. There was no sign of the ‘Japanese Sticky Rice’, ‘Pokchoy with Leeks’, and ‘Yasai Teppenyaki’ either. I wonder where all of it disappeared to!! With the main course having nothing much to offer, I took very small servings of the fried rice, noodles and yasai salad, and voted we move onto dessert. Knowing me and my sweet-tooth cravings, I hoped that dessert would be the icing on the cake (pun intended).
We were brought a huge platter replete with a couple varieties of pastries, some cheesecake, a selection of exotic fresh fruits, sweet azuki bean jelly, and five spice chocolate pudding. There were a couple more items on the dessert platter we couldn’t fathom, and I wish someone from the restaurant had come and told us what was what. It certainly would have helped to know. The menu mentioned something called ‘Tub Tim Grob’ (Thai coconut cream with water chestnut) and also tender coconut ice-cream, and it did seem promising, but I’m not sure if we were served any of it cos I really couldn’t tell. Whatever we dug into from the dessert platter though, was uber piquant, and it was hard to stop ourselves from getting into a fork-fight!
The overall experience was wonderful and par excellence. Will I go back to the OKO? Certainly yes! I would love for the hubby to experience all of this as well, and we’ll surely reserve a visit to the OKO for a special evening together.
However, before I sign off this post, I wish to give some constructive feedback to the people at OKO – I found the waiters very languid and not at all alert. They kept us waiting for even the smallest of things like cutlery, tissues, and such things are not very becoming of a kingly place like the Lalit Ashok. And once the table was cleared of the main course and we were presented with the dessert platters, it took another 3-5 minutes for the dessert forks to arrive, and only after we had asked for it. It was torture, having dessert laid out in front of us, and not being able to dig into it, but that’s another thing altogether. What’s important is to make sure the diners don’t have to ask for such basic things, and then don’t have to wait too long after. Another thing I noted was that the waiters weren’t really prepared to handle our questions about the food. I understand it was a full-house that the OKO was dealing with that night, however, with such a big event in its lap, I wish OKO had had their staff better prepared/trained to handle the large crowd that they knew was coming. Another grouch was that not all the items on the fixed menu were served to us, and to be very honest, it was a tad too letting down that the main course had nothing much to offer to us vegetarians. Hey, vegetarian food tastes great too, you know! I hope this feedback is taken in the right spirit by the OKO team and is used to better the dining experience for their customers. Otherwise, we had a terrific time that evening!
- Overall experience: 4/5
- Food: 4/5
- Ambience: 5/5
- Music: 3/5 (I wish they’d played some nice music from the Far-East to go with the restaurant theme, instead of some dance and hip-hop numbers which we get played on the local radio anyway)
- Service: 2.5/5
- Personal favourites: The Sushi, Tofu in Vietnamese spices, Char-grilled Okra in Teriyaki Sauce, Sweet azuki bean jelly, Cheesecake.
Thank you Lalit Ashok OKO team, for having us over. We had a whale of a time, and now, such wonderful memories to cherish!! A Foodie ladies’ night out on a Saturday couldn’t get any better than this, and this would not have been possible if not for Tinky, our perfect hostess. Thank you Tinky, for setting this meeting up, and making sure we were given royal treatment befitting Queens that night! Look forward to more such meets, gourmet food and drink 🙂 Cheers!!