They say a cat has nine lives. We don’t know about cats, but Delhi’s Basant Lok sure seems to be rising again after years of neglect from its former patrons, the posh residents of the nearby Vasant Vihar, after an ambitious redevelopment project undertaken recently. The coming up of Kiko-Ba, helmed by Chef Vaibhav Bhargave, and among the latest names in pan-Asian cuisine in the capital, attests nicely to that fact.
And we usually are where the action is. I scamper up the flight of steps, past Dadel—the concept cocktail bar that is, in a sense, Kiko-Ba’s sibling, and looks slightly more settled in the surrounds—and dash into the sunshine-fed porch. As I step inside, everything changes: perhaps ‘tis this that what these guys are calling Scandinese. Easy light wraps the soft edges of the wooden seats and those cool-looking corners for the couples seem neat. But more on that later.
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It is interesting to note that the offerings at Kiko-Ba embody an aesthetic inspired by the tanuki dogs of Japan, which, according to a local belief, are mischievous animals with shape shifting powers. That psychological image fills us up with intrigue for the next hour and a half, where we are expecting to dig into a composite culinary legacy alchemised out of flavour from Yunnan, Shibuya, Canton, and Sichuan.
Every restaurant has a reigning flavour, almost an emotion that is part of its personality. At Kiko-ba, that role is given to its signature Shiso butter, whose crafting takes a half of a working week. Shiso leaves, ponzo, French butter and rice vinegar come together to form this artisanal ingredient that is part of the Shiso Butter Lobster that we're currently having.
The server obliges us when we ask where we should begin. It was the Robata grill that welcomed us when we entered and it must be the Robata Grill now. The Shiso Butter Lobster is a phenomenal mess, a torrid love affair between scrumptious textures and flavours.
On second thoughts, I'd better give edamame its due presence in my review lest it jump up from the menu and scratch my face in indignation. Steamed, spicy, truffle, nanami togarashi—edamame has its own tiny clique in the array of offerings.
Next up are the chicken and water chestnut dim sums. The whole package is so effervescent and the chicken inside those dumplings is just delicious. We occasionally bite into one and then take a spoonful of the XO Chicken Fried Rice. The XO is the name of the sauce here. Often described as a flavour-bomb, it comes straight from Hong Kong and delivers the desired punch of spice and umami quite effortlessly.
We also ask for Baby Chicken and the most fun part of this dish is the exterior. It's a charcoal toast which crisps and smokes the exterior just right, and mingling with the sauce, it's just the right companion for the rest of the gamut on our table. This includes the Jumbo Grilled Prawns, whose indulgent succulence makes it so easy to order them with every round.
If, like me, you get sold with just good ambience, Kiko-Ba will get you good, especially if they bring in their exotic Scotch-based Ba-Me cocktail early on. The seating and the interiors—an interesting combo of wooden textures and darkly warm shades, stuff feels impressive but not regally intimidating. South Delhi fine-dine done well, one must say.
Dessert presents us with the chance to sample Custard Bao and Yuzu Tart, in a refreshing departure from the rest of our season. The former is a Sichuan special, and the buns are delightful enough to just eat on their own. Luckily I save some for the custard as well. The Yuzu Tart, with a cameo by the citric kick, is a great choice to add some complexity to this section. Great finale.
Where: 62 Basant Lok, Vasant Vihar, Delhi
Price for two: Rs 2,500+ taxes (without alcohol)