In response to the order placed, a regular Chinese takeaway box is handed over the counter. This has ramen noodles tossed with a variety of greens and chicken, then swathed in the sweet-and-tangy khow suey sauce and topped with crushed peanuts. The presentation may be that of a Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) but the food is healthy and “a medium-sized box” at Wok Express comes at a mere Rs 210.
Within a few weeks of its launch in May, says Aayush Agrawal, owner of the Bandra-based eatery, Wok Express has amassed a regular clientele for take-away and deliveries while also attracting a decent number of diners to its 60-seater property in Pali Naka. “We will soon open in Lower Parel, and expand further in few months,” he adds.
Their success, however, is representative of the rise in popularity of the ‘wok’ concept in the city. Bandra alone has a number of brands, with Five Fat Monks opposite National College, Wok in the Box at Carter Road and the newly-launched Wok This Way at Reclamation. While Wok This Way first set up shop in Versova, they are looking to head to Lower Parel, which is already home to The Wok House.
The USP of the concept, say restaurateurs, is customisation. “Your journey begins with picking a base (between rice and variety of noodles), followed by choosing your sauce from the many on offer, moving on to selecting the meats and/ or vegetables and finishing up with the condiments of preference. Each base, paired with a different sauce and vegetables/ meat would deliver a different experience, thus offering a variety larger than any regular menu,” explains Agrawal.
The concept chiefly caters to people on the move, such as young professionals, thus the focus by these eateries on areas such as Bandra and Lower Parel. Yash Balwani’s Wok 123 in Phoenix Market City mall, Kurla, similarly, caters to shoppers who want to enjoy a non-messy and quick but wholesome meal.
One may not be off the mark to claim that woks are perhaps a modern, more authentic take on Chinese food van concept that dominated the city’s street foodscape. Chirag Arya of Wok in the Box accepts that it’s a scaled-up version of the vans. “Earlier, All Stir Fry in Colaba was the only popular restaurant offering woks, but it wasn’t accessible to a wider audience,” says Arya, the co-founder of Wok in the Box that has an outlet in Lokhandwala, BKC and R City Mall.
For the formula to work, however, quality will be of essence, coupled with the right pricing to bring in the numbers. As Agrawal says, “We wish to provide a gourmet experience at affordable, QSR prices. And woks can help us walk that fine line.”