After the storming success of Ken Lo’s Memories of China in Adliya, news that a more reasonably priced cafe-style version was to open in City Centre was greeted with some degree of scepticism in the Time Out offices. Ken Lo’s modern take on traditional Chinese cuisine works very well as a fine dining concept, but would the mall version devalue the hard won reputation of the brand?
Shopping malls are notoriously difficult environments for restaurants to get right. Ambience wise, it is like plonking a table in the middle of a football pitch and, mid-game, asking a group of diners to snack on view. Memories manages this by using length rather than width, and so long as you are not seated on the shopping concourse, the depth shields most diners from the din of the mall. In fact, Memories is one of the few restaurants to manage to retain some degree of ambience without completely blocking off its entrance, which is no mean feat for a designer.
My friend and I started with a mint and lime juice, which is about as far away from China as you can get, but which demonstrates the confidence with which the restaurant veers away from tradition without falling on its sword. One thing that defines Memories is the fact that is it much more pan-Asian than the Adliya establishment. We started with Vietnamese spring rolls and vegetable dumplings. The vegetable dumplings were really rather good, as you’d expect. Vietnamese spring rolls to me are fresh packages of soft vermicelli, rice, chilli, prawns and herbs. Indeed, it is the Thai basil and coriander that tend to etch out the flavour of the rolls. Our spring rolls were laden with carrot and very little else, and combined with the sweet chilli dip were altogether too sweet for my liking.
For mains we shared the braised tofu and the spicy hammour. The braised tofu, which came immersed in a spicy chilli and basil sauce is a Cantonese favourite, and was perfectly done. Though it’s wise to ask for it to be toned down if you don’t like it hot, as we managed to consume most of the egg fried rice in the course of the dish and still came away from it sweating.
The spicy hammour was a touch dry, but in keeping with the Chinese tradition of cooking everything until it is practically cremated. It came with a bright red garnish that seemed more colour than flavour, but which oddly worked quite well with the fish.
Mall restaurants tend to have a bad reputation when it comes to service, the waiting staff usually so rushed off their feet they don’t have time to offer the same level of service as other eateries. Not so with Memories, where the waiting staff match the level of those in the Adliya joint.
The most surprising facet of dining at Memories is the bill – for two courses, drinks and service, around BD20. Just a fraction of what you’d pay at Ken Lo’s. Memories is great value with a standard of food that, while varied, it’s certainly of a calibre that can beat most of Bahrain City Centre’s other food outlets.
The bill (for two) 2x mint and lime juice BD4.600 Vietnamese rolls BD2.500 Vegetable dumplings BD1.800 Spicy hammour BD4.200 Braised tofu BD2.700 Egg fried rice BD1.500 Bottle of water BD2.200 Total (incl service) BD21.450
Time Out Bahrain staffhttp://www.timeoutbahrain.com