Some places don’t speak to you so much as a bawl, instead they make their case just by being there, existing in their simplicity and effortlessness. Tao is one such eatery. For a layman, it may be yet another Chinese restaurant that has opened its doors amidst a gazillion ‘next-door’ joints but there is a lot that separates Tao from its contemporaries. For starters, it doesn’t serve Chinese cuisine. Or let’s rephrase that and say it doesn’t ‘just’ serve Chinese cuisine. Tao is a Pan-Asian restaurant dealing with the tough task of combining a variety of dishes from Japan, Thailand and China under one roof; a relatively new concept. In pop-culture terminology, it’s a fusion diner – a fusion of all things Asia – and it pretty much nails it by keeping it safe on innovation but playful in taste.
Second, Tao is anything but your typical Chinese affair. Like the word itself, which means ‘the path or flow that underlies everything in the universe making it exist in harmony’, everything at the restaurant fits its brand identity like a glove unlike other Asian eateries where red Chinese paper lanterns, pristine white-clothed tables and dodgy art are a sorry excuse for decoration. From the contemporary décor with plush velvet sofa chairs and a soothing water fountain right at the entrance to the artistic wooden dividers and a live sushi bar, Tao boasts of a zen-like calmness that one will perhaps either experience in a sanctuary or simply in food.
Talking about food, Tao’s menu may not appear exceptional compared to what’s already available in the market but what it loses out on innovation it makes up for in taste. Since our visit spanned over two separate days, we got the opportunity to flex our taste buds a bit more extensively. For starters, Dynamite Prawns remained a popular choice on both days for the mildly spiced tangy sauce covering a glass full perfectly-cooked prawns just made one feel better about life, making earth rest easy on its axis. The Boneless Nana wings were a blessing for those who love the fiery flavor of wings but struggle with the complication of eating them delicately. Finally Beef Negimaki was a gastronomic treat with its succulent undercut beef strips and flavoursome teriyaki sauce.
On to the main course and there is no way one would skip the sushi especially when it comes at only PKR 800 a roll! Ok, so despite the fact that Tao’s sushi chef comes with over 15 years of experience from Sakura, the Tempura Maki was still comparatively dry but definitely a good catch. The Crispy California, on the other hand, was a winner! The Crispy Fish in Tamarind Sauce stayed true to its name with the golden crusted fish offering a flavourful crunch as one bit into it to find the soft meat beneath through the drizzle of the tingling tamarind sauce. Our other ocean treat, served this time with a lemon sauce, was slightly disappointing as the lemon sauce was too oily in its consistency, dampening the crisp texture of the fish.
The tender boneless pieces of chicken of Pit Pat Kai sitting underneath a decent depth of sweet chili flavour and the darkened, glazed Crispy Beef with fiery spices were like having a party in your mouth. The richness and bittersweet taste of Chicken Teriyaki was balanced well with an order of the slightly sweetened and sticky Pad Thai noodles. The Lobster remained the king, the crowning glory of the fantastical two-day meal. The small but vastly flavoured pieces of fresh lobster, spiced with hints of garlic, chili and fresh herbs held its own. Apart from the dishes on offer, a well thought-out mocktail menu was another treat for customers looking for a complete dining out experience.
Conclusively, Tao can be pricey for the quantity it offers and it still hasn’t managed to find a consistency in day-to-day quality but that said, it has made a promising debut. The owners, who are often present to address your queries and take feedback, exude a sense of commitment and willingness to make it a place worth your time and they will hopefully overcome their teething problems soon.