The year is 1997; Delhi is riding high on the Chinjabi wave. Chinese food modified to suit the North Indian palate is a rage, dishes the Chinese have never even fathomed like Manchurian and Chilli Paneer take up space on the specials menu of most Chinese stand-alone restaurants mushrooming everywhere. Food trends come and go and unfortunately, this ketchup and vinegar-laced cuisine face a lot of backlash from the conscious eaters for the copious amounts of MSG in it.
A lethal chemical that bloats you, causes allergic reactions and can even lead to heart conditions became the villain and people with even a little exposure stopped patronizing these establishments.
By then, the flavor of this cuisine became a habit rather than a novelty and the only trustworthy restaurants that we knew for sure didn’t add ‘Ajino Moto’ were in 5-star hotels. As a result, we grew up on the Bubble Prawns at House of Ming, the Chilli Garlic Noodles at Teahouse of the August Moon and the Sesame Prawns at Larry’s China. Taipan or Crystal Jade were restaurants where we tried our first ‘dimsum’ and probably hated the steamed glutinous taste at first.
Over the time, with more travel & exposure, the palate wanted something beyond soy sauce and vinegar in ‘Chinese’ food and even though these restaurants served their food minus MSG, it was still mostly deep-fried and tossed in sauces where ketchup was the star.
The year is 2007, China Kitchen at Hyatt has now opened, offering an authentic Chinese experience. With dishes that you actually do get in China, unconventional meats like duck and pork are common in the menu and the flavors extend beyond the usual, incorporating smokey, sweet, umami & chili in subtle and fresh ways. Yet, the food is still heavy and fried for the most part. Calories are superfluous but at this point, we don’t care or know any better. Taj tried something similar with Blue ginger but failed miserably.
Gradually, standalone restaurants have finally evolved and pan Asian as a concept is officially over. The year is 2018 and South East Asian restaurants specializing in regional Chinese cuisines are the order of the day; Sushi is comfort food and places like Mamagoto, Yum Yum Cha & Ping’s Café Orient are booming. In a situation like this, how do these 5-stars cope? What can they do to still be relevant and be the first choice when we crave Chinese? Well, they can take a leaf out of the newly opened Bao Shaun's book.
Situated in the newly refurbished Oberoi’s, this place has a prestigious tie-up with Andrew Wong, famous for his Peking Duck. Moving away from the usual Cantonese fare, the menu at most contemporary restaurants is inspired, creative and different. Identifying the need for quick, healthy and flavorsome working lunches for Lutyen’s Delhi’s power circle, they have a distinct lunch menu comprising mostly of soups, salads and dim sum. For extravagant dinners, the evening menu has varied entree options with the usual carbohydrates as accompaniments. Having tried both their menus, I can safely say they tick all the boxes when it comes to light and wholesome food with minimal oil and maximum flavor.
The Prawn Wonton soup is something I ordered both times, a light flavourful broth that focuses on the shrimp and is a hearty portion with scallions and ginger. It is prawn soup for the soul. While the soup is homely and robust, the mushroom buns creatively plated on a patch of grass are pretty and fluffy and have the most delicate truffle incense with a woody mushroom filling. The Shrimp dumpling is a modern variation of the classic Siu Mai with citrus foam on top and juicy fresh shrimp encased in a delicate dumpling pastry. The lettuce wraps are fresh and tangy but missable, the smokey cold chicken salad is something we ordered repeats of, the fried string beans are fried to perfection and so is the Taiwanese fried chicken topped with crispy basil and a hot sauce that teases the taste buds, the gong bao chicken is probably one of the best versions I’ve tried in Delhi and the asparagus fried rice goes amazingly well, the pork belly was just right.. I can go on!
The service is classic Oberois with polite and informative servers and the manager Tashi takes a personal interest to make your experience a memorable one. All in all, I would highly recommend this as a new kid on the block with experiential gastronomy that still makes you reminisce about the green views you got in Taipan as a child. We've grown up and with us so has this cuisine.