Wednesday, February 13, 2008

When it's Chinese, stick to the Mainland

"Are you SURE you don't mind going for Chinese?" I meekly asked.
"Yes sweetie, I'm sure..." he put his arm around my shoulder.
After a pause, he continued: "I must admit I don't like Chinese food as much as YOU like Chinese food..."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever. Mainland China time!"
I kept avoiding Mainland China because Saki Naka is one of the worst traffic holes in Mumbai, but there was no excuse once it opened its Lokhandwala branch. And so my long suffering beau and I hopped over.
Mainland China, coming from the same makers as Oh! Calcutta (deserves a seperate blog post for sure) is big and beautiful, and packed. After a half hour wait, we settle in to tuck in.We sampled the dim sum menu, and in the spirit of the blog I later accosted the smiling Chef behind the live steaming counter - Chef Beeru. Chef Beeru indulges me by overcoming his shyness and giving me a step by step demonstration of the making of the Veg Hargow:

The dough of the "hargow" dumpling is made of a mix of rice and potato, rolled thin and stuffed - in our case, a vegetarian mix of corn, carrot and other vegetables.

Each dumpling is shaped by delicate hand movements.

The dumplings in their various forms

Ready to rock:

Steamy :)

Once emerged from the steamer:

The shy Chef with his delicious creations:

And finally, on our plates and ready to be devoured. It is served with a spicy mustard sauce, and a spring onion greens paste. We also had a glass of Sula Chenin Blanc to keep us company which went very well with the dumplings.

We were a little disappointed to be informed by our steward that each of the dumpling varieties had the same stuffing. So we moved on to some other appetizers - Crispy Vegetables in a chili and plum sauce - with batter fried carrots, aubergine, potato and brocolli in a tangy sauce. I was happy to note that the dish did not suffer the major problems involved in a dish like this - no use of "not so fresh" vegetables, and no overdose of batter. The vegetables were fresh, crispy and full of the robust flavours of the spice, the plum sauce and garlic. Very well done and highly recommended. We then had a soup interlude - veg noodle clear soup for the boy, who was taking a risque step by venturing away from his time and tested tomato soup, and he was disappointed with the bland taste of the very diluted stock. I chose the crab, to compensate for the vegetarian meal. It was very good and very full of crab.
After much deliberation we decided to go in for the "main course", which usually winds up being the biggest mistake in a chinese meal - some not so great sauce and not so great vegetables with some not so great rice. I spied something innovative on the Chef's Special - Braised okra in a mango sauce. Something on the rice list looked equally special - fried rice with chinese olives. So there it was.
Who ever thought the humble bhindi, okra, ladyfinger, whatever - could be this good? The Okra was tender, cooked just till done, and the thick orange gravy which the vegetables lay in was sweet, sour and a little spicy - nothing conventional - no cornflour, no soya sauce, no spring onion garnish - just a wonderful creation from a wonderful chinese restaurant. Kudos to Chef Ram on that one. It went perfectly with the rice which was flavoursome but not overwhelmingly so.
We would have avoided dessert but the smell of chocolate from the open counter was too tempting, and so the boy ordered the Hot Chocolate Rolls - small spring rolls, of sorts, with a gooey hot chocolate filling, served with a honey sauce and vanilla ice cream. I'm usually more of a date pancake/darsan dessert person in a chinese restaurant, but this was heavenly.
Verdict: Mainland China has to be applauded on many counts - one, serving excellent chinese food in an excellent ambience with excellent service without the five star price tag. Two, fantastic innovations. Read the Chef's Special section of the menu to get my drift. And three, giving a great food experience to a confirmed non vegetarian. Veggie Chinese food is usually all about Gobi Manchurian and Schezwan vegetables. Mainland China makes me at least consider the possibility that good food doesn't need meat. I'd love to see more dim sum varieties, more stuffings and certainly many more innovations.
Note: Mainland China offers a luxurious and varied buffet lunch - complete with soups, dim sums, stir frys, desserts - you name it. Priced at 295 (taxes extra) on weekdays and 395 (taxes extra) on weekends, it seems to be a great way to spend your day.
Gurgaonites rejoice! You too have a Mainland China in your vicinity (DLF Corporate Park or its whereabouts). What remains to be seen is whether it gives competition to the godly "The Monk" at 32nd milestone. Again, thats a place that deserves another blog post.

No comments: