China House, Grand Hyatt
“Just chicken, no dog, or snake,” said the man at the next table. At Mumbai’s China House, it’s easy to think you’re about to get more than you bargained for. Secreted behind behemothic Chinese-style doors, you easily expect a place replete with the exoticisms of a Chinese market. But what the doors lead to is a charming courtyard space carved out with happy carpfilled ponds and bridgeways, till another pair of mungo doors reveal the clutter and cheery noises of a restaurant that’s part house, part tea house.
The food is the absolute antithesis of the Sino-Indian partnership we’re used to; the flavours don’t sing from the rooftops, they’re underplayed, deep and lingering. So much so that it waits to be seen whether our over-spiced palates will accept this low-key newborn. Surprisingly, for a five-star eatery, the prices are fairly down-to-earth and don’t overrate the food. We set off the evening with delicately spiced Smoked bamboo shoots with shallot oil and green onions (Rs180) and Peppery hot shredded roast duck and cucumber (Rs220). The mains were Crispy soft shell crabs with fragrant garlic flakes and Sichuan chilli (Rs660), and Sizzling sea bass fillet with green onions and spicy tomato sauce (Rs740), accompanied by a Fried rice with diced chicken, egg, asparagus and pickled chilli (Rs330). The soft shell crabs were succulent and crunchy, while the sweet, spicy sauce of the sea bass was a nod to the usual neighbourhood Chinese, only the fish was done to perfection and the sauce was smooth rather than corn-starch clumpy. Even with two people, the portions are more than enough for a chunky doggy bag. Despite the option of a Chinese take on the tiramisu, we opted for the more appropriate Chilled honeydew melon and sago in coconut cream (Rs240) and Mango pudding (Rs220).
VongWong, Express Towers
Expansive is the lofty, highceilinged 7,000sq. ft space that’s dressed to seat 120 covers, and expansive is the menu that features more than 300 items of food and drink.
Combining the dual charms of Thai and Chinese cuisine, VongWong is an Asian standalone in the spirit of Royal China (in fact, there’s a rumour that the new kid on the block poached some kitchen experience from the old master). The bay-window encrusted dining room, tucked into a side of the Express Towers in South Mumbai’s Nariman Point, fills out the entire floor of the former presses of The Indian Express. It’s an unusual space in an unlikely building, but the effect is beautiful, with the largeness mimicking a five-star hotel eatery. The entryway is paved with wood panelling and Thai and Chinese embellishments; a large open-faced kitchen lets you peer into the goings-on in the kitchen, while the dining hall is manned by 24-year-old Aashiyana Shroff, one half of the father-daughter team that owns the restaurant.
The menu selection is a wide berth of Thai and Chinese choices, and includes some unusual combinations such as the Banana prawn wafer roll (Rs230), and the Magical Ming guava and chilli drink (Rs210). The banana-prawn combination is a delicately sweet and crispy roll, while the chilli-crusted guava muddle is surprisingly unspicy and sweet. Our selection of appetizers included Sui Mai (Rs155), Pork buns (Rs150), Cheungfun (Rs245) and Yum Som O or the pomelo salad (Rs250).
The mains drew out a judiciously lemon grass-infused Gaeng Keao Waan (tenderloin green curry Rs410), Fried string beans with mushroom sauce (Rs275), and Stuffed vegetables with Schezwan deep fried tofu (Rs300). Unfortunately, the last entry was too spicy to be much of anything, but the other items more than made up for it.
While most of the dessert selection is a conscious representation of Thai and Chinese options, we picked the flavourful ice creams, hand-made by Aashiyana, which merge unusual flavours such as rosemary and green apple, and vanilla and lemon (Rs150).
It’s going to be difficult to go back to Manchurian and Chopsuey after this.