April 2019 | 695 words | 3-minute read
Unlike cuisines from most other regions of China, the food from Sichuan, with its bold flavours and spices, is perfectly suited to the Indian palate. And China INC by Taj Santacruz — located at the doorstep of the Mumbai airport — is a must-visit for an authentic taste of the region.
We walk into the restaurant at the end of a typically long Mumbai work day and commute and leave it to the restaurant staff to guide us to the perfect drink to unwind with. They don’t disappoint.
As we settle into the warm-hued wood and bronze décor, under a sprawling incandescent dragon, we are presented with a blushing watermelon cucumber fresca and a minty-hued light breeze mocktail. While the former refreshes, the latter — a mix of lime juice, peach syrup, fresh mint and ginger — cleanses the palate for the feast that is in store for us.
We kickstart dinner with what is clearly one of the highlights of chef de cuisine Santanu Ray’s kitchen — the dimsums.
The spiced chicken dumpling might seem like a strangely ordinary pick given the five-star fare, but the explosion of flavours with every bite is anything but humble. We follow it up with the vegetable and chive dumpling, which sits lightly on the palate, and the steamed edamame and truffle dumpling, which is exceptional enough to impress even the most dedicated meat lovers. The course is rounded off with the char siu bao (barbeque pork bun) and its pleasing blend of sweet and spicy notes.
The dimsums live up to the hype, and there is enough of a variety here — 20 options in all (yes, we counted) — to tempt us to make an entire meal out of them.
Wisely though, we don’t.
For the next course, chef Ray steers us to the stir fried prawn in spicy superior chilli sauce. Taking advantage of its location in a coastal city, China INC sources the prawns locally. The chefs also believe in staying away from deep frying or batter frying them as much as possible, instead crafting dishes that rely on the freshness of the prawns. For this dish, they blanch the prawns in hot oil for a few seconds before mixing them in a sauce of our choice with lip-smacking results.
Vegetarians should try the stir fried shimeji mushroom with dry red chilli and green bean, an interesting departure from the button mushrooms and shiitakes that populate most menus. In fact, with items like wok tossed black and white fungus, celery, lotus root; steamed asparagus, bamboo pit; and crispy sweet corn kernels and water chestnut in wild peppers, almost all the vegetarian starters on this menu are a welcome departure from the usual.
China INC offers a wide range of cocktails and wines keeping in mind pairing options for the entire spectrum of the menu. One can also choose from a range of 11 speciality teas, which is what we opt for. The imperial white jasmine tea proves to be a good match for the main course.
The multi flavour vegetable noodle needs no accompaniment, and the chef-recommended vegetable sticky fried rice is good enough to make you swear off India’s ubiquitous long-grained take on the fried rice.
The main course dishes we pick are a careful mix of meat, seafood, poultry and vegetarian fare. The mofu tofu — imported silken tofu in soy chilli bean sauce — doesn’t skimp on flavours. The sliced lamb with colourful bell pepper and sweet onion in black bean sauce and sichuan poached chicken with Chinese cabbage and shiitake mushroom have us reaching for seconds.
But the clear hero of this course is the Chilean steamed sea bass sizzled with ginger, chilli and spring onion. This is one of the few Cantonese flavours — the restaurant also showcases some specialities from the Xiao Long Bao region of Shanghai — on the menu. Served in a ginger soy sauce, it is a mix that hits that elusive sweet spot: only enhancing the flavour of the seafood, never overpowering it.
It is this exceptional menu that continues to grow China INC’s reputation as one of Mumbai’s best Chinese restaurants.