Restaurant Review: The China Kitchen at Hyatt

Sichuan's gods have heard our prayers. For those of us pining for Sichuan classics without the Kashmiri red chillies and Punjabi garam masala, there's finally a place to spend an extended evening digging into scintillating food, writes SOURISH BHATTACHARYYA

I chose to pay a visit to The China Kitchen, the Hyatt Regency's newest restaurant, after Robert Bath, Master Sommelier and the man who conceptualized the Wine Spectator restaurant awards, couldn't stop praising it at the Rick's Bartending Competition.

Bath had spent the previous night at the CK, that has emerged out of the ashes of Djinns, the nightclub that once rocked the city before becoming a flea pit, after he'd had a rather disappointing meal at My Humble House, Maurya's rooftop restaurant. He isn't the only one who has had that experience – after a meal at My Humble House, Rocky 'Old Monk' Mohan was left wondering why the Maurya had aligned itself with a restaurant chain that has had a patchy record in Singapore, Beijing and Tokyo.

The news is good so far on both fronts for The China Kitchen – its competition is facing the same issue that The Pavilion, the Maurya's all-day dining restaurant, confronted when it re-opened at the same time as the 360 Degrees at The Oberoi.

Then, 360 Degrees became the darling of the city's movers and shakers. Now, The China Kitchen is the talk of the town, especially because no one has done Peking duck better in the city's gastronomic history.

I pulled out the editor of this e-newsletter, Subhash Arora, from another champagne dinner being hosted by the Hyatt, to share the pleasure of savouring authentic Sichuan cuisine served in a no-nonsense style (sorry, you won't get foie gras with a Singapore spin, nor chicken pepper and salt).

Sitting in a private corner, one of the many the restaurant will become famous for, sipping Canard Duchêne Grand Cuvee Rosé champagne, enjoying the unobtrusive lighting, music and service (you must give it to the Hyatt – they don't believe in making a production out of hospitality, they let you be), I started the evening digging into an assortment of appetisers – steaming-hot Prawn Siew Mai served out of dim sum baskets that trap the steam without making the contents soggy; Crispy Prawn Spring Rolls with not a drop of unwanted oil; wholesome Fried Crab Claws that'll beg you to have more; memorable Pancakes with Sauteed Lamb (this speciality from Muslim-dominated Xinjiang is uncannily similar to the Bengali Mughlai parota, but it manages to be crispy because it doesn't come smothered in oil); and Steamed Spinach with Mustard and Sesame Sauce – simplicity at its heavenly best.

That was a formidable beginning but the acid in the bubbly was working its magic on the gastric juices. We had to have the two specialities of the house – the classical Peking duck and Beggar's Chicken. The sleep-deprived team behind The China Kitchen – Hyatt's General Manager Roger Lienhard and his second-in-command, Prasanjit Singh – went to great lengths to procure the duck-feeding machine and then they sent the owner of the farm that was to supply them the ducks to China for training (and no, it wasn't the French Farm's Roger Langbour – he had trouble following the exacting standards).

You can taste the love and care that has gone into bringing the Peking Duck up to the standards of the most demanding palate. It doesn't have a dollop of fat, it melts in the mouth, the skin is as crispy as it can get, and there's no ghastly odour that has put us off homegrown ducks in the past.

The same care to ensure authenticity has gone into the Beggar's Chicken, which comes in a clay shell that has to be hammered open to unveil the beauty wrapped in lotus leaves. The chicken is sensuously soft (it simply slips off the bones like negligee off a woman's back), redolent of the wine in which it's marinated, and a palate teaser. Truffles, they say, smell like bad sex; in that case, Beggar's Chicken is like Viagra in a clay pot, waiting, like a bottled genie, to unleash its gustatory charms.

In the tradition of Chinese banquets, the procession of goodies didn't stop at our table. We took advantage of the break to study the work of the Japanese design powerhouse, Super Potatoes – from the strategically placed open kitchens to the minimalist chic all over (the walls are made with antique roof tiles, classical teapots in wall panels and woodwork that exuded an old-world charm without being too overpowering). The focus clearly was on food – even the lights have been so arranged that they focus on the food. Here, food is the celebrity.

The main course comprised Sichuan Chilli Crabs served with Fried Coriander Buns and Sizzling Seabass with Green Onion and Spicy Tomato Sauce. The crabs were soft and meaty, the gravy made a great combination with the buns, and the fresh-as-fresh-can-be seabass melted into a medley of delightful balanced sweet and sour sensations.

Subhash couldn't stop talking about the seamless match between Canard Duchene Rosé and the dishes that went back empty from our table. I couldn't stop admiring the collective talent of Jack Ao Yeung, the man who has conceived the idea, and his powerhouse of eight Chinese chefs from Chengdu, Sichuan's culinary capital. He was trained to be a Continental chef with Hyatt International but Jack chose to delve deep into his cultural roots.

He travelled through Sichuan to understand its cuisine and learnt the recipes from old masters – not surprisingly, the spread at The China Kitchen (and The China House in Hyatt Mumbai) is rooted in Chengdu's gastronomic culture, which is fed by a stretch of geography the Chinese describe as Tianfuzhi guo, which, translated literally, means 'the country of heaven,' or more often as 'the land of abundance'. This land of abundance has nurtured a super-abundance of talent. Finally, we can savour a taste of their breathtaking creativity.

The reviewer, formerly with the Indian Wine Academy, is the Executive Editor of the Sunday edition of the India Today Group's morning newspaper venture. Opinions expressed in this review are entirely his-editor.

 

 

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