Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Chinese welcome

Wan ho…welcome to the Chinese courtyard at the Marriotts, the hue of the evening sunset to set the mood. I was always under the impression that the Szechwan style of cooking was more suited to the Indian palate, and decided to use Chef Rayomund’s expertise to explore the perception. After all who would be a better person…Wan ho serves both Szechwan and Cantonese as well as Thai food.

I explained this dilemma to the Chef…’no problem,’ he smiles, ‘I will give you a mix of both and you be the best judge as to what suits the Indian palate.’ We sit back as the pretty hostess pours flavoured Jasmine tea. Joe was in a mood for something stronger and luckily for him, the Marriotts were having a variety of cocktails served, the receipes from Marriotts International. It was good to have Manuela the efferverscent PR executive with us, or else between the cocktails and the pretty hostesses flitting around, Joe would have been transported to another world.

The starters arrive. Char stew Pork ribs with Plum sauce, salt and pepper prawns and Dry chilly chicken. The Pork ribs were definitely Cantonese, the Prawns and the chicken Szechwan. Was there any difference in taste when my salivary juices began to work? No way! The tender meat of the braised chops in its oyster soya preparation with rice wine accompanied by the plum sauce was divine. Did I feel the need for spice? No sir….one gets accostamed to the delicate sensation of the flavors of the meat being gently beguiled by the sweetness of the sauce… fireworks in this preparation as the chillies played hide and seek…but definitely a dish to be savoured. I took another chop onto my plate. The Salt and pepper prawns were next addressed. I have to hand it to Chef Rayomund…innovation is his second name. These prawns were finely dusted with coconut powder, so fine that it left just a hint of the taste on your tongue. Even Joe missed it, because coupled with the garlic, chilly and the pickled ginger the flavor is so subtle that it complements the spice in the dish. Heavenly. The next dish…dry chilly chicken….the bell peppers with the spring onion infused with five spices and tossed in chilly bean sauce. Infused…yes that is the word…the infusion of this latest entry down my oesophagus, added to the intoxicated frame of my mind, and believe me, I did not even have a sip of that cocktail which Joe was tenderly nursing.

Was there a difference between the two styles of cooking? Chef Rayomund explains. It is only in the method of preparation and the ingredients used. Cantonese food is normally braised not fried. Chillies are minimal and normally Oyster or soya sauce id used. Szechwan food however is tossed in oil and ginger garlic and chillies play an important role in its flavouring. I guess we Indians are habituated to fried food and extra spice, but believe me in the spare ribs the lack of these ingredients do not matter at all.

So we decided to experiment with the main course too. Pork with Pak Choy a Cantonese preparation, Mapo Tofu which is Szechwan and Lamb in XO sauce a Cantonese preparation which is Chef’s speciality. Lets talk about the Mapo Tofu first since it is a vegetarian preparation. ‘What is Mapo?’ I ask curiously. ‘A ladies name.’ Chef Rayomund answers. I wrinkle my eyebrows in perplexity. Everything is named after ladies…even hurricanes. But this preparation blew my mind literally. The marbled tofu was soft as a ladies kiss….Joe’s simile. Now if you guy’s think otherwise, just check this dish out. Mapo apparently was the lady selling the Tofu in China…perhaps Joe was thinking of her kiss….but Joe has never met any Mapo in China. Must check it out later. Right now I agree with him wholeheartedly. The Tofu was soft, its marination in chilli bean sauce with shitake mushrooms, awesome. But Chef Rayomund had a few secrets up his sleeve. The XO sauce…no its not beyond being XXX rated, its his own recipe. Ginger chilly and dried scallops that’s what makes the sauce. Though it is not listed on the present menu, the regular guests like the dish so much that it is available on demand.

I am running out of space and I do hope this best part of my meal gets added. Oh I could go on and on- the menu lists hot Thai favorites like Geang Kiew Wan, the famous thai green curry or the Geang Deang the subtle flavoured red curry. Or the Aromatic duck or the Crispy lamb in honey chilli sauce. But I am not referring to the food in main course now, it’s the dessert.

The Thai chocolate cake another innovation for the restaurant. The rich brown chocolate cake made with coconut milk, full of roasted almonds and served with a scoop of icecream with molten chocolate sauce dripping over its side. Dripping like molten lava from a gushing volcano-only this time it is not hot…it’s a cool temptation. But baby that dish is sure HOT..literally speaking. We stagger out of the restaurant, a warm reassuring handshake from Chef Rayomund, its message stating ‘welcome to my world.’ If one had to translate it and sing to Englebert Humperdinks tune it could probably sound like....’Wan ho is my world.’

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