Zen Paradise Found

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I’m rejoicing and laughing. Not only because I bowed in reverence at the original laughing Buddha sacred temple (founded 1600 years ago by an Indian monk) but also because I am immersed in stunningly beautiful nature in China’s most romantic city, Hanghzhou. And here’s the best part. I am feasting on my best Chinese meals in the award winning Jin Sha restaurant which is surrounded by 17 acres of landscaped lush gardens and lily ponds located on the magnificent Westlake. I am luxuriating in MasterChef Wangyong’s flavour and textural masterpieces ( fabulous vegetarian wows too ) and the world’s best crispy chicken with salt. The dapper Wayne Tan and Aileen Woo helpfully translate and also explain the intricacies of Hangzhou and Shanghainese cuisine. And to top this mind blowing experience, is the highly prized (and expensive) longjing tea.

Unmatched fine fragrance, beloved of emperors, superb for health and weight loss too. As though this is not enough, Masterchef Wangyong serves up the most sublime longjing tea crèmebrullee. I’m having my tea and eating it too. Zen paradise redefined!

Review: Kuai Kitchen

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From Shanghai to Mumbai. Yesterday, within two hours of landing, I lunched at Kuai Kitchen. After three glorious weeks of filming and eating my way through China, why would I want to eat at this cheap and cheerful Colaba eatery? To monitor consistency.

Read my detailed review on: https://whatshot.in/mumbai

Spicy Secrets

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I’m so excited…here in China, in the finest global capital of spice, I’m sniffing out the spicy secrets of the king of spicy cuisines…Sichuan ( also called Schezwan). In India, not only do we  love Chinese food but it’s the spicy Sichuan version that we all enjoy. This ancient cuisine is the cuisine of the South Western Sichuan province of China And here in Chengdu, the fast growing capital of Sichuan I am not only getting a taste of the authentic Sichuan but also learning it’s secrets. And Im doing so in the best of best places and from the greatest most knowledgable chefs.

 

SPICES…signature Sichuan dishes

Whoa! Big live woks sizzle and I actually take part in a cooking session by the brilliant chefs under the leadership of Master chef Frank Zhuang. All the ingredients are on display in Spices, this vibrant restaurant of the most luxurious landmark of Chengdu, The Ritz-Carlton. A truly seductive taste of Sichuan here is due to their global “scenography” (sense of place) reputation. Here too the local Sichuan flavors are vibrant and palpable and delicious. And the Kungfu tea show is mindblowing.

Here, in Spices, the fiery wok creations and local favorites like Kung Pao chicken, ma po tofu and twice-cooked pork complement delicate dim sum at the live Chinese stations. World cuisines are on offer here too but I am focussed on the Sichuan. Im happily surprised by the exquisite vegetarian masterpieces at the  renowned fine dining Chinese restaurant, where the dynamic Vito Romeo (who honed his skills under the likes of Alain Ducasse and Joel Robuchon) and Chef Michael impressed with their knowledge and flavors of sophisticated interpretations of classic Cantonese and Sichuanese dishes. Each time, it’s the unmatched standards of excellence, be it in service or food that dazzle.

In Spices, Vito and Chef Steffen Gube not only guided me through the daily creations inspired by Chengdu’s rich “Tea Culture” but also of course the step by step cooking of the two main signature Sichuan dishes… Mapotofu and Kung Pao chicken.

Ooh and I’m addicted to the signature Kung Pao chicken (named after Ding baozen, governor of Sichuan in the Qing dynasty. His title was Gongbao, literally “palace guardian”)

 

Chef Frank’s  KUNG PAO CHICKEN

Ingredient: Chicken breast, fried peanuts, vegetables, chilli peppers, Sichuan peppercorns, ginger, sugar, vinegar, Shaoxing wine

Method: Marinate the diced chicken in Shaoxing Wine and salt for 10 minutes. Rinse it. /  Boil the oil on low fire, drop peanuts into the wok then deep-fried until golden brown and take out for later use / Heat the oil over big fire, add in the chicken, flash-fry till chicken turns white and take out for later use/ Add the chilli peppers, Sichuan peppercorns, soy, sugar, vinegar and vegetables into the wok and stir to mix them all /  Put back the pre-cooked peanuts and chicken into the wok, mix everything up and dish up. Yum!

 

THE SOUL OF SICHUAN CUISINE

I’m excited to learn the basics of this bold spicy 4000 year old Sichuan cuisine in the Sichuan province itself. Guided by brilliant chefs Michael and Frank and also in the worlds first museum dedicated to a regional cuisine. If Sichuan pepper and chilli pepper are the heart of Sichuan cuisine, then doubanjiang Chilly Bean paste is the soul. Sichuan’s version is made with dried fava beans, also known as broad beans, mixed with fresh red er jin tiao chilli peppers and salt (and wheat flour) and fermented.Did you know that this chilly bean paste is as painstakingly made as champagne? ..almost.
They have different vintages for it…put it through “dewing” flipping” (like the champagne riddling) and “sunburning” I happily only take part in this “flipping” amid the stunning array of standing pots of fermenting chilli bean sauce (doubanjiang), which is churned twice daily for a year, with exposure to the sun and open air.

Here’s the soul of this addictive “chillybean paste”. Sichuan peppercorns were used over 2500 years ago. Garlic  was brought in when the trade route was opened in the Han dynasty 2000 years ago, Chillies were introduced during the Ming dynasty 400 years ago. And so was born the Chilly bean paste.

P.S. Thank you Vito Romeo, Sue Fan and Chefs  for  this authentic taste of Sichuan…and it’s seven basic tastes…Salty, sweet, bitter, sour, heat (from chillies) numbness ( from Sichuan peppercorns) and spiciness.

China In A Bowl

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Chef flanked by Paawan Engineer and Jessica Wang at Beijing’s Red Bowl.

Here, in Beijing, I’m tasting centuries of tradition and modernity at the same time. Dipping into China’s beloved comfort food, the boiling authentic hot pot along with Beijingers. And for the first time this favorite comfort food is being served in chic and sleek surroundings in Rosewood’s Red Bowl. Chef Zhu Qing not only ensures that the freshest of ingredients are served up to cook in the broth but also offers a fabulous choice of broths… Spicy Sichuan, Yuanyang, traditional Beijing to innovative options too. The surprise is the pure vegetarian and deliciously intense wild mushroom broth, The chef explains the intricacies of the Chinese cuisine which the charming Jessica Wang translates as we dine in this buzzy eclectic “comfort meets contemporary” restaurant. Not only are we joined by food and beverage head, Paawan Engineer, but I’m also delighted to discover that the managing Director Marc Brugger loves India and has an Indian wife. And powering this leading cutting edge international luxury hotel group as president is our very own Radha Arora. India shines!

Review: Summer House Cafe

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Here is one more restaurant that focuses on everything except food (alas!)  It offers a cocktail of gigs, karaoke, live music and of course cocktails.

Read my detailed review on: https://whatshot.in/mumbai

Best of the Best … Shanghai

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At the iconic Peace on the Bund, Chinese masterchef Ma, George Wee and Jessica Zhang

Here, in the high-octane “Paris of the East”, Shanghai I’m thinking of Mumbai’s very own Sassoon docks and Sassoon library. Would you believe that Shanghai’s most exquisite and legendary  landmark (1929) The clàssic  grand art deco històric  Fairmont Peace on the Bund has an Indian connection? It’s founder Victor Sassoon and family made a lot of their wealth in Mumbai. Old world elegance and modern luxury here… It has a beautiful Indian suite  which Charlie Chaplin stayed in.

Here, I lunch at the city’s oldest Shanghainese cuisine restaurant. Chinese Masterchef Ma coaxes the most vibrant flavors and textures The dynamic George Wee — who helms this landmark and the everhelpful Jessica Zhang translate  his explanations. I dine at the worlds only multi-sensory, ten seater Ultraviolet to the hole in the wall, Jia Jia Tang Bao. Trip out on the most fabulous pure vegetarian Fu hu wei, Wujei. Godly …but thats a long story.

P.S Thanks for hundreds of your superb  vegetarian restaurant recommendations for Shanghai (on Instagram and email).…am off to Hangzhou, Chengdou and Beijing…please send more…xeixei!

Review: Jia – The Oriental Kitchen & Bar

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My review of Jia, Mumbai’s hottest new Oriental restaurant follows. Its been packed ever since it opened. In order to evaluate consistency I dined here thrice (therefore the three photos). Each time we came away delighted as did the guests there.

Read my detailed review on https://whatshot.in/mumbai

The Diverse Flavors of Shanghai

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Today I serve up a taste of the glamorous, vibrant “Paris of the East” I write from shiny Shanghai. Its the most modern, cosmopolitan city of China and it seems to be on steroids. Yet there is a core of history and the grace and elegance of it’s heyday in the thirties that still lives on. So I serve up a flavor  of two of the most icònic landmarks… the històric grand Fairmont Peace on the Bund (it’s founder Victor Sassoon and family made a lot of their wealth in Mumbai and India)  and the very modern Urban resort, The Puli.

LEGENDARY LANDMARK

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AT THE OLDEST SHANGHAINESE RESTAURANT IN THE PEACE ON THE BUND. CHEF MA, GEORGE WEE, JESSICA ZHANG

I not only soak in the luxury of this exquisite classical masterpiece but also lunch at the oldest Shanghainese cuisine restaurant of Shanghai here. The clàssic grand art deco històric Peace on the Bund (it s the only hotel in the world which has it’s own museum was the toast of the Far East in the 30s. It is located on the Bund (overlooking the HuangPo river) which is a centennial epitome of Shanghai itself. This classical architectural masterpiece started off as Sassoon House in 1929 and rich history tangos with modern luxury here. And whoa! Chinese Masterchef Ma coaxes the most vibrant flavors and textures using the traditional caramelised sweetness with soy sauce and more. Sweet and sour, the typical Shanghai taste  shines through and yet the original flavors of the raw ingredients are also preserved. Interestingly while he serves the most classical Shanghainese dishes he also adds contemporary interpretations and plates them artfully. The dynamic George Wee — who helms this landmark along with the ever helpful Jessica Zhang translate Chef Ma’s explanations. I revel in the most amazing bamboo shoots lacquered with soy, the crazily addictive, crunchy skinned Peace Duck , the creamy sago mango dessert to the crunchy marinated cucumbers (Masterchef ma generously shares the rècipe). All the while soaking in the històric rich red and gold details of the restaurant and the serene river view from the large Windows.

MARINATED CUCUMBER

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Cucumber:  500 g /Soya sauce: 80g

Sugar: 160g /Vinegar: 60g

Salt: 5g /Garlic (sliced): 10g

Ginger: 10g /Chili: 10g

Slice the cucumber and marinate with the above sauces for 24 hours and plate it.

MODERN MAJESTY

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MICHELIN STARRED PHENIX, AT THE PULI…Chef MICHAEL WILSON and KELLY KUO

What a super surprising contrast. Glimmering, shiny hoardings of the globe’s leading cosmopolitan brands festoon the gleaming buildings. And in the midst of this crazy cacophonic area in the throbbing heart of Shanghai is located a relaxed, zen like zone of Peace.  Handcrafted textures, the finest of natural materials weave a charming relaxed ambiance in the most modern icon The Puli.  Its been justifiably hailed as a “modern urban luxurious  resort”,  “a seductive sanctuary that guarantees a relaxing escape from the heart Racing city”. And in keeping with it’s sophisticated cosmpolitian essence, it’s French restaurant Phenix is not only hugely popular but has also been awarded a Michelin star. And further in keeping with it’s cosmopolitan essence, the Australian chef Michael Wilson creates light and delightful French masterpieces, which I enjoy with Kelly Kuo in the modren elegant restaurant overlooking the lush green park. Be it the Cod, the yoghurt compressed strawberry desert, violet ice cream.. Even the humble potato is elevated to luxurious creaminess. Its  a very simple rècipe, but its the ratio of the butter to the potato that is important as is the addition of the hot milk. The nutmeg gives it that special festive touch.

Pomme puree

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1kg  potatoes /Good quality butter

Nutmeg /Salt /Fresh truffles (optional)

Peel and cut potatoes into equal size pieces

Boil in salted water till tender

Strain and leave for 3 mins for residual water to evaporate

Mash potato by pushing through a fine sieve. For every 500g of potato add 200g butter.Mix the butter into the potato and add some hot milk to thin the mix

Season with salt and nutmeg

When availaible shave fresh truffles on top just before serving

Mumbai Dazzles in Dubai

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Mumbai shining: Faarah Mehta Shewakramani, Rita Karanjia Mehta and Liza Mehta Vyas at Coya.

Delicious news! Mumbai is trailblazing and showing the way to Dubai. In more ways than one. Our very own revered and feared, media baron (Blitz)  the late Russy Karanjia’s grand-daughter Faarah Mehta Shewakramani’s pioneering  and fully booked up elective educational academy is  the talk of the town. It is infusing culture, art and even  gourmet (love that)  knowledge  . High profile editor Rita Mehta Karanjia makes time from her hectic  media and celebrity management work,  to be the supportive mother.  Who would’ve thought that a dinner at  a world famous Peruvian restaurant in Dubai would be all about shining the spotlight on Mumbai and India? Over the vibrant, fragrant and colourful dishes, I discover that Lilavati hospital in Mumbai is named after my other guest, the talented Liza Mehta Vyas’s philanthropic mother. And as though all these Mumbai connections were not enough, not only is Coya owned by the Indian Waney brothers but even the executive chef is Indian. Jai ho!