The year of the monkey started on a rather glorious note, and a great meal, to me, is always a good sign. Chinoiserie at Taj Bengal, Kolkata, is currently showcasing an extensive Chinese menu, and the dishes certainly looked interesting (especially the Xiao Long Bao, or the Soup Dumplings). There were three menus to pick from – Vegetarian, Non-Vegetarian, and Seafood, and I sampled some of the unusual dishes served this year, created lovingly by Lian Yun Lei, who has been manning the kitchen of Chinoiserie for over 10 years.
A set of assorted dumplings were set in front of me, along with a trio of sauces, in which, the creamy sauce with hints of mustard was the star. The dumplings were all lovely, but imagine a huddle of minced prawns encased in a paper-thin shell, and topped with salmon roe. Yes, well, my love for fish roe is strong, and I didn’t want to resist the lure.
The Five Spiced Smoked Tofu was moist and filled with flavours – the soy-based broth was mildly sweet and the five spice didn’t overpower the tofu – which is something it could have done quite easily.
The Spiced Honey Chicken Legs looked simple at a glance, but the Chef explained the hours spent in first moistening, then drying out the skin-on chicken, then breading, frying and topping with a sweet and mildly tangy sauce. The pieces of chicken were tender, fried till a crisp, and the sweet sour sauce begged the use of fingers while tearing into the pieces.
I was rather fascinated by the Seaweed and Tofu in Secret Sichuan Sauce, which contained a lovely, slippery seaweed which had been carried straight from China. The texture was very different from what I have had so far, and this had a slightly rubber-like chew which I would say is an acquired taste, and I might have acquired it, because that, paired with the silky tofu, was probably one of my favourite dishes in the menu. The sauce is mild, but in the aftermath, there is a little numbness to the tongue from the Sichuan Peppercorns, which was used in it, albeit not too much.
Somehow I like flat noodles, and this was no exception, with a touch of wok hei (breath of wok), which added a delicious hit of smokiness to the otherwise simple dish. There was also a Seafood Fried Rice, which I had to decline.
The Shredded Lamb in Black Bean Sauce was more soy-oriented, and lacked the bite of the black bean, and although I loved the texture of the meat, I wished it would have slightly more intensity of black beans – the flavours would have been much more enhanced with that.
Sigh! Although I only tasted a tiny bit of this (thanks to my allergies, which had kicked up a notch that day), I can safely say that the sweetness of the prawns versus the mild sauce was a rather wonderful balance in this dish, and you would need some rice to soak up all that jus because really, its a crime to waste it.
However, for me, the main attraction of the meal was the glossy Roasted Duck, and it came to us chopped up into pieces – with crisp skin, and creamy flesh within – and yes, the skin was the highlight for me. What I loved was the apparent simplicity of each dish – clean flavours, easy-to-identify ingredients, but prepared with such care that each of them stood out.
Fried Ice Cream is one of those things which I always felt is a hit-or-miss, and this one was a hit! The ice cream itself was coated in a cakey crust, and served with a battered toffee apple, topped with plenty of caramel sauce. There was some white chocolate shaved right on top of the ice cream, and the combination of crunchy exterior and smooth-as-silk ice cream was a perfect way to end our meal. The Chinese menu served here is a part of the set meal, with a welcome drink, dimsums and starters, soup, main course, rice, noodles, and dessert. The meals are priced for two, at INR 3600/- for vegetarian, 3900/- for Non-Veg, and INR 4200/- for the Seafood menu, for two people. The event will be on till the 21st of February, 2016.
Disclaimer: Poorna Banerjee was invited to dine at Taj Bengal.