It was a comfortable one and half hour drive to The Westin Sohna Resort & Spa near Delhi where we planned to check out the newly renovated Xiao Chi, the Chinese restaurant at the resort, which is open only for dinner service.
The restaurant, which was previously al fresco, has been transformed into a glass-encased space where guests can enjoy a delicious Chinese meal while watching the chef at work at a smart open-kitchen counter. The renovation was a sensible idea as the restaurant can now be kept cool even in the summer. The chic upholstery adds a new dimension to the swish, contemporary ambience.
The menu has been redesigned based on eight Chinese culinary traditions. Interestingly, this restaurant does not have a chef from China, going against the current trend of importing chefs. Thus, it becomes a bit of a challenge for the Indian chef in charge, Chef Kedar Bisht, to prove his worth. He is well aware of the situation but has been successful in delighting guests with his dishes.
During our meal we sampled some of the delicacies that Chef Bisht had integrated into a special menu for us. Our culinary journey began with cucumber and cilantro flavoured white pepper soup. It was subtly spiked without excessive pepper or cilantro, rendering it a flavourful appetiser. We also tried the Beijing chicken dumplings and bok choy soup, which were both well received.
The conversation started fading as we got busy digging into scrumptious bites of the Cheong Fun with Shitake mushroom and crispy lotus stem – both big winners! Apart from those two, what stood out was the Silken Tofu, well-flavoured with chilli paste and slightly crisp in texture. Xiao Chi's signature Sichuan crispy mixed vegetables - a mix of button mushrooms, baby corn, cauliflower and zucchini tossed in Sichuan chili bean sauce – had the perfect rationing of sauce thereby retaining the crisp texture of the vegetables.
This was followed by a round of hot, steaming dimsum baskets. There was plenty of choice including a sugarcane tiger prawn ball – a signature dish of Chef Bisht. Besides the chicken dimsums, vegetarians can try the cabbage crystal dumplings which were quite delicious, light and fresh.
The steady stream of starters doesn't leave much room for the mains, but Chef Bisht has been very sensible about his portions so that diners can do justice to every course. The menu has enough choices for vegetarians, chicken and duck lovers, as well as seafood enthusiasts. There was steamed sea bass in superior soya sauce, spicy prawns with chicken mince and steamed chicken in yellow bean sauce. A veritable treat for prawn lovers were the Sichuan prawns. The stir fried prawns with snow peas in a spicy sauce contains no added salt, with flavours being wholly imparted from the yellow bean sauce.
The Chef insisted that we taste his favourite dish on the menu – Guangdo roast chicken in five spice, shallot and coriander soya sauce dressing. It involves a painstaking process of marinating the chicken in vinegar and honey and hanging it for 3-4 hours to make the skin crisp. Then, the chicken is roasted till it develops a nice colour, is cut in two and served with the chef's special, freshly made sauce. It was truly delicious as was visible through the diners' expressions and compliments.
There's plenty of choice for vegetarians and a good option would be the Chinese greens which take on the flavour of burnt garlic in soya oyster sauce. A very popular choice is the newly introduced water chestnut with long beans and snow peas. Chef Bisht has given it an Indian touch by adding curry powder, chilli powder, sesame chilli sauce and fried onion and garlic. Every chestnut was crunchy and nicely flavoured with the sesame sauce, which the Chef says works best for the Indian palette.
The gravy dishes were served with two kinds of noodles, each one a unique specialty. Hong Kong ee fu noodles are bruised with button mushrooms, asparagus and flowering chives in vegetarian oyster sauce. We were also served Cantonese hor fen wok which consisted of tossed flat rice noodles, choy sum, mushrooms, carrots and baby corn in a light garlic sauce. The jasmine rice had a wonderful texture and fragrant aroma. Working perfectly as a balance to the various sauces, it was the unanimous favourite.
The dessert platter was almost unending: mang guo bu ding - a chilled mango pudding, li chi dou fu - lychee and almond tofu in brown sugar syrup, zha nian gao - fried caramel rice cake and zhi ma zao - fried sesame dumplings with pineapple compote. While all Oriental desserts may not suit the Indian palette, the clear winner was the sesame dumplings.
No Chinese meal is complete without a selection of flavoured tea and we lingered on after the meal with our tiny cups of jasmine, rose, green and black tea.
Xiao Chi's new menu has something for everyone. Chef Bisht has proved that even a dedicated Indian chef can deliver an authentic Chinese meal, making the trip worthwhile.
What: Chinese Cuisine
Where: Xiao Chi at The Westin Sohna Resort & Spa, Gurgaon
How much: Rs 4,000 for a meal for two excluding tax and alcoholic beverages
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