Clean, sharp and subtle flavours mark the new menu at Red Pearl

At midnight on February 9 in China, millions of fireworks ripped across the skies to welcome the Chinese New Year, the year of the snake. In Coimbatore, the Red Pearl at Vivanta by Taj Surya chose a quieter celebration, and opened its doors to a new cuisine designed by Chef Zhai Wei Dong, a specialist in Schezwan food. Within cosy interiors coloured by red leather cushions and lit by paraffin oil lamps, we settle down for an a la carte dinner. For starters, there are golden fried corn tossed in green chili and cilantro, followed by hoisin-glazed lamb ribs. It’s a gentle beginning with the softness of the corn meeting the crunchiness of its fried batter. The lamb, on the other hand, has a mild sweetness infused by the plums and dates that go into the hoisin sauce glazing. Up next is vegetable half-moon dumpling soup, a clear, subtly-flavoured vegetable broth with two floating dumplings, beautifully plated in a wide-rimmed soup bowl. The broth warms you up just right and the dumplings are little bursts of hot vegetable stuffing.

Soon after, the main course arrives and it’s a spread of distinct flavours, none overpowering the other. On the non-vegetarian side, there’s poached fish with sliced lemon and scallion. The blandness of the perfectly steamed basa is countered by the sharpness of the lemon. The vegetarian option is an oil-less salad in varying shades of green and white made from crispy Chinese greens with garlic pearl and water chestnut. “Traditional Schezwan cuisine is marked by Schezwan pepper which is more pungent than black pepper. To balance out the strong spice, we’ve included a few dishes in this menu from the comparatively blander Cantonese cuisine,” explains Balan Venkatesan, Senior Chef de Partie.

To represent the Schezwan paradigm, there’s Mapo tofu vegetable curry, a spicy concoction of bean curd (fermented tofu) with a generous helping of diced vegetables such as beans, zucchini, broccoli, carrot and Chinese cabbage. “‘Mapu tofo’ means tofu cooked by a grandmother. So the dish has a warm, homely touch to it because that’s how it’s traditionally made. There’s also a non-vegetarian take on this which uses chicken or lamb instead of tofu,” says Balan. For accompaniment, there’s Hunan fried rice with its prominent soya sauce and dried red chilli flavours, as well as hakka rice stick noodles (made from rice flour), and unlimited refills of warm Chinese tea.

To round it all off, there’s crispy flat noodles tossed in honey and chocolate, garnished with crushed pistachio and cashew, and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. “Usually the noodles are tossed only in honey but to give the dessert a Continental touch, we’ve used chocolate as well,” says Jayanta Das, Resident Manager. It’s been a wonderfully light yet satisfying meal that explored just the highlights of Chef Zhai’s creations. And the dessert’s been my dream ending.

The festival is on till February17. For details, contact 0422 668-1000