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The dragon's mouth

Shanghai Club promises authentic food right from the heart of China



FIRE FRY Chef Yang Jiayu's food is as fiery as his methods of cooking Photo: Murali Kumar K.

Chinese cuisine is by far the most travelled in the world. It's hard to not find a place that serves Chinese in any part of the globe. The remarkable ability of the cuisine to adapt itself to palates in different regions has enabled it to morph into fare such as American chop suey in the U.S. and paneer fried rice in India.

But isn't there such a thing as "Chinese" Chinese food?

The new Shanghai Club restaurant at the Hotel ITC Windsor Sheraton now promises to take you as close to the mouth of the dragon as possible. To do that it has even flown in Master Chef Yang Jiayu from the Great Wall Sheraton in Beijing. Chef Yang has also worked at the Chennai Shanghai Club and was trained by a chef who, we are told, trained with no less a personage as Mao Tse Tung's chef.

Spice level

Before starting to sample some of his preparations, Chef Yang warned me about the spice levels. You should indicate your preference here because Chef Yang has a spicy heft that comes from his association with Sichuan, Beijing, Cantonese and Hunan cuisines. But if you are one who loves digging into fiery Andhra gunpowder, then the food here shouldn't hold any perils for you.

I started out with some special vegetable spring rolls, chongqing chilli mushrooms and crispy assorted vegetables tossed with chilli sauce. The spring rolls were really good, soft in the inside and crisp on the outside, served with a delicious dip. For the soup I had a vegetable clear lemon soup, but here I must warn you: check for the spice level.

For the main course, I picked bits of governor's vegetables, governor's chicken with cashewnut, governor's prawns, stir-fried broccoli, chengdu fried rice and chilli garlic noodles. The pick of the lot was the governor's chicken, with broccoli and noodles. Chef Yang introduces subtle spice variation in each, tempting you to reach for a second helping. He also chips in with his philosophy on food: "There is good food and there is bad food. No okay food. You can tell my food is good but never okay. Okay is very bad."

He also pays a lot attention to make the food visually appealing. Even the crockery has been tailored to the food that he serves. "The main thing is presentation, then aroma and finally taste. The guest should like the appearance of the food that is not merely the garnish or decoration but the dish itself. Then comes the aroma. When these two are accomplished, the food will taste good." Chef Yang firmly believes in balancing the yin and yang in the food and also tailoring "the taste but not the cuisine" to local palates. He recommends that one must try out the duck and the pork dishes at the restaurant. He picks out the shredded duck with hoisin sauce, Beijing duck with salad and pancake and oriental double cooked pork in chilli bean sauce for special mention.

Real surprise

And then it was time for the best part of any meal: dessert. Chef Yang walked in with a something that looked like a spring roll and announced: "Deep fried ice cream!" Was it a joke? No, actually deliciously real! Out the hot fried exterior comes freezing cold vanilla ice cream. I must admit it is the most exotic dessert I have ever eaten. It is prepared by rolling 15 degree-cold ice cream in a special bread and frying it in hot oil for exactly five seconds and served immediately. The taste can only be discovered, since it doesn't lend itself to wordy descriptions.

Call Shanghai Club on 22269898 for reservations.

ANAND SANKAR

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