On paper and in person, China Kitchen takes history seriously. The aim is uncompromising authenticity here—and they clearly have it right, after a decade in the business. There are no behind the-scene stations—the entire cooking process, from the prep of peeling cucumbers to crafting bao is on show: spectacular! They were doing the drama before dinner theatre even began to trend. The ground-floor ambience is rich with layers of texture and colour—dark wood grain, latticed screens, highly glazed crockery in brilliant scallion green and Han blue, an installation of mooncake moulds, traditional crockery and kitchenware, including the famous duck oven. There is a suggestion of the Chinatown shophouse, borne out by the new photo-filled menu—a nod to the faux dishes advertising the wares of Chinese chophouses and hawkers, and also the old-fashioned elegance of a noble home. The team refuses to substitute spices—if you cannot get Chinese chillies, a whole host of dishes comes off the menu, because Indian chillies make you cry and Chinese ones just warm and soften you up—and there never is such a thing as chilli chicken in China, I am informed firmly. There are even hand-pulled noodles. At the same time, they ensure fresh produce that can be locally grown is just that—fresh, from their own private farm over by Chattarpur. Even the duck is hand-reared at ‘home’, fed per special recipes. The menu is comprehensive, with seasoned chefs from all across China representing almost every region. It is not starchy stiff about tradition, though, with playful touches like miso mayonnaise, tobiko and truffle. There’s fanfare enough to please the choosiest customers: fried whole sea bass, Japanese quails, Chairman Mao’s favoured braised spicy pork. At the same time, many of the dim sum are relatively unadorned—classic in presentation, with the chef’s dexterity and a balance of flavours and textures doing the speaking. Spring rolls, puffs, bao, wonton, guo tie, all are executed with exactitude.
The private dining rooms, incidentally, match their chefs’ origins—Sichuan, Hubei, Guangzhou, Anhui, Hunan—and offer a music menu as well as gustatory signatures. It’s not just good for business and grown-ups’ pleasures, but family-friendly too: children under five dine free from the kids’ menu, and there is a Sunday brunch.
You cannot go wrong if you let the waitstaff guide you here. The red chilli dim sum with shrimp mousse tells you what real Chinese chillies are like. Also winning points are the prawn shao mai with flying fish roe and miso mayo; the crystal dumplings with peas, sweet corn, woodear fungi and celery. An excellent appetizer is the warm mushrooms with spring onion and aged vinegar, matched with the cold poached chicken with sesame sauce and peanuts. The Peking duck is legendary here, but the twice-cooked crispy duck with five spice, zest and Chinese wine is an excellent way to ring in the changes. The chilli and pepper crabs are also specialities of the house, and the sizzling tenderloin is great too, and the sea bass a winner for restraint. Add some sweet-sour eggplant, and the Chinese ‘greens’: asparagus, pok choy, snow peas with water chestnut. The spicy udon noodle with Taiwan sate sauce is another way to stretch your culinary horizons, perhaps with the northern-style fried rice for purists—this is one place where waitstaff seem to keep the starches as a last (re)course, as tradition recommends, instead of bringing it to table pronto à la indienne. There are alcoholic chocolate cigars for afters (they also have serious tobacconists’ offerings in the lounge), but we recommend the homemade sorbets and ice-creams (champagne peach, sesame chocolate, lychee lime, two teas—the flavours delight), and the tea truffles (jasmine blossom, chrysanthemum, oolong). They also do a Chinese egg tart, though it has lost top billing for us after the last menu update!
Occasion: Entertaining business associates from the mainland and the homeland—at one table; the Grand Dame of Delhi’s Chinese eateries.
Ambience: Double-level lounge-and-dine where all kitchens are show kitchens with warm, experienced staff; dress semi-formal, ideally.
Contact: Hyatt Regency Delhi, Bhikaji Cama Place,+91-11-6677 1334, delhi.regency.hyatt.com