Entrepreneur and socialite Vidya Singh savours the delectable flavours of the Orient with a group of friends at China XO, The Leela Palace’s new offering to Chennai…
The Leela Palace is probably the most elegant of the hotels in Chennai and it is always a pleasure to be here. There is a feeling that we are in someone’s very beautiful home. China XO is The Leela Palace’s offering to the city and is a wonderfully stylish space, created to give a feeling of luxury and every detail has been planned with this in mind – from the layout to even the upholstery and artifacts that have come in from distant places. This elegant restaurant has certainly taken the concept of Oriental fine dining up several notches.
My guests for the evening are the elegant Ratika Haksar, avant-garde jewellery designer and a discerning food connoisseur; the stylish and beautiful Paloma Rao, television presenter, RJ and travel buff; and Paul Raymond, restaurateur who owns Moti Mahal Delux, and has a passion for food and loves experimenting with different cuisines. Together, we are ready to do justice to Chef Dharmen’s creations. Chef Dharmen Makawana assures us that the unique menu that he has styled will feature selections from Sichuan and Canton, but with several innovations. This award-winning chef has worked in Australia, Asia and the Middle East, especially the Dusit Thani Resort, the Nikko Bali Resort in Bali and in Sharm el-Sheik in Cairo, besides working in several luxury hotels in different parts of the world. He constantly endeavours to introduce people to the authentic taste and flavour of Oriental cuisine. As we settle in at our table, we realize that the restaurant is so well-planned that there is ample space between the different tables, giving us an instant feeling of privacy and the impression of being almost the only diners there! Chef Dharmen first sends out platters of Dim Sums, both vegetarian and meat. The signature selections are the Chilean Sea Bass, the Crispy Prawn Cheung Fun and the Chicken Prawn Siumai. I relish mine – the Truffle and Edamame and the Asparagus Cheung Fun, which are both fabulous. The colour palette of the presentation is as pretty as the dim sums are delicious. Chef Dharmen takes us across to have a quick look at the open plan Dim Sum kitchen where we watch the rolled dim sums being prepared. The veggie version had asparagus and the meat variant was made with prawns, in a variety of textures. Now we are really beginning to enjoy the entire experience. The Hong Kong style Fried Prawns with a garlic oat crust is truly unusual in its texture and taste. The Traditional Vegetable Hot and Sour Soup with Bamboo Shoot is simple and made to perfection. After this comes the masterpiece that all of us watch with total fascination as the Chef brings it over – the absolutely authentic Peking Duck, made in a wood-fired oven. Brought whole to our table, it is carved and different parts are served to us separately, from the skin to the breast meat and the thighs. The pancakes and the condiments are brought alongside, and consist of finely sliced cucumber and leek, Hoisin Sauce that is slightly sweet in taste and crushed garlic. The duck is absolutely tender and melts in the mouth, and the flavours are balanced with the accompaniments. A wonderful experience in its entirety, the Peking Duck is a big favourite at our table. Just when Paloma and Paul exclaim that they are done,the next course is brought in! Among the mains that are sent out to us, I am surprised to see the delicious Chicken Garlic Fried Rice. A staple in most Chinese restaurants, this version is especially light and delicate. We have the Jasmine Steamed Rice as well, as an option. The Black Pepper Tenderloin Strips are just superb as is the Clay Pot Chicken that is made with bamboo shoot and chilli bean sauce. We are unanimous in pronouncing the Braised Eggplant in chilli bean sauce to be the most delicious we have ever eaten. Trust me, it can make fans out of even those who don’t usually like eggplant! No wonder this platter is sent back to the kitchen completely empty! The Stir Fried Vegetables with water chestnuts and mushroom in a sweet onion sauce is so totally delicious that we simply attack the dish at the table. Equally droolworthy is the Stir Fried Chinese Greens, with Tofu, a dish that is crisp and flavourful.
Delicious hot Jasmine Tea is constantly replenished for us in little cups and certainly helps digest our large meal. Dessert arrives at the table in platters for each of us. Paloma and Paul love the Crisp Sesame Pancake with lotus and red bean paste, while Ratika declares that the Almond Jelly is incredibly light and delicious. I try the rather unusual Crisp Musk Melon and love the long roll of a sponge cake with a difference. A tiny scoop of vanilla ice-cream tops off the dessert selection. Dining at this restaurant has been a wonderful experience and as Chef Dharmen says, “Food is meant to be shared and enjoyed with good company.” China XO at The Leela Palace Chennai makes for a perfect fine dining experience and comes highly recommended by all of us!