A winding staircase leads us into an expansive space filled with happy faces and lots of food. We’re at the Shanghai Club in WelcomHotel Dwarka that launched only a few months ago, but in a short span of time, has managed to attract connoisseurs with great expectations.
Trying hard to live up to their demands, two master chefs—Venecio Cadavida, the Filipino, Sushi expert and Liu Wen, the Chinese specialist—set out each morning to hunt for the freshest meats and herbs. The conversations between them is minimal since they don’t understand each other’s language but the linguistic barrier is transcended the minute they enter the kitchen. Each does his own thing and every time, they manage to create something memorable.
In anticipation of the evening ahead, we make ourselves comfortable in the well-lit, plushly furbished dining area, boasting a dramatic view of the aquarium besides us. Soon, a warm serving of jasmine tea makes a ‘hot appearance’. The evening’s going to be good was our hunch and it proved to be just that.
Generous portions with generous flavours set the tone for the rest of the evening. That is, in fact are the most appropriate choice of words when you see the grand display of the Sushi Platter, comprising variations like Amaebi, Tekkamaki, Unagi, Maguro Nigiri, Sake Nigiri and others, that you would only find in a fine speciality restaurant. Here, the adroit preparations from the open kitchen of the incredibly proficient chef, came with the best accompaniment—his infectious smile. As we began to plate the miniature creations, he turns away and returns to his live kitchen where other guests are eagerly waiting for their orders. “Even though I start working on other orders, my entire attention is on the guests I served first. As they take their first bite, I can determine whether they liked my food or not,” says Chef Cadavida with a never fading smile. After he gets our approval, he raises his toque, takes a bow and scurries back to his counter.
Sitting in amazement of what we’ve just witnessed, in terms of food presentation and its execution, we patiently wait for the next segment—Chinese. While wondering what it’s going to be, we hear a sizzle of something steadily approaching from behind. The dish is called Sizzling Rice with Seafood in Sweet and Sour Sauce and has to be experienced personally to really understand why it’s a showstopper from the menu. Boiled rice is first dried in a hot area overnight. Then, a seafood sauce consisting prawns and fish is prepared and portioned out in a bowl. Thereafter, the dried out boiled rice is flash fried in hot oil and rushed out to the table where the sauce is poured on top of the rice. Due to its porous crispy and extremely hot exterior, the dish begins to crackle. “Creativity is the dominant feature in a good menu. Every restaurant offers their best. What sets a restaurant apart from the others is its innovation and application of techniques that will make it a signature,” says Chef Wen who scans the city/region every now and then to understand what’s the best produce available and then proceeds to ideate.
Even though the chef loves a simple homemade boiled noodles with tomato and egg from the well-defined, structured and sectioned menu, he extends a smorgasbord of dishes like Su Cai Chun Juan (vegetable spring roll), Qing Zheng Da Xia (steamed scampi with shallots and ginger), Cha Shao Ji (bar–be–que spicy honey chicken), Shi Shu Chao Dai Zi (stir fried scallops with vegetable in white garlic sauce) and others from the Shanghai region within the menu. Some of the offerings from Beijing are Tian La Ma Ti Yu Mi Sun (corn and water chestnut in sweet chilli sauce), Jiao Yan Da Xia (crisp prawns with salt and pepper chili sauce), Zheng Da Xia (signature prawns steamed with superior soy, ginger and garlic), Hong Shao Chang Yu Pian (pan fried pomfret fillet with soy and ginger) and more. Finally, the last and arguably the most popular food region from China— Sichuan offers its options in the form of Iang Xiao Tu Dou (baby potato with spicy garlic), Sichuan Gan Shao Xia (Sichuan chili prawns), Hong Qing La Zi Ji (stir fried chicken with Sichuan pepper and dry chilli), Hai Xian Geng (seafood egg drop soup), Mala Yu Pian (fish of the day, stir fried in Mala sauce that consists of Sichuan pepper and chilli), among others. The Date Pudding and Steamed Coconut Parcels are the underdogs of the desserts menu but prove to be the ultimate surprise elements.
The chef’s lack of English speaking skills have never been a limitation for him around the kitchen as he speaks strongly with his gestures and of course, with help of technology. Using his translation app on his smart phone, Chef Wen navigates the troublesome world of unfamiliar words and instructs, briefs and brainstorms with his team of senior chefs on a daily basis. He has never gone wrong with his communication, just like he has never gone wrong with his food, he lets us know.