By now, we are all familiar with spicy Sichuan and colourful Cantonese food from China. But one cuisine we were waiting to bite into was the one from the Chinese capital city, Beijing. When the Golden Dragon at Taj Coromandel, Chennai, revealed its new menu offering the best of Beijing, we thought there couldn't have been a better time to do this.

A simplistic two-pager, the menu is not exactly exhaustive, but manages to feature some hand-selected recipes that you'll have a hard time picking and choosing from.

Variety is the name of the game here, with guests encouraged to try as many dishes as possible to experience all that Beijing has to offer.

Beginner's luck

The cuisine of Beijing is an amalgamation of two important and yet, polar opposite styles - street food and dishes from the Imperial Palace. The former is best seen in simple, meat-based dishes that can be eaten on-the-go while the latter originated in the Emperor's Kitchen at the Forbidden City where cooks from all over China showcased their best dishes. Chef William at Golden Dragon researched this culinary history thoroughly to create the menu we were about to sample.

Starters and soups form a major portion of the menu and the choices are endless. The pretzel-shaped fried dough called ‘Fire sticks' whet your appetite while you wait for the steaming Hot and Sour soup, a staple of Mandarin cuisine. The soup with steamed prawn dumplings was delightfully tangy and spicy, but a little more oily than we would have preferred. Good thing that more dimsums, steamed to perfection, followed. With a delectable mixture of boiled chicken and chilli in one, shitake mushrooms, firm tofu and vegetables in the second and earthy green leeks in the third, we had our fill of the pop-sized dumplings. Garnished with scallion and soy sauce, they were delightfully light too.

Lamb pancakes followed, where subtly flavourful lamb was simply served in spongy pancakes, the perfect carrier for the meat. If you love seafood, a must-try is the Stir-fried Prawns with Coriander and garlic. Juicy, soft prawns come dressed lightly in and garnished with coriander which lifts the dish to make it extremely refreshing. While the Crispy Fried Tofu with Red Chilli was not as hot as I would have liked it to be, the Spicy Chicken Skewers, resembling authentic street food were sweet and crisp on the outside while moist on the inside. The bite-sized pieces vanished as quickly as they were served.

Finally, the famed Imperial Palace Peking Duck made its entrance on a bed of scallions, cucumber and Mandarin pancake. True to its legendary taste, the duck skin was crisp and sweet while the meat was cooked well and retained its juices. It is also served as a bone and vegetable broth, followed by a stir fry with greens and rice.

Next up!

You might think that the stream of starters would make a meal in itself, but there's more that you should try out at the restaurant. The salad with strips of chicken and julienned cucumber dressed in sesame and soy was a good balance of sweet and salt. The glass noodles, sprouts and wood ear salad on the other hand, were bursting with light flavour followed by a big hit of heat from the chilli mustard dressing. Perfect contrasts in taste. For the mains, you could choose the duck again, this time steamed or go with stir-fried lamb with leeks and garlic. You could also opt for Stir-fried pork with celery and ginger. The lamb strips were lightly fried and again, soy sauce made its presence felt but some of the leek present in the dish was quite harsh in taste. The mains can be had with a smooth, pan-fried rice cake. The lack of vegetarian mains is evident, but the Chef maintains that Beijing cuisine is heavily meat-based and vegetarian choice is therefore limited. Those with a sweet tooth can try the pandan pancakes with banana and crunchy sugar. The green pancakes are quite intriguing both visually and in taste. The authentic Beijing candied fruit skewers are pretty and colourful but quite sweet and a bit chewy.

The chefs at Golden Dragon have retained the authenticity of Beijing cuisine, with soy, sesame, sweet and spicy flavours coming through in almost every dish. Going by the packed tables on opening night, the festival might be a welcome change from their usual menu for the regulars.

What: Beijing cuisine

Where: Golden Dragon, Taj Coromandel Chennai

How much: Rs 2,500 for a meal for two excluding alcohol

(This article was published on July 23, 2012)
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