Bringing in the Year of the Monkey at Shao, Park Plaza

Continuing with my love for all things Asian at the moment, I was privileged to be invited to a pre-festival dinner at Park Plaza’s Chinese fine-dining restaurant, Shao. An evening put together by the flamboyant Chef Narender Singh, celebrated the Chinese New Year and the coming of the Year of the Monkey. The festival offers set menus in both veg and non veg. The style of cooking remains true to the familiar ‘Indian’ Chinese that most people are used to.

Decked up in the familiar shades of red and gold, our evening at Shao began with a refreshing cocktail and some addictive prawn crackers. My will power was put to the test to ensure I didn’t fill up on those crackers and not have any space for the meal. Soon enough, our first course for the evening arrived – a Lung-Fung soup with chicken, minced prawns and black mushrooms. Mixed with the right amount herbs and flavours coming from the mushrooms, the hot soup was just what I needed at the end of a long day at the office. The soup was served with Chinese-styled steam buns which brought back fond memories from my trip to Shanghai last year. Some of the other folks at the table even asked for a second helping of soup. The soup was bang in the middle of familiar comforting territory.

The appetizers started off with the Dragon Chicken. Not strictly Chinese in flavour, the chicken came wrapped in a pandan leaf and was infused with prominent flavours of kaffir lime and lemongrass. This made it almost Thai in flavour.  Going by the name, I was expecting a spicy dish that exploded in my mouth. On the contrary, the dish had a very refreshing taste thanks to the lime and was balanced out perfectly by the sauce of ginger and sesame that accompanied the dish. What I liked a lot more than the chicken was the accompaniment, a rice paper wrapped garden roll filled with veggies and melon and acted like a cleanser to the strong flavours of the soup and the chicken. I was willing to eat an entire plate of just the garden roll. This was followed by two single helpings of Vegetable Gyoza and Seafood Gyoza. The latter packed a much stronger punch with scallops, prawns and water chestnuts. It was my favourite in the appetizers, considering the garden roll wasn’t strictly the hero of any dish.

Before we hit the main course, we were presented with an extremely gorgeous-looking fish. The Chinese have a belief that having a surplus at the end of the year, allows you to save up and make more than what you require in the next year; according to them "fish" sounds like 'surplus'. Hence, fish plays an important role in any Chinese New Year celebration. The Chinese also believe that the fish should be the last dish left with some left over, to indicate surplus for the coming year. Good luck with that when you have a bunch of hungry people at the table. Also, since we’re not Chinese, we can be forgiven. The history aside, the fish looked good, tasted fresh and made all of us smile.

The main course had a variety of dishes. But my favourite was the Prawn Mandarin. With a perfect blend of sweet and spicy, the prawns were cooked perfectly. Crunchy exterior with the perfect crunch through the meat that retained all the natural flavour of the prawn without letting the sauce overpower it. Kudos to the chef on this one. I took about three generous helpings. Or maybe four, who counts these sort of things?

Other dishes included the braised lamb with cha choy, the Sichuan style spicy vegetables with tofu and the stir fry bokchoy with water chestnut. The prawn mandarin was the star player in the meal for me. Accompanying these dishes was a braised soba noodles with mushrooms. Taking me on yet another nostalgia trip, these noodles reminded me of the ramen noodles popularly found in Hong Kong. This made a perfect accompaniment to the prawns compared to the noodles and rice. Did I tell you about the Prawns BTW?

I do believe all those prawns got me quite high and I spent the rest of the meal staring at my plate (fairly) silently and wondering, “What have I done? Such gluttony!” The closing number of the meal was an almond and date ice cream topped with lychee and praline with a crisp fruit roll. While everyone gushed over the ice cream, I fell for the fruit roll. Call it my new found addiction to all things salad-ish and raw-ish, the ice cream was a bit too strong for me. I’m not the biggest fan of lychees either, so my heart found happiness in the fruit rolls. 

We got a glimpse to only a sample (okay, a rather large sample) of the dishes that would feature in the Chinese New Year Festival Celebrations at Shao, starting today, the 5th of February. Priced at INR 1500 and INR 1800 (plus taxes), the set menus would offer a variety of dishes, some of which you’ve read about. This was my first meal from the kitchen of Chef Narender Singh and I am quite impressed by what I’ve tasted. Look forward to more!