When they say yum cha in China, it means ‘drink tea’. But the idea is to go out for dim sum (light bites) like dumplings, rolls, cakes and steamed buns. We know exactly how that works, in this land where pakode and chai are as inseparable as yin and yang!
One of the translations of dim sum is ‘little heart’. It may offer little hearts but Delhi’s latest teahouse itself has a mighty heart, discovers Mudita Chauhan-Mubayi
On a rain-drenched afternoon, a shutterbug pal and I decide to go yum cha in that gourmet planet called Hauz Khas Village. Publishing entrepreneur Japjit Singh has recently opened XO Oriental Teahouse, a cute cubbyhole in the back alley, off the Naivedyam turn and up a narrow stairway, just before Elma’s. Done up in solid crimson and black—an odd poster here, a miniature marble Buddha there—it seats 20 but doesn’t look cramped, courtesy the ample glazing that ushers the lush outside inside. Fairy lights strung up on the tree outside add to atmosphere but I wish they had a more eclectic playlist. Justin Bieber can cause serious damage that even the calming jasmine tea cannot soothe!
To make time to photograph some dishes (see Sandeep’s charming images), we skip soups though I have my eye on Tangy Coconut Soup (with chicken; Rs 125). We begin our Oriental odyssey with the signature dim sum, XO Prawn Dumpling (Rs 245). We expect it to be spicily sharp, like XO sauce, but it’s subtle. A wonton wrapper coloured in pastel stripes is steamed and draped like a blanket over lightly poached prawns, locking in the sponginess and marine flavour. The garlicky XO dipping sauce, with its dried shrimp undertone, is a pungent counterpoint. A good dish but not a memorable one. In stark contrast comes Vermicelli Prawn (Rs 245), a cracker of a starter. The prawns are wrapped in mid-length vermicelli and flash-fried, so the threads become crunchy while the prawns get only a crisp glaze yet stay succulently pink within. A dab of XO is nice with it but I wouldn’t mind a creamy coconut relish to offset the texture.
XO’s menu is well-balanced, featuring vegetarian counterparts for nearly all meat dishes. Each dim sum serving has 4–6 pieces, depending on size, and comes with an array of tangy, pungent and sweet dips. Tangy Asparagus Dumpling (Rs 145) really doesn’t need any sauce though. A variant of the siu mai style (with an asparagus stalk on top instead of crab roe or diced carrot), it appears dainty but packs a pungent punch, surprising the palate with a heady dose of kaffir lime. The grassiness of the diced green asparagus complements the tanginess beautifully. Our other vegetarian pick—Vegetable & Water Chestnut Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls (Rs 165)—disappoints us. Summer rolls are supposed to be texture bombs, with crunchy, colourful veggies sitting within (and visible through) very fine, almost crunchy rice paper. At XO, the overkill of congealing vegetable stock inside and atop the rolls makes them goopy, blunting even the natural snappiness of water chestnuts. The dish needs a serious rethink.
Two commendable dim sum are the heartily flavourful Szechuan Chicken Sticky Rice in Lotus Wrap (Rs 225; glutinous rice studded with juicy chicken chunks, smoky shiitake mushrooms, infused with the delicate aroma of lotus leaf) and the refreshingly pungent Chicken with Ginger in Glass Wrap (Rs 225), which pairs gorgeously with the piquant dip of spring onion and garlic in soy oil.
If you can pack away a lot, XO has wholesome meals in assorted styles from Thai massaman to Japanese teriyaki. Once again, we try the signature offering, XO Meal (with prawn; Rs 325)—generous portions of fragrant rice, fiery XO-based gravy studded with prawns, peppers and pok choy, zesty kimchi and zingy pickled veggies. It’s predictable and satisfying, like comfort food should be.
XO awaits its liquor licence and plans to serve beer and wine, alongside an array of Chinese green and oolong teas. Right now, jasmine tea is on the house but don’t guzzle up because there is no restroom attached. You’ve been warned!
As we are wrapping up, dessert arrives—Chocolate Stuffed Litchi Wonton (Rs 125) with vanilla ice-cream. It looks appetizing, with deep-fried, burnished wonton wrappers folded over to enclose a litchi, its pit replaced by chocolate sauce. It doesn’t work though because (1) the chocolate is too runny and (2) the litchi is too dry. I expect better texture and gooey chocolate.
Not a sweet ending perhaps but it has been a heart-warming meal, served with Japjit’s quiet zeal and the earnest passion of his kitchen staff. We are at XO on the sixth day of its soft launch. Bearing in mind the inevitable teething troubles and the minuscule kitchen space, we are quite happy. We expect the menu to be fine-tuned, and suggest that the signature dishes be tweaked to raise the bar from XO to XOXO!
Ratings out of 5
Food: 3.5 | Ambience: 3.5 | Service: 4 |Overall: 3.5
Meal for Two: Rs 1000| Alcohol: Liquor licence awaited | Credit Card: Machine awaited | Timings: 12 noon–11 pm, all days
Address: 24/2, II Floor, Hauz Khas Village | Phone: 011 2652 1341