The Hakka tradition began with three main objectives: food preservation, increasing our appetite and supplementing nutrients to our body. Hence, Hakka is famous for its preserving techniques, oily or high calorific value and for using fresh ingredients that instigate our appetite. These were just few of the many interesting things we learnt through the passionate and detailed brief we got from Sous Chef Prakash Radi, during our visit to the ‘Golden Dragon’ restaurant at Taj Coromandel, Chennai, which hosted the Hakka Food Festival from July 11 – 20, 2014. After the brief, we decided that we would rather let the Chef guide us with our order, and he suggested that we try all that is most authentic in Hakka cuisine, while ensuring that we stick to those dishes that our palettes are most comfortable with. However, we also agreed to be a bit adventurous and try certain ‘never-tried-before’ items as well.
We started with two variants of Dumplings, Water Chestnut and Coriander Dumpling and Spinach Golden Garlic Dumpling, though they were not part of the Hakka Festival menu. Both turned out to be the best Dumplings I have ever tasted. The dough was so thin that it never felt like it even existed, making the journey between the dough and the filling almost non-existent. To top that, the fillings in both versions were pure bliss, though my personal favorite was the Spinach version. Our first authentic Hakka dish was the classic Salt Baked Chicken with Ice Berg Lettuce salad, Ginger Scallion Dip and Soy-Sesame Sauce on the side. The chicken felt like it came more out of a traditional clay oven than from a modern electric one. True to its name, the dish had salt evenly distributed to every single millimeter of the chicken, while still not making you feel that the salt has gone overboard. It truly surprised us with the fact that a meat can be cooked with such simplicity and limited ingredients, while, still making you crave for more.
The second dish served was another Hakka classic, Roast Duck with Jasmine Rice Stuffing in Hoisin Sauce. In short, it was ‘par succulence’ (if such an expression can be invented). It felt like the duck, the rice and the sauce have blended into one aromatic element, which just sailed over the tongue and melted before it reached the throat. After that our adventure trip began, which included visiting the Hot and Sour Soup with Mock Shark Finn and Crab Meat, Stir Fried Baby Octopus with Sour and Spicy X.O. Sauce and Crispy Fried Oyster with Tamarind Sauce. For those who plan to try the Oyster for the first time, I would recommend them to have it this way.
Back to familiar territory with Steamed Fish with Golden Garlic and Soya. The soft and juicy pieces of the Sea-bass, minus the fishy smell, were well complemented by the elevating taste of garlic in the sauce. We then ended our Hakka journey, quite aptly, with vegetarian (just to be easy on the stomach) and tried Steamed Aubergine with Peanut and Chilly, Traditional Hakka Chopsuey and Vegetable Chow Mein. The Aubergine tantalized our taste-buds with the freshness of the exotic vegetable maintained, without letting the strong taste of peanut, dominate the dish. The inclusion of some traditional Chinese ingredients like Pokchoy and Chinese cabbage, gave an authentic touch to the Chopsuey, thus differentiating it from the usual ‘Desi’ American Chopsuey which we get at ‘that Chinese restaurant around the corner’. The Chow Mein, which was mildly tinkered with oil and some fresh vegetables, left an everlasting memory of it on our taste-buds.
We thought we would wrap it up quickly with dessert, but it turned out to be an indulgent experience, all the more with two stunning desserts: Coconut and Fresh Basil Ice Cream and Soil and Shoot. The edible soil variant, which looked like something straight out of Heston Blumenthal’s kitchen, had the perfect balance of smoothness and crunch, along with the slight but delightful tanginess of berries. I am usually not a fan of coconut flavoured ice creams, but the one we had today was truly the opposite. The taste of coconut was so absolutely subtle, it made the ice cream so much lighter, and the supporting delicate hint of basil, made it even more appetising and desirable, compelling us to go for another serving.
Apart from the food, our Hakka experience was made more authentic and memorable with a variety of Tea, which was served in a three course oriental style and personally administered by the Restaurant Manager, Ms. Rynelle Fernandes, throughout the meal. Course 1 was with a ‘blooming tea’ called Aromatic Pearls that enhanced our appetite. As the name suggests, this light bodied, golden brandy coloured tea, bursts into a variety of aromas the moment it is poured out of its infusion pot. Course 2 was the High Grown Floral Oolong, a digestive tea, which is between the white and the green tea types. Course 3 was the mild, earthy and the surprisingly light Pu-erh, a red, after meal tea.
Overall, The Taj has stuck to its traditional and unparalleled standards with respect to food and hospitality, through this restaurant, while its staff exhibited in-depth product knowledge and exceptional warmth, making our dining experience even more involving and indulgent. Golden Dragon has wiped away all my apprehensions about Chinese food, and has positioned itself, as my first choice restaurant, at least for Chinese, in Chennai.
Ratings (out of 5)
Ambience: 3.5 | Food: 4.0 | Service: 4.5 | Overall: 4.0
Alcohol: Yes | Credit Card: Yes | Meal for two: ₹6000/-
Address: Hotel Taj Coromandel, MG Road, Chennai – 600 034 | Telephone: +91 44 2822 2827