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    Bring in the Year of the Monkey with a fresh and light salad, dumplings, Bak Kwa and more, at China XO

    _DSC0423Chilli prawn wontonsichuan styleWhen you arrive at The Leela for dinner, the fountains, reflecting pool and flaming torches always add a touch of drama to the festivities. You almost expect to find a friendly cheetah or a bunch of snake charmers in attendance. It all serves to add an edge to the appetite when one is here to try the special Chinese New Year menu at China XO.
    At the restaurant, we are greeted by the gracious executive chef, Dharmen Makawana, and happily agree to put ourselves at his mercy. The meal, Bak wah -bbq sweet porkbelieve it or not, starts with a salad—something we don’t come across very often in Chinese restaurants in India. And what a salad! Julienned vegetables with wonton crackers, salmon sashimi, plum sauce, and sesame oil—the light and refreshing Yee Sang salad is served with just the right amount of theatre. It is followed by beetroot dumplings and barbeque Bak Kwa. With such a high standard set by the Yee Sang salad, the dim sum selection struggles a bit to keep up. The Bak Kwa saves the day for the IMG_8047course, immediately transporting us to Lim Chee Guan in Singapore’s Chinatown.
    The appetiser, yam bean in honey pepper sauce, ticks all the boxes—crisp and bursting with freshness. The soup, the soup. My kingdom for that soup. Morel mushrooms with scallops, tofu and Chinese cabbage—wonderfully complex flavors with the warm earthiness of the mushrooms perfectly complementing the scallops and tofu.
    We get greedy with the main course: Aussie lamb chops, shimeiji and shiitake mushrooms and asparagus in Yee Sang  Salada wonderfully creamy garlic butter sauce, steamed salmon with garlic fried rice and Singapore-style noodles. The mushrooms and asparagus, the chops and the noodles are worth kidnapping the chef for. The salmon is a bit disappointing, frankly, because that lovely distinctive flavor is overpowered by the ginger.
    White wines go very well with Chinese food and we pair the meal with a delightfully fruity Niel Joubert Sauvignon Blanc, an unpretentious wine that lifts the whole experience. Dessert is freshly-made orange sorbet and mango pudding that cleanses the palate. In all, the flavours are balanced. There are several standout dishes and others that need some work. One common thread, by and large, is that the produce and the protein are the heroes and that’s commendable. Service is good albeit slow and that’s something China XO is going to have to keep an eye on. With a menu like this one, the food needs to be quicker off the pass.
    Till February 9, from 7 pm to 11 pm. Meal for two at approximately Rs 3,000. Details: 33661234

    — Amar D

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