Open China is not backed by any famous restaurateurs, cartels or celebrities. In all likelihood it will mostly pass unnoticed which is a pity because the food, for a change, is actually damn good .
In all fairness, it’s not a winning name. It might be an appropriate title for a foreign, or economic, policy; but not for a restaurant. It doesn’t quite have the ring of promise, or mystery, that will immediately draw you to it.
On the other hand, most of the new Juhu restaurants – apart from the ill-fated Trilogy, which opened and shut faster than you could say Lord of the Rings – with fancy names, have been sorely disappointing. I haven’t eaten at Indigo Deli yet, but the food at its neighbours in the Hotel Horizon shopping complex is so poorly executed that I fear they have the shelf life of a left-liberal editor under the present dispensation.
The month-old Open China sits in a squat building, on the road between Horizon and Novotel. The doorway opens into a small reception area beyond which are two cavernous rooms that perhaps inspired the name of the restaurant. I don’t remember any restaurant ever being here and from the layout it seems like a re-purposed banquet hall. For a place that doesn’t have any natural light I would have thought they’d gone with brighter, more vibrant colours on the walls and the furniture. Grey slate flooring, leather upholstery, red columns and a wooden ceiling make the room sombre and weighed down. Also it makes it looks more like a Mughlai, or north Indian, restaurant than a Chinese one.
I wasn’t sure what to make of the menu. On paper, like many menus, it looked fantastic. However, considering everything else about the place I wondered if it was too ambitious?
Since it’s was a cold, wet day I decided to start off with a soup – very few restaurants manage to get that wrong. The seafood coriander is surprisingly tasty. It’s a touch spicy, slightly sweet, the seafood is not overcooked and there’s a richness and body that’s comforting and reassuring.
The dimsum too are much better than I anticipated. While the hargow skin is a little thicker than it should be, the prawn is tender and the crunch from the minced water chestnut adds an additional layer of texture. The salt and pepper squid is a bit basic, but the squid is not overcooked and rubbery and the mix has a light touch of saltiness and spiciness; the prawn cheung fun with a filling of crispy prawn wrapped in flat rice noodles is the second only to the one at Yauatcha; the butteriness of the scallop is not overwhelmed by the chicken in the scallop and chicken sui mai, and the wrapper is light and thin.
Everything served has far exceeded my expectations so I enquire about the team. Turns out the chef and manager are ex-Royal China, one of the finest Chinese restaurants in Mumbai. It makes sense now.
My mains are almost as good. The pan-fried pomfret in yellow bean sauce is mostly pungent and salty, and not quite as delicate as the other dishes. The worst thing I can say about the lotus leaf rice is that’s it’s not exciting as the presentation. Both are nonetheless enjoyable.
However, the lamb in black bean sauce is exceptional; the thinly-sliced meat is tender and juicy, the sauce just naps the meat and you can taste the saltiness of the black beans above everything. On a whim I try the Szechwan chicken and find that the Indianness is quite muted; it’s tangy and sharp as a Sichuan-based dish should be. The aubergine hot garlic is another hidden gem. Cut into square logs, the crispy brinjal retains a sweetness that balances the heat from the sauce.
Desserts are avoidable and forgettable, but then apart from (and only the), Raspberry Delice at Yauatcha, when was the last time you ate a memorable dessert at a Chinese restaurant?
I hope Open China is able to maintain it’s standards as it goes forwards; it’s a difficult business and I’ve seen too many restaurants start strong, but waver and lose focus over time. They’ve got all the ingredients to be the successful underdog; I hope they stay on course.
Juhu Church Road,
near Horizon Hotel
|Invited by PR company||Yes|
|Guest of the chef/ restaurant||Yes|
|Restaurant knew I’m a food writer||Yes|
|Meal comped by the restaurant||Yes|