If you like Chinese, and are tired of making the rounds of the same half-dozen restaurants, I suggest you try May Rose, next to Metro Cinema, Dhobi Talao.
The food is good, a little spicy, but that suits the Indian palate, and the prices are reasonable. And they serve some of the meatiest crabs in town, seasoned with burnt garlic and a hot Szechwan sauce. Ask for additional sauce to be put on your crab, sop it up with lots of Chinese bread, then send the crab back to the kitchen to be expertly cracked open and served in one white lump of meat.
There is a considerable amount of seafood available, all catch of the day, no cold storage. Squid is available more or less the whole year round, except the monsoon, and you should get clams between now and March.
The oysters come from Cochin, and it depends on when they come. I have been lucky most of the time. The oysters are served in their shells, like sea shells rattling in the plate. That is the only way to eat them, one at a time: you suck the juice, then lift the meat with the tip of your tongue and savour it in the mouth for a white, before biting and consuming it. Repeat with the next clam. The cooking is simple, easier than frying an egg. You steam the clams and the shells open. If they open, the clams are good, if not, then throw them away.
The oyster at May Rose is served with lemon, chilli sauce, burnt garlic, all separately, of course. I suggest you use only the lemon, and that too minimum. Yes, the price; all three, squid, clam and oyster are priced at Rs.130 per portion. Make the choice.
A word about May Rose. You may recall it as an Irani restaurant. Not an Irani Irani (a Zoroastrian Irani), but a Mughal Irani (Muslim Irani). There is a difference, but you have to be an Irani or a Parsi to understand it.
Anyway, it qualifies as an Irani restaurant, and it has been there, behind Metro, on Cinema Road, that goes round the theatre, for some 60 to 70 years. It is as old as the building is, and was once very popular with the St. Xavier's College students. That was when Xavierites used to go to Irani restaurants, now they go to more expensive places - their fathers have become prosperous.
In any case, in 1991, the Sayed brothers, Abbas, Ali Akbar and Reza, decided to turn the place into a Chinese restaurant and bar. It was a wise decision, and the wisest thing they did was to appoint young Tom Tseng as manager.
Tseng comes from Calcutta and is an alumni of China Garden, Chinese Room and Tutkuka. His chef, Samuel Wong, also comes from Calcutta, and has cooked in the kitchens of the Calcutta Oberoi, China Garden and Mandarin. He specialises in Szechwan, Cantonese, Haka, you tell him and he makes it.
The China Garden influence can be seen everywhere, in the brightness of the place, in the Chinese horoscopes that serve as place mats, and, possibly, in even the two waterfalls that splash across the windows, and the little singing brook that runs through the restaurant. So you sit among the sound of waters cascading and the aroma of burnt garlic and Chinese sauces. And take the children with you, they love the singing, dancing brook. Well, not exactly singing and dancing, but it is water.
Back to food. For starters, have the Peking dumplings (Rs.145). You may ask for minced chicken or prawns, tapped in flour, steamed, so that the meat gets cooked, then shallow fried on one side only and very lightly, to give it a touch of gold.
Or try the threaded chicken, not mentioned in the menu card, but available (Rs.140). Boneless strips of meat, wrapped in wonton wrappers. The wonton skins are machine made, there's a Chinese at Bombay Central who supplies them and other Chinese pasta to a number of Chinese restaurants in town. Of more or less the same genre is the paper wrapped chicken, the meat marinated and wrapped in butter paper along with spring onion, ginger, oyster and soya sauces, and fried in oil. It is served in the paper, you open it, not necessarily with chopsticks.
The soups are the regular lot, priced between Rs.50 and 55, but there are some worthy variations. A fish coriander soup, clear, with a fillet of pomfret, garnished with coriander. And the fish ball soup, the flesh cleaned of bones and skin, pressed in corn flour, steamed, and placed in chicken stock.
The shark fins used in the shark fin soup are fresh, just taken off the shark, bought the same morning at Sassoon Dock. A lot of Chinese restaurants use dry shark fins, preserved for one to two years. It is quite legitimate and you can buy them in Asian stores abroad. But they have a fishy smell, the fresh ones used at May Rose do not. And the fresh fins are expensive, Rs.800 to 900 per kilo.
The soup itself costs Rs.90 per bowl, and, personally, I think it is a pointless exercise, since shark fin has no taste, and normally you have to mix crab meat along with it for taste. However, they say it has certain medical values.
I shall now recommend three or four dishes:
The smoked honey chicken (Rs.125) has a sweet and smokey flavour about it. The meat is marinated for three to four hours in honey and oil, then, on a silver foil, at the bottom of a pan, jaggery and a few tea leaves (yes, tea leaves) are kept, and the marinated chicken on top of that.
The pan is covered and heated, and, since there is no stock inside, the oil starts smoking as the chicken gets cooked. The pan is opened, the chicken garnished with sesame seed oil, and served.
In an item titled Four Seasons, you may order the meat or seafood of your choice cooked in an orange flavoured sauce. And I hope I am not letting out kitchen secrets when I write that the sauce is made of orange squash and orange marmalade.
I prefer the iceberg lettuce in plum sauce. The lettuce is crisp, like a cabbage, and filled with chicken mince, garnished with very crisp noodles.
Finally, the Peking duck, only, since Indian ducks are not worth eating, it is chicken, lamb or beef. As in the Peking duck, you get a pancake, plum sauce and spring onion. Put them all together in the classic style, roll up the pancake and bite.