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    Mini China: Szechwan, Manchurian, Hunan cuisine at Mini China in Juhu.

Next to Little Italy (Eating out 104) is Mini China, two boutique restaurants specialising in Italian and Chinese food. Both have got original cooks, an Italian and a Chinese, and both serve reasonably authentic food. I mean, if it was more authentic than that, it would not appeal to Indian tastes. You may lunch at the Italian and dine at the Chinese, or vice versa, or go on separate days.

I was at Mini China (Under Chinese Ching that I would like to mention, but I will mention only a handful and leave the rest for you to go to Juhu and try out. Yes, I must give you first the location of the place. It isa on Juhu Tara Road, a little before you reach the Juhu Beach with its bhelpuri stalls. It is situated, in fact both the Management) for lunch, a little crowded out and defeaned by two lively kitty parties, but otherwise quite comfortable. And the food of Mr. Long Ching, late of Baba Ling's Pavilion, more than made up for the crowding. There are several dishes of Mr. restaurants are situated, on the ground floor of Hotel Atlantic, the Italian facing the road, on the right as you come from the town, the Chinese behind it. It is a pagoda-like structure, steps leading up to it, and it has about 40 covers. Hence, mini. But it is nicely done up, with sea horses and zephyrs, deep colours on the walls and tables, a bar at one end, a well turned out waiting staff. And from the kitchen comes the aroma of Chinese food, chilli oil and tofu, oyster sauce and egg fried rice, enough to make a hungry man more hungry.

I will begin with something very simple, but something that I do not think you can get in any other Chinese, at least not of this garlicky quality. It is stir fried spinach with chilli and garlic. It is leaf spinach, very fresh, sauted in chilli and garlic. First, the chef does the chilli and garlic in the wok, then he puts the spinach in it. The cooking is very minimum and the timing is important, when the spinach comes on the table, it is still green, and speckled with flakes of burnt garlic. It is also wet with the chilli and garlic sauce. Eat it while it is hot. The price is Rs.65 and the quantity more than sufficient for two people. With it you may have the la chow chicken (Rs.95). The chicken is either batter fried or cooked in normal oil, I sugguest normal oil. In a separate wok are fried dry red chillis, garlic, roasted cashewnuts (the chef is rather partial to roasted cashewnuts), ajinomoto, salt, pepper. Then the chicken, in squarish pieces, boneless, is dumped into it and fully cooked. And it is finished with chilli oil. Goa chillis are used for the chilli oil, they are dried in the sun, then stir fried in oil. The chillis are then removed and the oil used.

There's chicken in lemon sauce, done Szechwan style, Manchurian style, a shredded chicken with green and red pepper, a braised chicken with black mushrooms and bamboo shoots, and a chicken in oyster sauce, all Rs.95. The black bean and oyster sauces come from Calcutta, that's the only place in India to get them. You can make your own oyster sauce, but it takes a lot of oysters and a lot of work. You have to clean them, grind them, cook them in soya sauce. Besides, the oyster sauce is a raw sauce, it's a cooking sauce.

The menu, I should inform is small and simple. They had a much more elaborate and fancy menu, dishes nobody had heard of, also an expensive menu, when they opened last November, but diners preferred familiar dishes, so the menu has gone through some changes and prices brought down. And things have worked out very well. The food is mainly Cantonese, but there are some Hunan items, the Hunan lobster for one, and some Szechwan. And there are some designer vegetables from our Karen Anand's farm, Chinese cabbage, broccoli, button onions.

For starters, they have baby corn done in a corn flour batter and deep fried; and some very crisp fritters of chicken, also batter fried with Szechwan sauce and chilli oil. The dish is called Mini China Crunchy Munchy Chicken, Rs.90. But best of all in the starters, if you eat squid, are fried squip rings, tossed in soya and oysters sauce. The great thing about them, at least the afternoon I had them, was that they were quite crisp, not rubbery and chewy as squid tends to become if not carefully and expertly cooked. Mukesh Gupta, general manager of the Hotel Atlantic, tells me that the trick is, after scaling the squid, to keep it in water for two to three hours, then cook it on fast fire. The squid rings are Rs.70, and they are available only as starters, not in the seafood section. Most of the fish is pomfret, except the chilli fish, where gold is used, cut into square pieces. I recommend the ginger fish, done in a ginger sauce, a lot of ginger. The pomfret is served in fillet, a dish costs Rs.120, and, like all Chinese food, two and three can share it. There is also an interesting two-in-one prawns (Rs.150). They are prawns, done in two different sauces, a chilli sauce and a while sauce. They come on the same platter, two different colours, two different tastes, one of the prawns has a tomato, hollowed, with a candle in it, the other has a hollowed capsicum, again with a candle in it. All very picturesque, and the prawns taste divine.

A couple of seasonal vegetable dishes, one done in Hunan sauce, first the taste of chilli, then the after-taste of honey, the other in a unique coriander sauce. Try it if you are still hungry. The desserts include banana pancakes, the banana mashed, put on the pancake and folded in, the edges sealed with egg white, like an envelope, topped with ice-cream, honey, sesame seeds.

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