There is a new Chinese cook in town, Peter Leong from Bahrain. Yes, from Bahrain. There is much magic in his wok. He operates at Nish, a restaurant at Gowalia Tank (72, August Kranti Marg, at the corner where it joins Forjett Street, and you have to reserve a table. It is not one of those restaurants where you can walk in and walk out. The restaurant numbers are 387 1949 and 387 8484. Make a note.
I was there last week. Meher Moos, who resides a short distance up the road, had organised a meal. There were five for dinner, and four of them were gourmets of various degrees. The choice of dishes and preparation were left in Mr. Leong's hands. He disappeared into the kitchen, and two small Black Labels later, the food started appearing on the table. Here's how it went:
Two starters, barbecued pork ribs and crispy salty fish. The pork ribs were the best things of the evening, or, let me say, among the three best things. They were on the bone, and it is amazing how different (and superior) meat served on the bone tastes from boneless meat. The meat had a lovely glaze on it, it was honey treated, I think, and it was sticky, almost fatty, dripping with gravy. There was lettuce in the serving dish, you rolled it, sopped it in the gravy, and ate it. It served a double purpose, you enjoyed the taste and you cleared the mouth and the taste buds for the second starter. The fish was pomfret, pieces of it, boneless, done in a light batter, like a bhajia, or a Japanese tempura. The flesh was moist inside. If pomfrets had stomach, I would have said it was the stomach of the fish.
The restaurant was full, there are two sittings daily,
8 p.m. to 10 p.m., and 10 p.m. to midnight. Most of the customers were word-of-mouth category, families, with children running around the place, laughing, very much like an American restaurant. I love that ambience. Mr. Chandrakant Shetye, who started Nish and personally looks after it, being present lunch and dinner, was greeting customers, exchanging notes with them, behaving like a regular mine host. Short of cooking, he does everything else, including the bazar, going all the way to Thane for crabs.
For 17 years, he had been Mahalaxmi's most famous bookie, Bookie Nish, if you are familiar, not a single unhappy punter, no complaints against him. And he runs his restaurant like he ran his stand in the silver ring. Fourteen cooks, four master chefs, three Chinese and now there is Mr. Peter Leong. He is an advisor and a food consultant, though, being a true professional, he spends a lot of his time over the stove. Mr Leong is also a restaurateur, he has his own restaurant in Bahrain (Hong Kong Restaurant), and he often functions as an advisor for the restaurants of his partners in Cyprus and Greece. Bombay is lucky to have him, allow me to say that. Shetye and Leong make a good team, and it is Mr. Shetye who seems to be more Chinese of the two, with his Lao tsung type of sayings. "I buy gold and I sell gold; if I was buying silver and selling it as gold, I would require my chefs to polish as gold." Or, "Good chefs are like flying birds, they fly away." His consideration for his customers extends to two separate menus, a red one for the meat eaters, a green one for the vegetarians. "I have vegetarian clients, diamond merchants, who do not even like to read lobster and prawn, forget eating them. Why should I not have a separate menu for them!" Why not indeed.
However, most of what we ate that night was not in either menu. So, let me return to our menu.I do not know whether the stuffed Chinese cabbage roll would go in starters or main meal. Let us say intermission. The cabbage was stuffed with spinach, and I detected a touch of celery, just a touch to give it a sharpness. The celery is a refined green, you can smell it from a long distance, include a touch of it and it changes the taste of the dish. The cabbage roll had a dressing of sesame paste, and it looked pretty sitting in a green sauce.
The entrees included steamed chicken legs with slices of young ginger and scallion. I suppose this is how the real Chinese make it, with gel on it and a dash of Chinese wine, and there was an aspic quality about it.
There were large black mushrooms, stuffed with minced prawns, steamed, and with Thelchong sauce of brown beans and garlic, rather tart. I understand it is Szechwan style. If you don't care for prawns, you may have other forms of minced meat stuffed in the mushrooms. And an equally spicy bean curd with a lot of bean sauce, prepared from a red bean paste. The bean curds were square, two put together, like slices of cake, with the sauce in between. And accompanying it all was steamed rice with just the right quantity and choice of vegetables.
The best I have reserved for the end. Taichun steam egg with roast pork. I have never had this before, it was a bit of a revelation. It was served in a casserole and the bottom of the casserole, several inches of it, was the egg, like a souffle. You have to use the right amount of yoke and heat to raise the egg and keep it tender, like a summer cloud passing through a sunny sky. And on the egg was the sliced pork, roasted. The pork had a healthy redness and a slight sweetness that I have seen on pork meat strung in the food carts of Singapore and Hong Kong. There was no dessert. We Chinese do not eat dessert.