LEGEND has it that in 500 BC, around the time of the Chinese philosopher Confucius, a princess lived in seclusion in the court of the king of Wu. To battle boredom, the young beauty began carving domino-shaped pieces from ivory and bamboo. After the pieces were ready, she invited three maids in the court to partake in her creation — a four-player game, with 13 tiles based on Chinese characters and symbols, not unlike the card game Rummy. While the origins of Mahjong continue to remain fuzzy, the game became a popular pastime in China, and subsequently travelled to the Western world. A slice of that culture now finds itself in Mumbai, in the form of intricately-carved teak Mahjong tables at the refurbished Ming Yang, Taj Land End’s Oriental restaurant.
The restaurant recently threw open its doors — after shutting for a revamp earlier this year — and presented a new avatar that seamlessly blends culture and cuisine. The menu, which offers the patrons flavours from Shanghai, Beijing, Sichuan and Canton, retains old favourites such as the Ming Yang Chicken, and introduces more than 20 varieties of dimsums and sizeable vegetarian options. The revamped interiors include a striking centerpiece of an imperial water dragon, holding a pearl that is emblematic of the soul and power of the first emperor. The suspended crystal drops symbolise the soldiers of the terracotta army and the lamps hung from the ceiling are shaped like star anise, a key ingredient in the region’s cuisine.
After listening to an enthusiastic narration of the origin of the limited edition plates — acquired from a glass studio in Greece — we tuck into the appetisers. The House Spring Rolls, with bean sprout, carrot, cabbage and shiitake mushroom, are delicately flavoured and generously stuffed and a must-order for vegetarians. The Chicken Sesame Kothe — from the new dumpling section — is dry and largely bland. The unusual pairing of ingredients in the butternut squash dumpling, however, makes it sumptuous.
The Slow Fried Prawns, topped with black beans and bird eye chillies, are a fiery delight. The new cocktail menu has an interesting addition, the drinks are served with artisanal ice — shaped as spheres and cylinders, these are infused with a melange of vibrant flowers and herbs.
For mains, we pick the Diced Chicken with Dry Red Chilli and Sichuan Pepper, which, when paired with the steamed jasmine rice, is a spiritual union. The Chilean Sea Bass with Pickled Chilli melts in the mouth, but the Kenya beans, tossed in garlic, chilli, spring onion and soy, are lackluster. The ho fun noodles, with braised mushroom and tofu, encompass the craving comforts that we have come to associate with the cuisine.
We round off with three picks from the dessert menu, and steaming cups of the fragrant Chinese green tea. The mildly sweet Jasmine tea rice pudding, not unlike our kheer, hits the right spot but the dates in the date pancake, which is served with homemade Tahitian vanilla ice-cream, lack texture. The chocolate mousse impresses for its pairing with the spiced caramelised popcorn, but could do without the sour cherries that lend an inessential tang.
If authentic fare is what you seek, coupled with unmatched interiors of the Arabian Sea, Ming Yang is right on the path of the classic Chinese adage chi hao he hao. Eat well, drink well.