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Chinese with a difference
Source: "The Pioneer"
Sunday, October 30, 1994

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Fa Yian, a new Chinese restaurant at Connaught Place serves distinctive dishes, rich in flavour but free of fat, says Sunita Paul

Its not as if Delhi lacks restaurants. People here love to eat and there are restaurants, mushrooming at every nook and corner. But few that one enjoys going to. A meal is not just food, though I admit it is the most important element. You do enjoy food if its good, but you really enjoy it, if the atmosphere is right. Ambience, the latest catchword is what every restaurant boasts of having. Yet all do not and what constitutes the right ambience is difficult to pinpoint. Like sex appeal, either its there or it isn?t and no amount of cultivation can create the effect.

So, when I found this delightful little place, the last thing I wanted was let others on to it.

Located behind Handloom House in Connaught Place and just opposite the Dhoomimal sculpture gallery, this Chinese restaurant, Fa Yian, is a little over a month old, yet word has spread and there were a lot more takers than one expected. The surroundings do not quite gel, there are several motor parts shops around and Fa Yian seems like an incongruous oasis in their midst.

At the entrance, the delicate bamboo plants, the greens in flat pottery and the rather interesting black sculpture, immediately spell an integrated sense of aesthetics.

Though the restaurant is small, there is a sense of space, of openness. The ten tables fit in rather snugly and the extensive use of white on the walls and the lampshades-probably Chinese-lends a simple, uncluttered feel. The glass windows provide a not-too-scenic glimpse of the shops outside, but framed as it is by bamboo branches, the view is elevated just a little. Prominent among the shops is the DSIDC wine shop, which reminds me, the restaurant does not serve liquor.

At the far end of the restaurant, hanging planters at different levels, form a cover for the large black jar-fountain with four spouts that spill water. Now, this is what I like-the sound of water spells a sense of freshness. Pottery from Khurja, with blue motifs on beige gives it a finishing touch.

If I harp too much on the decor it is because a lot of thought has gone into each element and they are well integrated though simple.

Francis Kuok, one of the partners comes around to take the order. A generous sized Chinese, he is by profession a phototypesetter. In fact his printing- typesetting unit occupied the present premises earlier, informs Anu Bakshi, his partner.

What?s special about their food I ask? And Anu replies quite simply, Its different. we don?t use a lot of oil, and most of our food is stir fried and steamed.

What style do they follow? Not any one, in particular, they serve staples, have created dishes and picked some hints from here and there.

But they sure have hit upon the correct formula. The Lunch (12.30 to 3pm.) and dinner (7.30 to 11pm) menus are marginally different. The prices are slightly higher at night, but the food is definitely a cut above that served at many of the other places I have been to. And as Anu said, it is different.

Take the Steamed Noodles (Rs.35) with an option of chicken, pork or prawn, for instance. A simple dish but the absence of a greasy feel is perceptible. The vegetables are fresh and crisp, and the dish has flavour and body. The soup worth recommending is the Mah Mee soup, which is a clear soup with prawns, rice noodles and vegetables. The strong celery and the shallot flavours come through and a full portion can form a light meal in itself.

For appetizers, the choice could be Nuek Shong Ku (Rs.60) again a dinner item, where each steamed black mushroom is topped with a meat filling. Very delicate in taste. The Australian Fish (Rs. 90) is another of their dinner specialities. Pomfret fillets, lightly fried are flavoured with a mildly pungent chilly garlic sauce.

Another must is the Singapore Chicken (Rs. 65) which has a special flavour of its own. But it was the Steamed Fish Delight (Rs.90, only available at dinner) which is whole pomfret in a black bean sauce, that I liked the best. There is just a hint of ginger-not over powering, and the black bean sauce adds its own dimension to the dish. And again, it is totally minus the fatty feel.

In a word their food can be described as rich in flavour with each dish having a distinct character.

What I did feel was not quite right were the Pepper Prawns which if memory serves me right, should be lightly sauteed in pepper and salt. Here the dish was a clone of garlic prawns and lacked the delicate flavour. The other was the tea. Though Francis did insist it was Jasmine Tea, and imported from HongKong (like their glasss noodles, black mushrooms, prawn crackers and several other ingredients) one felt the flavour was not quite right.

The lack of Date Pancakes on their dessert menu was also difficult to digest in a Chinese eating-place. But on the flip side-their portions are very generous and the service is quick. And according to Anu, their reasonable prices are not an introductory gimmick! They intend to maintain them for quite some time.

I think part of the secret of their success lies in the way Gregory Kuok, their chef handles his area. The four woks were sizzling as I entered the kitchen and the very last thing Greg wanted was a conversation with me. What I did notice was the absence of readymade sauces. Each dish was prepared fresh, each sauce that accompanied it was made on the spot. So I watched him handling an order for Pineapple Rice with Fried Chicken Balls, trying to take in as much of the recipe as I could. A Chinese, Greg?s passion is obviously his work. The ingredients were put into one of the woks, each at a time while the chicken balls were fried separately in another. Over the dish of rice went the chicken balls on a skewer and finally the sauce and voila the dish was ready.

Greg prefers to prepare most of the ingredients himself, which accounts for the quality of their black bean sauce and their chilly garlic sauce. The noodles, in fact, are made fresh each day. I think Greg is a natural - his knowledge may not be perfect in the technical sense but he has an instinctive understanding and feel for flavours and combinations and sympathises with a palate jaded with the taste of Indian-Chinese food.

But, why am I writing about this place, when I want it all for myself. I guess I always had that self-destructive streak!

     Copyright 2007, Fa Yian

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