What could be more intriguing than when one of our favorite restaurants, Pumpkin Tales, (a Conde Nast Traveller 50 Best in India) decides to open a sister venue featuring one of our preferred cuisines: a tempting palette of Chinese from Sichuan through Xi’an through Guangdong? A bit of culinary magic that had Sarah and me both eager to explore!
We were fortunate enough to enjoy a pre-opening sampler of the array of dishes and we look forward to repeat visits since the menu is extensive and intriguing, with so many veg and non-veg options, we will have plenty to discover. By the way, Zhouyu is an ancient name for Panda—how perfect!
Chindi Varadarajulu, Creative Chef and an owner of the Pumpkin Tales and Zhouyu, has always loved exploring global tastes and cuisines from Singapore to Vancouver and who believes that every day should be a culinary adventure, so it was only natural that she and Head Chef, Suresh, would expand their artistry to focus on one of Asia’s most popular yet often misrepresented traditions. What better way for us to expand our knowledge and delight our palates with an expert survey of the famous gems—some of them little known—of the wide array of Chinese dishes.
We were greeted with an opener of a pair of soups, a traditional hot & sour plus a less common winter melon—also known as ash gourd or white pumpkin—broth. Winter melon makes a delicately toothsome star for a soup that intrigues with textural artistry. And the companion bowl of hot & sour startled our expectations with its depth of flavors highlighted by a lovely caramelized note.
Next, Chindi brought us a team of salads: a tempting Ban-Ban chicken and a refreshing dish titled “Smashed Cucumber.” The former is a famous Sichuan recipe of shredded chicken breast, with julienned greens, peanuts, and, in Zhouyu’s authentic version, a topping of Chindi’s own sesame paste and chili oil dressing—and a picture-perfect sprinkling of sesame seeds. Oh, my! A delightful combination of textures and flavors that teased and lingered. The smashed cucumber salad was humble and crispy with its light dressing and supporting red peppers with its own simple foil of sesame seeds.
So, when you eat Chinese, what could be more ubiquitous than tofu? While we enjoy a bit of tofu, I must admit to a touch of hesitation when the next dish featured four sizeable discs of the glimmering soy protein. But who knew this staple of Chinese cuisine could not only taste so light and, well, silky, with its supporting cast of julienned greens and onions in a perfectly balance sauce. And then came what we both felt might have been our true favorite, if only by a tiny bit, the deceptively simple preparation of the salt & pepper mahi-mahi. Lightly breaded—even that is too strong a word—and so perfectly moist and flavorful, we debated asking for seconds . . . but we knew we had several more dishes to sample.
Next, we sampled the Chongqing Chicken: fried boneless chicken tossed with colorful dried chilies, ginger, chili oil, and Chindi’s Xian sauce, a flavorsome veg version of the famous XO sauce. Spicy and a touch sweet, a delicious combination that showcased Chindi’s own take on the traditional XO sauce.
Her Xian sauce is pure veg, while the XO contains seafood, and we both told her she needs to bottle and sell it separately, it’s that special! Zesty, slightly coarse, and with a deep undercurrent of umami, it works well with so many dishes. And the mixed veg stir fry, loaded with bokchoy, broccoli, mushrooms, carrots, peppers, and water chestnuts stir-fried with garlic, served as a wonderfully al dente foil for the non-veg dishes.
Right, so if you’ve never eaten a luffa—we’ve used them to scrub with occasionally—then you’re in for a true cultural treat at Zhouyu! The luffa, which is ridge gourd, is tossed simply with an edible white fungus, ginger, garlic, soy, Chinese cooking wine, and sesame oil. The flavor is marvelous, both nutty and sweet, with a crunchy texture. Try it, you’ll like it!
After our adventure into delicious luffas, we returned to a more recognizable entre with a hearty platter of stewed duck in a lovely soy dressing. Always a favorite for us, Zhouyu’s duck was moist and tender, with plenty of the deep, rich flavor that takes it to the top of the poultry chart. We also loved the shredded potato, which had been blanched, cooled, then pan-seared just enough to give it a light crispiness, complemented by green onions and dried peppers—and Chindi’s Xian sauce truly brought it to life.
And for a change of pace in textures and regions, we next sampled a luscious serving of Cantonese seafood hor fun. The lovely presentation featured wide rice noodles lightly pan-fried then accentuated with a mild, yet flavorful sauce with delicate bits of seafood. We were also won over by the dry lamb and celery, strips of tender lamb dry-fried then tossed with celery, chili bean paste, Shaoxing wine and a touch of soy. But the best hidden delight in the dish was the finely julienned slivers of fresh ginger! A bite of the lamb, coupled with the snap of the ginger, was truly a magical taste.
With Zhouyu just opened this month, the world of exquisite Chinese cuisine has come right to Chennai. Be sure to go exploring as soon as you can!
ZHOUYU: A CHINESE KITCHEN
37/20 Bheemanna Garden Street, Alwarpet, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600018, India
Situated in the heart of Chennai, Zhouyu is a cheerful restaurant that serves traditional Chinese food, from the provinces of Hunan, Canton, and Sichuan, that is fresh, relatively healthful, and delicately balanced. They have left out the MSG in their kitchen and have brought in the flavors with good quality ingredients, so visit Zhouyu for a lunch or dinner of delicious dining!