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When this ravenous reporter started writing about food, the last thing I expected was to use the word ‘Rat’ on the same page. But then, I ended up talking about the movie Ratatouille when I reviewed a master chef’s cooking class last November and now... well, let’s talk about the Chinese New Year.
January 24, 2020 marks the end of the Year of the Pig and the advent of the Year of the Rat. And while rats get a bad name in the post-Great Plague era, they are actually amongst some of the smartest animals. So, it comes as no surprise that the Year of the Rat is supposed to be one of vitality and intelligence.
To celebrate that, the GulfWeekly team headed to the Gulf Hotel Bahrain’s China Garden restaurant to meet renowned Chinese-Taiwanese culinary icon Chef Chih-Yuan Lin. We had a sneak peek at the menu he is setting in the leadup to the Chinese New Year.
Chef Chih-Yuan is known in China for his contemporary takes on traditional Chinese fare and has quickly climbed the culinary ladder to become executive chef of Sanhoyan, a chain of popular Taiwanese restaurants at just 29.
He is setting the menu at China Garden until Saturday and teaching a masterclass before jetting back to China. We were lucky to sample four of his finest culinary creations.
As we arrived and took our seats in the regal Emperor suite, Gulf Hotel’s food and beverage manager Sunuj Deen welcomed us and told us a bit about the culinary celebrations to come.
He said: “This is our third year of flying in a celebrity chef for Chinese New Year. As one of the choicest Chinese restaurants in the kingdom, we believe it’s our obligation to give our guests the best Chinese New Year experience. The menu this year, cooked by Chef Chih-Yuan, will take them on a journey through Taiwan and will give them an experience of contemporary Chinese-Taiwanese culinary creations.”
As we talked, our appetisers wafted over. First up were the five flavoured cones (BD4.2). While ice-cream cones may not necessarily be considered traditional Chinese culinary favour, the mashed potato filling with veggies, topped with mussels and a unique five-flavour Taiwanese sauce gave us the Chinese flavour we expected, in a shiny crunchy package.
Combining sweet, sour, spicy and salty flavours with just a hint of bitter, the sauce was delectable, setting an extremely high bar for the dishes we are to enjoy for the rest of the year.
However, the real show-stopper was the shrimp passion salad (BD4.2) with the chef’s special passionfruit sauce. While it seemed simple, the warm deep-fried Gulf prawns with the citrusy passionfruit, pineapple and kiwi were the perfect intermingling of warm-cool food temperatures.
As we waited for our main course, we chatted with the team about the changes the chef has made to adjust to the local palate. While Chinese foodies prefer sweeter cooler flavours, Bahrain’s bellies tend to prefer spicier warmer tones, so the cuisine is much closer to the Sichuan flavour profile.
Soon, the taro duck breast (BD6.5) was served. Duck meat is one of the newer introductions to my carnivorous consumption collection and the trick is to eat it when warm, lest it become rubbery and lose its juicy flavour. And served atop a bed of mashed taro with scallions and Sichuan spicy sauce made from scratch, flavour was definitely not amiss in this dish.
Finally, to really give us the meat lover’s delight, Chef Chih-Yuan served us a two-hour slow-braised lamb shank (BD8) with a side of seasonal vegetables topped with green onions, cumin dust and a Chinese herb gravy. It was the perfect end to an intriguing look at the intersection between contemporary and traditional Chinese cuisine, a juxtaposition in a very classical Chinese-looking establishment.
Try out Chef Chih-Yuan Lin’s creations for yourself until Saturday, January 25, at China Garden. If you would like to learn some of his saucy secrets, check out his masterclass this Saturday from 10:30am to noon. Priced at BD39net, this is definitely not one to miss. Call 1771 3000 for details and bookings.