1330 hours, June 5, 2016, Sunday, Juhu:
Imagine a lazy, insouciant afternoon. When you are in a state of panacea, and care little for the rest of the day. Now imagine a bay view – the Arabian sea. A bay view with a picturesque poolside just within the boundaries. A pool side with dripping babes passing by. Watching them so carelessly one could forgive you for ogling this one time. Watching from inside a luxurious, grand, fine dine setting restaurant. A fine dine with gigantic spotless French windows oh so elegant. Watching while you are supping on one of the finest creations of an age old chef, someone who is an authority in himself. Supping on the choicest dishes of a cuisine of your liking. Supping and being charmed simultaneously such that you want to return to the place again and again.
Sampan has got two distinct laurels to itself: it is the oldest (THE oldest) Chinese cuisine restaurant in the city, and it is helmed by the same chef till date, as it was when it had started. Since 1976, chef Penpa Tsering has been the mainstay at the Sampan restaurant.
It was a sheer delight to receive an invitation for a luncheon from Amarjeet Singh, the Marketing Manager - and an old friend. Novotel has organised a Korean Food fest lasting a week, for which Master Chef Jong-Man Kim had flown in from Novotel Seoul, South Korea. And we - the daughter and I - were offered a sneak peek at the delicacies. We also got to meet Sachin Maheshwary - the Executive Assistant Manager.
“Mumbai hardly has any stand alone Korean cuisine restaurants. In this festival we are introducing around 12 – 15 delicacies from the country. Korean food by nature is essentially healthy and very balanced, but without many condiments, complexities or cooking treatments. We are not tampering with the food, we are not tweaking it to suit the Indian palate and we are offering pure authentic Korean fare. This is a big step for us and we are taking a calculated risk by introducing the food to the city folks.”
As this was a special fussing-over-me kind of affair, there was no set menu, and I was very kindly requested to be the commander of the day. And of course, I did accept the opportunity.
Diced fish, stir fried prawns, lobster and egg in a thick fish broth. Now that is like some kind of dream come true for me. The thick consistency of the broth, the richness it held in its womb, the luscious prawns and lobster bits and the condiments that went along with it, indescribable. It didn't have the complexities of a Manchow, but it was far ahead super premium. It simply set the ball rolling for the fare to come.
CHA CHU PRAWNS:
Actually this seemingly simple dish is actually quite an elaborate affair. About twelve jumbo prawns, peeled and deveined, are taken in a bowl and mixed with egg white and corn flour, and then deep fried till they turn golden. These are served with fried chilly, garlic and crushed pepper. The prawns were crunchy, rightly salted, and the accompanying chilli garlic elevated the wholesomeness to another level. Full marks here as well.
This was a Korean Style Chicken Soup, it had a whole chicken stuffed with raw Korean rice, garlic, ginger, leek, scallion, spices, Jujube and Ginseng. The chicken was cooked as a whole, and the resultant clear broth served as the soup. The amazing thing was that no oil was used in the preparation, whatever fat present was of the chicken itself. Again not very complex, no burst of flavours, but every sip carried truck loads of nutrients.
This is a signature Korean dish, literally meaning “Mixed Rice”. Steamed Korean rice, sautéed with seasoned veggies like Carrot, Zucchini, Yellow bells, Spinach, Mushroom, Beansprout, Turnip, and with a fried egg atop, sunny side up. The rice was something close to risotto but the starch level was extremely low, we were informed. Again the emphasis on healthy food, again the minimal use of seasoning, and the overall combination of the rice with the colourful veggies gelled well. The food was so attractively presented that you felt guilty demolishing it.
SEAFOOD FRIED RICE, KUNG PAO CHICKEN:
For the mains we called for these, and we were really happy with the decision. The rice was every bit as promised, nicely fried, and literally loaded with prawns and fish bits. The Kung Pao chicken was rich in ginger and sprinkled with peanuts, offering a varied texture. The chicken cubes were soft and tender, not rubbery, indicating their freshness. The only woe was perhaps a case of plenty, ironically. The chicken bits could be reduced by at least a fifth, and the overall fare would be rendered perhaps slightly more attractive - there being a balance between the sauce and the meat. But those are silly rants, I suppose - the combination of the rice and the Kung Pao turned out to be spectacular as a whole.
The sweet ending with a Korean speciality. A twist on the original Kang Jung, the sesame seeds were replaced by dried nuts here, which were tossed in caramel sugar and corn syrup. Replicating the Indian chikki. More surprising was the other part of the dish - Caramelized Pears. The sweet sour pear was a unique offering – not very appealing, but not poor either. Something different.
Sampan is a legacy, a heritage. Sampan has things all going right for itself – the food, the ambiance, the people, and the tradition. Truly a five star in its own right. No wonder it is flocked by a few film stars and TV stars. Sampan has retained its core since the last four decades, and by the looks of it, intends to repeat itself. Again and again.
The Food Quotient: Food Quality: 4.5/5, Food Choices: 4.5/5, Food Portions: 4/5, Food Presentation: 4/5
The Other Determinants: Location: 5 / 5, Cleanliness: 5 / 5, Warmth: 5 / 5
The Hygiene Factors: Ambiance: 4.5 / 5, Space Quotient: 4 / 5, Delivery Time: 4 / 5
The Conclusives: Pricing: 4 / 5, Honesty: 5 / 5, Overall Experience: 4.5 / 5, Will I visit Again: 4.5 / 5.
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