House of Ming: the capital’s first fine-dining Chinese restaurant ready for new-age royalty

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When the Taj Group debuted in Delhi with Taj Mansingh in 1978, it challenged North India’s hegemony in the hospitality industry, a “Bombay” institution trying to leave a cultural imprint in aspiring Delhi. His interior designer Elizabeth Kerkar did what no one thought of at the time; she picked up stray dogs and found homes for them. So when workmen took over the site from the current property and found a resident dog, Kerkar gave him a name, Tajuddin, and let him roam and play through the greens and shiny grounds. This act of humanity gave Taj Mansingh what others lacked, character.

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Memories, author Joseph Addison once said, are like “those deposits in animals which are filled with food, upon which they may ruminate when their present pastures fail.” And the Ming House, delhiTaj Mansingh’s first five-star Chinese restaurant, has a treasure trove of memories dating back to 1978. One look at its general manager, Hem Godiyal, who has been here since he was an apprentice in 1980, and you know why a new genre ideas can never outgrow what it represents, institutional pride.

The Ming Dynasty in Imperial China introduced techniques of burning, steaming, boiling, frying, roasting, braising, spreading, frying, sautéing, frying and grilling (Express photo by Praveen Khanna)

“This restaurant is a personal step for everyone. We had generations of the same family. The parents dated here, got married here, brought their kids here until they all got so used to the food that now the grandkids are Ming loyalists too,” says Godiyal who recalls not only from the names of its guests but who they are as people.

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Of course, he also knows the secrets of his VIP guests, some of which he shares with us. “Our late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee loved Ming’s fried golden prawns. On his birthday in 1986 he came here with some friends and ordered the dish. The late Pranab Mukherjee loved chicken and seafood delicacies while Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, a vegetarian, loved rice topped with sauced lotus stems or water chestnuts. Of course, he had B-city patrons like the Bachchans and the Kapoors, who booked Ming for a celebratory dinner after Raj Kapoor won the Dadasaheb Phalke award.

Godiyal was also aware of a changing Delhi, of Company and from power players in the 80s to working class, families and now professionals. This shift is evident in the decor, with the heavy Chinese character now giving way to contemporary, clean designs. Discernment, however, flows through food. Chef Arun Sundararaj has improved what many considered a menu dominated by “Punjabified” Schezwan sauce and reclaimed the sophistication of Ming with sharper Cantonese flavors and deep Hunanese colors and aromas.

The Ming dynasty in Imperial China introduced techniques of burning, steaming, boiling, frying, roasting, braising, spreading, frying, sautéing, frying, and grilling. The royal family ate more vegetables and fruit than meat or fish. Their culinary artistry is evident in Prawn Truffle Sui Mai, the truffle oil drawing out the sweetness and fullness of the prawn that shines through the translucent wrapper. It is topped with gold leaf or varq, crowning a masterful effort to awaken your taste buds. Cantonese Crispy Fish Taro dimsum comes in delicately meshed crispy pouches made of sticky root paste. Dip it in oil and it rolls up enough to leave a hollow in the middle for the fishy flavors to swirl and explode on your tongue. But Lo Mai Gai, sticky rice and chicken steamed in a lotus leaf, is a celebration of Cantonese tradition. Besides infusing the dish with their flavor and aroma, the lotus leaves also preserve the juices. Rice and chicken are the most common combinations in oriental cuisine, but here they are mild enough to absorb each other and become a meaty piece of intensity.

Ming House Lo Mai Gai, sticky rice and chicken steamed in a lotus leaf, is a celebration of Cantonese tradition (Express photo by Praveen Khanna)

If the delicacy is zen, then don’t miss the Edamame with scallops drizzled with a garlic and burnt chili sauce. Light and buttery, with the right sweet and nutty notes, the sauce gives it a fiery aftertaste. Just like the heat of Cumin Mala goat shoulder, originally belonging to Xinjiang but now common in Hunan and Sichuan Restaurants. Cumin and goat are perhaps the best flavor pairings in cooking, and garnished with a little pepper, this dish is simple, succulent and healthy. Many use goat thighs but the chef chose the shoulder so the meat can cook in its own fat, making it absolutely scrumptious. The giant lobster, crispy with salt, pepper and cornstarch, then scooped out for the sautéed vegetables, onion, ginger, celery and soy sauce to work their magic, is rich and nuanced. But it can’t quite top the braised pork which has been macerated for four hours in star anise, spices and gravy liqueur. This one, in a nutshell, is umami, where the five tastes seem to co-exist in perfect balance.

But what we love is the tea infusion cart that offers the best of Chinese teas in a sip, pairing them like wine with every dish! This is the perfect innovation with tradition.

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