Zhouyu in RA Puram, Chennai serves cuisine from the heart of Sichuan
Last September, Chindi Varadarajulu, one of the three partners at Pumpkin Tales was knee-deep in research around cuisine from the Sichuan province in China. It was for a food pop-up, hosted in their then-vacant third floor banquet hall. And Chindi, who was raised in a Chinese village in Singapore found herself both curious and deeply drawn to these dishes that gave her a literal taste of the culture that she grew up in. By the end of the two days, she announced, “I have enough dishes researched for a complete menu. What say we start a restaurant?”And so was born — Zhouyu.
Much like this curious name which makes reference to the giant panda (a symbol of peace in Chinese folklore) — not a lot on this menu are names you expect to see. How about a Luffa and Flower Fungus for instance? This turns out to be a combination of ridge gourd and white fungus (which is actually quite light and crunchy) tossed in ginger, garlic, soy, Shaoxing wine and sesame oil. A lovely and novel side (compared to say a conventional babycorn and mushroom). It pairs beautifully with a Claypot Chicken and Rice (so much more flavourful than Fried rice!). Much of the credit to those deeply infused pockets of flavour, we’re told, goes to the shiitake mushrooms in the mix.
Look out for marble table tops, classic Chinese screen dividers and regal chandelier placements to bring it all together. We love the arch at the entrance designed keeping in mind a typical Chinese gateway structure called the ‘pailou’. And finally, don’t forget to look up — to take in the beautiful chequered detailing on the ceiling!
Though most of the ingredients are fresh and local, some of the unique ones on this menu come imported. “These include fermented black beans and soy beans, chilli bean paste, Shaoxing wine, Chinkiang vinegar and the aforementioned white flower fungus,” Chindi shares. This is in addition to roots and herbs that are being experimented with for future recipes — like Jinseng and dried longans, as well as the entire range of crockery. We have our eye on the delicate white and blue tea set, as we sip on warm tea between courses.
If you’re looking for something fresh and light, we recommend the Smashed Cucumber Salad with pops of red from the peppers and a dressing of soy, chilli oil and vinegar. Also, a must-try from the appetisers are the Chicken Wantons that arrive in a soupy cocktail of chilli oil, soy, and that exquisite Shaoxing wine, that levels up every dish on the flavour scale.
When it comes to mains, we have two that are a must-order if you happen to visit — the Dry Mutton and Celery (ginger, chilli beans paste and soy) and the Taro & Eggplant (cooked in chilli garlic sauce, soy and vinegar). Both boast intense flavours which can comfortably be enjoyed with a simple bowl of steamed rice for a satisfying solo meal.
It does occur to us as we reach the end of our tasting experience at Zhouyu, that not a single dish tasted like the other, which often tends to be the case when you repeat a standard list of Oriental sauces. But not this time...
Dessert looks like Christmas: Red Bean Cheesecake and a green scoop of Matcha Ice Cream. How about that for a sweet surprise?
At Bheemanna Garden Street, Alwarpet. Meal for two INR 1,500.