Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Zheng He

Zheng He,
Fine Dining
Mina a'Salaam Hotel
tel: 04 366 8888

Zheng He, just in case you didn’t know, was a famous eunuch admiral in the 1400’s who commanded the Imperial Fleet and was tasked with mapping the known and the unknown world. An excellent book by Gavin Menzies argues that this fleet landed in Australia, all over Africa, the Americas, the Caribbean and even the frigid northern wastes, and of course all this was many, many years before any of these places were ‘discovered’ by the European explorers. You will need to read the book to see if you believe the authors theory but it is a compelling story.

The admiral’s namesake restaurant sits in the basement below the Bahri Bar in the Mina a Salaam hotel and is to my mind somewhat of a pastiche of an old Shanghai opium den with lots of rosewood panelling and artefacts, dark and cosy corners and luscious red velvet splashes of colour here and there.

The head chef here is actually Australian but worked for a number of years at the Shangri La in Hong Kong. Despite this the style of food I would suggest leans more towards Sichuan than Cantonese, though to be quite frank, it is not a authentic recreation of either.

The food here is definitely what we called in Hong Kong ‘gweilo-friendly’ in other words adapted to the European tastes and has left its roots someway behind. This does not mean that it is bad, in fact far from it, but if you are looking for ‘real’ Chinese food I am afraid you won’t find it here.

Unlike the normal Chinese way of eating the menu at Zheng He’s is geared towards the European style of ordering, with diners having their own dishes and not throwing it all in the middle and sharing.

The waiting staff are predominantly mainland Chinese with the occasional language barrier problem thrown in for good measure.

The menu does include a few ‘dim sum’ items but as is the way in this town it sticks to only the very popular and well-known items. One big bug-bear I have, and it is particularly the case with ordering ‘dim sum’ in Dubai is that very often the steamers will only contain three items of one particular dish. When four of you are dining and the lid is lifted to reveal three steamed shrimp dumplings it pisses me off. I mean, really, how hard can it be to throw another dumpling into the steamer?


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