Perhaps it’s because the year of our Chinese Zodiac is growing to a close, but we have been craving some authentic Chinese food to restore our chi. A giant hoarding in South Extension Part-2, emblazoned with the words ‘China Doll’ across it, led us to explore the restaurant. China Doll occupies a large airy space, its interiors done in a harmonious, elemental medley of bamboo, stone and wooden lacquer work, with ambient lighting. The tables are set comfortably apart, in niches, or scattered around the restaurant, each a tiny vestibule of privacy.
At first glance, the menu seems rather standard, but a closer inspection reveals its hidden depths. The fare comprises a number of unusual dishes, mostly from the Hunan region, one of the eight distinct culinary geographies of China. There were even some vegetarian dishes that caught our carnivorous eye, which we toyed with the idea of ordering. At this point, we realised that the servers rather resembled the Terracotta Army, very decorative but ultimately non-effective. It took some effort to break them out of their Zen-like trance to place our order.
We started with Chicken Dried Red Chili, an entirely justified name we discovered. Though the dish takes a while to meander its way to our table, there’s nothing reticent in the way it grabs us by our throat. The chicken is tender, moist and fiery, the spice burning through our palate in a wholly delicious manner.
We mop our brow and wave napkins to get some attention, before returning to our perusal of the menu. Finally, we decide to go with Chinese Cabbage with Hunan Pickle Chili, Twice Cooked Pork and Water Boiled Lamb with some plain Steamed Rice. Like its predecessor, this course comes at a stately pace, giving us time to meditate on things like chili, Tao and the bill, given the cost of the dishes.
When our food arrives, we waste no time in proceeding to put it away with lightening speed. The cabbage was very interesting and a reminder that vegetables aren’t so bad once you get to know and eat them. The cabbage was a great vehicle for the piquant pickle and went well with steaming rice. The lamb wasn’t watery so much as glutinous, a thick amalgamation of lamb, peppers, chili and a host of other flavours, making it a cohesive and succulent stew. The pork was equally superlative,