Mainland China came into existence in 1994, the first outlet being in erstwhile Bombay. It’s not surprising that this piece of news didn’t reach the majority of middle class people residing in Bengal. Why would they have bothered with accounts of some expensive Chinese restaurant opening in Bombay? I, as a child, was quite happy with our occasional Peping and Chung Wah stints while visits to Calcutta and the ketchup slathered ‘chowmein’ at street stalls. Eating out hadn’t gained popularity, nor had Chinese restaurants popped up like mushrooms all over the city. The China Town or Tangra area in Calcutta still ruled when it came to amazing food and liquor at modest rates. Years passed, Anjan Chatterjee made his mark with Mainland China and Oh! Calcutta, and finally inaugurated the first outlet in Calcutta in the last decade. It was still inaccessible to a student like me with its posh location and exorbitant prices. It was only when I left home ten years ago, the Western concept of eating out slowly imbibed into my being. Mainland China was still beyond my reach with its à-la-carte prices that could slash my wallet brutally. I’m not sure about the year of inception of a buffet or ‘set meal’ (as referred in the China buffets all around US & UK) in Mainland China, but I was over the moon that the bill could fit in my wallet in lieu of some great food. Summing up my experiences of over five years at Mainland China outlets in three Indian cities hitherto.
One of the most attractive features of Mainland China (MC) is the decor. I’ve been to four different MC outlets and the decor is always soothing, oriental, calm and soft to the eyes. The entrance of every outlet has been a mishmash of designer wooden panels as dividers that impart a feeling of passing into a private space. The lights are dim and tables are very strategically placed, so that you don’t overhear conversations, get irritated by inane people nearby or stumble into someone else while filling your plate from the buffet counters. Seats are quite comfortable and tables are adequately spaced to fit in your satchel or purse. The decor at each outlet I’ve visited fetched a big thumbs up, and here’s a glimpse of my favourite piece at any eatery, the ceiling lamp.
Since MC is a ‘family’ restaurant (as we so lovingly term in India), there’s always been the cackle of children and little shrill yelling of mums and dads. Nonetheless, the repose of the outlets has been an encouragement to many families that bring their senior citizens along for a treat. So it’s been a happy combination of grandpas enjoying their sip of drink with the grandchildren sucking on their bottles of milk in the adjacent seat. I’ve never found it too loud at any outlet though, it’s mostly been a peaceful co-existence with other fellow eaters.
This is the USP of Mainland China that claims ‘If it’s Chinese, it’s Mainland China.’ And after numerous experiences, we have begun believing in their motto. The food can allure you into any outlet of this chain like a Chinese-cuisine-possessed-person. I’m sure the à-la-carte menu is wonderful as you’d find in many other reviews, but I’m in the capacity to detail you only about the buffet (non-vegetarian). We have been to MC twice in the last three months (March and June) and the buffet menus were different from each other so it’s easier to describe the range of items.
There’s a soup that’s served on the table now along with the starters. June had a lovely Chicken and Corn clear soup – light on flavours with shredded chicken and a little sweet due to the corn. March consisted of a more spicy Chicken thick soup with dark soy that wasn’t much to my liking.
The starters easily steal the show as they are served on the table at regular intervals, each item rounds off more than twice and they’re perfectly bite sized. March menu had Spicy Chicken wings that almost sizzled on the plate. A little messy with the dripping sauce, they tasted good, crisp and well seasoned. There was a Chicken Dumpling followed by a Vegetarian one. MC literally spoils you with the quality of dumplings and ensures that you compare them with the lesser versions elsewhere. They are soft, luscious with a thin skin and perfect filling – the ultimate melt-in-the-mouth experience, accompanied with a stellar crushed black pepper sauce.
The June menu brought hot and steamy Drums of Heaven on the plate – crispy fried and subtly spiced with minced green chillies inside that rendered some heat. The Chicken and Seafood Dumplings were both perfect in stature and taste, though I liked the seafood filling a tad better with greens and a little chilli. There was also a lovely spicy Chilli Fish to conclude the platter – the fish was Bombay Duck – hence incredibly soft and light on the palette. June definitely had an edge over March in the department of starters.
The main course is spread in a steady format of one rice, one noodles and any four from fish/prawn/crab/chicken/lamb. March menu had a Lemongrass Chicken Fried Rice with fine-drawn flavours mixed in a light rice. The noodles were lightly coloured and mildly spicy. There was Crab, in a sauce that was not bad. Since they were hard shelled, it is extremely tedious and messy to consume them in a restaurant. And that’s a dampener. I wish they would serve just the crab meat doused in a good sauce or curry. Hot Garlic Prawns however compensated for the crab. They were soft, supple and garlicky. All that you need to slurp up with spoons of rice. The last dish, Fish in Mustard Sauce didn’t much appeal to my taste. It’s probably the Bengali in Anjan Chatterjee who tries to create these fusion items, but Basa fillets in a light mustard sauce didn’t really go well.
June menu has a very light Chicken Fried Rice and Chicken Hakka Noodles. If you notice the quantity of Hot and Numbing Prawns on my plate, you’ll know for sure how much I loved it. Superbly flavoured prawns had just made my day. There was Singapore Crab Curry again, but I didn’t dare to try the hard shelled ones on a restaurant table. I didn’t try the Chicken in a Coconut gravy, but M said it wasn’t too bad. However, the star of the menu was Roast Lamb in Mahlak Sauce. I haven’t had a better roast lamb in ages, it was better than any other. The sauce is MC’s signature and cannot be found elsewhere. It had a perfect smoky flavour and blended wonderfully with strips of roast lamb. Highly recommended for lamb flavours.
If you are in Mainland China, you can’t ignore the desserts. They aren’t gourmet fancy stuff, but they will satiate your appetite for more homely desserts. There’s a fresh Chocolate Mousse, little bites of Fruit Cake, strips of fried Darshan, lovely homemade Caramel Custard, Chocolate Cake and good old ice cream in three flavours with hot chocolate sauce. Indulge!
Impeccable, easily among the best in the country. Every waiter is conversant with the items they’re serving and prompt in their job. The manager is always on his toes and attends every table inquiring about the quality of food and satisfaction level of the customers. Hardly have we found a lapse in service, which entails an overall good rating of the restaurant.
My Rating – 4.8/5 (overall)
Zomato – 3.7/5 (Pimpri branch, Pune)
Address – City ONE Mall, Opposite Empire Estate, Pune-Mumbai Highway, Pimpri, Pune. Phone – 020 30189971
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Mainland China was an icon when it opened but in my opinion its no longer anymore and the IPO in 2011 in November was the time since when the prices have gone up exorbitantly. As a foodie I would have loved to read about your experience of the transformation in food and value for money. Again these are all personal judgement and may not adhere to your thoughts.
Nice to see you eat so much at Mainland China, hope things change soon for better