Given Delhi’s predilection for Italian and Chinese food, it was only a matter of time that someone opened up a single restaurant serving both cuisines. The brand new Crowne Plaza Today Okhla (not to be confused with the similar sounding hotel in New Friends Colony) has done just that. Chao is the Chinese half of the name and Bella the Italian half. The hotel is new, the staff is ready to please and there’s parking as far as the eye can stretch, which is the good news.
The bad news? Wear dark glasses in Chaobella – the bright, garish lamps and the kitschy approach to décor is rather loud. The Italian section of the menu reads like an entry level dining option: no regional specialities here, sadly. However, there are pizzas and they are quite good. Where the brilliance lies is in the Chinese section. The chef, from Singapore, has been associated with Delhi for many years now and his menu reflects local favourites (Cantonese Chilli Chicken, Hunanese Spicy Chicken and Sichuan Red Pepper Chicken for instance) yet he can be as subtle as occasion demands.
I didn’t order a soup because I found those on the Chinese menu too clichéd: Sam Wong really must come up with something that shows off his brilliance. The Butter Garlic Lobster/Prawn (Rs 1200) is a starter that has nothing to do with the great Gomantak standby, but is an identifiably Singaporean emulsion of green chillies, curry leaves and garlic mixed with enough butter to form a sort of mayonnaise. It is dotted on the stir-fried lobsters and prawn in a minute quantity. This is one occasion when I was sorely tempted to ask for an extra bowl of sauce!
Sam Wong is doing the dimsums at the moment, till the new speciality chef joins, but it is expected to be towards the end of the year. The one dimsum I tried is extremely ambitious and it takes a practiced hand to get it right: Prawn Cheung Fan Roll (Rs 575). The roll itself is made out of a thick sheet of rice paper. It has to be slippery, the right thickness and napped in a sauce that will carry the dimsum through and this version had all three attributes. The prawns, which were supposed to be minced, were coarsely chopped and it was quite a challenge to keep them inside the cheung fan while eating them.
The finest dish of the evening was Chilean Sea Bass with Ginger Strips and Kikkoman Sauce (Rs 1350). The traditional way to make this Cantonese classic is to keep the fish whole, use light soy, and shred ginger and spring onion strips atop it. Chef Wong gives it a different spin. The soy he uses is Kikkoman, treated with secret ingredients that he remains tight-lipped about. The fish too is a radical departure: Sea Bass, with its flaky texture. It is a marriage made in heaven. The other masterpiece is Queen Scallops (Rs 750) chunks of tofu scooped partially to admit steamed scallops, napped in a thick sauce of dark soy and garlic. Even the Roasted Crispy Duck (Rs 825) was an elegant preparation with not a trace of either gaminess or extra oil, on a bed of asparagus and bok choy.
The excellence of the meal makes even the gigantic ceiling lamps look less offensive.
Plot no. 1, Community Centre, Okhla Phase I
Open from 7.30 pm to 11.30 pm (currently open only for dinner)
Alcohol Served, credit cards accepted
Meal for two: Rs 3,000