Dining at By The Mekong at The St Regis Mumbai is always a delight; for the fabulous Asian fare it is known to serve, as well as for the glorious views the restaurant allows for at any time in the day. The restaurant derives its influence from the Mekong River (which meanders through parts of South East Asia and China), blending Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisines. With a recently overhauled menu, it has brought in a new chef, Chef Xiang Bin Li, and offers over 40 new dishes. Hailing from Sichuan in China, you’ll find a marked influence of Li’s style of cooking across the expansive menu, which is divided into small salts, soups, mains, and desserts.
Chef Li has been in the restaurant industry for over 23 years. But his tryst with food can be traced back to his childhood spent in the countryside of the Sichuan province, China. "My initiation into the culinary started when I was very young. Growing up in a Chinese joint family with his grandmother, who had close to perfect culinary skills, gave me the perfect head-start, paving the way for a career that also became my passion. I would monitor livestock as well as accompany my mother to produce markets," says Li.
Later, at the age of 21, the 45-year-old Li went to a culinary school in Sichuan. This helped him gain technical knowledge that would help fine-tune heirloom recipes. Speaking about the new menu at Mekong, he says, "It took me a month to rework this menu. The challenge was to take an already popular menu and add my signature style to bring an element of authenticity. I brought in the techniques of preserving and pickling and have introduced condiments such as flavoured oils, chives and Sichuan garlic." In keeping with his origins, the new menu boasts lesser-known ingredients that are native to Sichuan, such as mountain chilli, ya cai (pickled vegetables), preserved Hong Kong olives and jujube. These find their way in to intriguing dishes like jujube and lotus seed soup with truffle oil, sizzling okra chilli vinegar, Hainanese fried rice and wok-fried lamb rice noodles.
So, how difficult is it for him to work in India? "I have worked in the city before, so I am familiar with the ingredients here. India has great produce and nowadays, it's easy to procure ingredients from around the world. What I can't get here, I import from China. I wanted to offer patrons familiar food fused with a delightful new world of flavours. I am happy to be back."
The menu is a mix of sections to begin and end your meal right. We started with their Small Eats-the Crispy Lotus Root with mashed potatoes served with a honey chilli dipping sauce; Wok-fried Bean Curd & Vegetables in Teriyaki sauce, and Sichuan White Fish with peppercorn and chilli. Their signature dishes include favourites like Zi Cai Seafood Wanton Soup, Sizzling Okra and Chili Vinegar, Poached Chicken with Bamboo Shoot, Mixed Mushrooms and Pak choy or even the Double-cooked Belgian Pork Belly with Leeks. Mains include the Peruvian Sea Bass in chilli sauce, which is delicately textured along with wok-fried noodles, and a pleasing Hainanese-style Fried Rice served in a spinach sauce. We also loved the plump Red Snapper and the wok-fried Sliced Chicken with wood ear mushrooms, that is perfectly enhanced with ginger.
Overall, fresh, seasonal ingredients and handcrafted sauces make Chef Li’s dishes a definite winner, one that definitely deserves to be checked out this year-end.
At By The Mekong, The St. Regis Mumbai, 462 Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel.