Chinese cuisine: the food of ancient imperial courts, and since the 19th century, its delicious and savoury appeal has popularized the school of cooking internationally, and sometimes even with inebriated persons.
In much of the Western world, particularly in North America, late-night Chinese food has become the must-have meal for all walks of life falling into- and out- of clubs. In Kenya, Chinese restaurants have made the transition to a generally sweeter palate and in some cases, infused flavours of India; which was the case at Xi’an Chinese Restaurant’s predecessor, Mister Wok.
Since November 2012, Xi’an formally took over the Mister Wok nestled in Salonika Villas on Muthangari Road, Nairobi. Poolside, the small and modest space has been revamped with a fresh coat of paint, wall hangings and a more spacious layout.
During the Mister Wok days, whose menu was more Indo-Chinese than simply Chinese, chefs used exorbitant amounts of ginger. The new flavours of Xi’an seem to be more Western-Chinese, balanced and basic. Clearly, if you’re looking for an authentic Chinese experience, Xi’an isn’t the place. But, if you’re looking for tasty basic Chinese flavours, this is it.
Named after the Chinese city of Xi’an, home to China’s capital for eleven dynasties and over a thousand years of rich history – the city of Xi’an is regarded as the home and perhaps even the birthplace of dumplings. I didn’t know what I was expecting, but perhaps I read into the name of the restaurant a little too much, and found myself slightly disappointed when I realized that dumplings weren’t Xi’an Chinese Restaurant’s specialty.
The dumplings arrived with the hand-made wrappers soft and fresh from the steamer. Presented well, but the filling of the dumplings were disappointing. Stiff and dense, the minced chicken and carrot filling lacked flavour and natural juices – far from the succulent, moist and delicate dumplings I had craved for.
There was the Crab and Sweet Corn Soup (Ksh 300) and Dry Fried Salt and Pepper Prawns (Ksh 750), both great starters. The natural sweetness of the corn lifted the crab and simple flavours of the soup, which was thickened with corn flour to the right consistency – not too thick, still a bit runny.
Then there was the Ginger Crab (Ksh 1,000) served whole with its thickened fresh juices and sautéed in ginger and green scallions. Delicious and fresh, the Ginger Crab was definitely a favourite. A Western-Chinese staple, Lemon Chicken (Ksh 600) is always appetizing. Strips of crispy chicken lightly deep fried and tossed with colourful julienned peppers, coated with a tart and sweet sauce. The Beef with Mushroom Sauce (Ksh 680) was tender and delicious, but seemed like it was glistening with oil. The Shrimp Bang Bang Noodles (Ksh 450) were a bit bland, but its texture and basic flavours were splendid.
Xi’an Chinese Restaurant’s portions were decent, enough to share with other dishes; and with a side of rice, you’ll be full. Xi’an is a good neighbourhood find, affordable and tasty. Small but intimate. Modern yet homely. Being poolside, weekend Chinese cravings will be stylishly satisfied at this new Lavington addition.