Back home in England, there's nothing I like more than going for a weekly Chinese. Whether it's the subterranean rabbit warrens of Edinburgh's Lee-On, Liverpool's 1940s style Shanghai kitchen Ma-Bo or Manchester's modern yet authentic Fu's, a good Chinese has to have 4 magical qualities for me: authenticity, unpretentiousness, Chinese diners and the ability to whip up a soup that I'll still be talking about a week later. After traipsing the streets of Dubai, dazzled by glitzy signage and minimalistic decor, I found China Sea on my doorstep.
At the entrance, I was greeted by a multitude of live fish and shellfish in tanks, blissfully unaware of the fate that awaits them, while a chef in the window proudly cooks and prepares their friends into a masterpiece. Also on display is a selection of Sea Cucumbers, considered a delicacy but as a veggie, I was rather intimidated by their off-putting colour and shape. Was China Sea going to be a herbivore's idea of hell?
The dining area is split with a small partition, offering the diner the option of a street view or kitchen view. The kitchen is certainly a hive of activity, the chefs' concentration in whipping up masterpieces apparent, providing a great focal point. Trolleys laden with dim sums and other delicacies are pushed around, the delectable smell wafting around, whetting my appetite even more. I needn't have worried about the veggie options as there were more than enough, and dishes can be modified to remove the meat. There are 2 menu types, the dim sum one which seemed to be popular, featuring appetisers as little as 2 dirham, and the normal menu which had the usual British staples like Chicken and Sweetcorn soup along with more traditional Cantonese dishes.
To start, I opted for the spicy cabbage and vermicelli soup. A vegetarian delight that captures even the carnivore's tastebuds:
Now, often when cabbage soup is mentioned, people usually think of some horrific diet dish. Indeed, this was a healthy starter, but not in a boring way! The cabbage is piquant, leaving a wonderful aftertaste and the soup is given more substance with the addition of vermicelli a.k.a Glass Noodles. For the main event, I decided to go for one of my old favourites, Ma-Po tofu with a massive portion of Egg Fried Rice.
Brit readers, please pay attention here. Traditional Chinese restaurants like this one aren't like the anglicised ones in the way the meal follows a strict order of starter then main with everyone in your party being served at the same time, but come whenever each dish is ready. Naturally, we got our soups first, followed by my tofu 10 minutes later, then another 15 min later, my colleague's sweet and sour chicken came and strange for us Brits, the rice came last. All part of the authentic Chinese experience, along with the brusque but unintentionally-rude staff. The staff appear to be a little ignorant, but when speaking to them, it seems to just be due to the language/cultural barrier.
The Ma-Po tofu that arrived was huge as you can see in the pic! Bursting with spice and peppers, this silky tofu dish was enough to feed 3 so regretfully I left a fair bit; good to know for next time though. The EFR was completely different to British style, and that's in a good way. Fluffy rice, not swimming in grease like back home, with distinct pieces of egg in, not unidentifiable mush. Carrots and peas mixed in the rice livened proceedings up, giving it some bite. Finally, I have found my Dubai outpost to Manchester's Chinatown.