It’s odd that a city with the second longest urban beach in the world had to wait this long for a luxury hotel with an ocean view. Thankfully the Leela Palace Chennai was worth the wait, having utilised its unique location overlooking the Bay of Bengal to the maximum. And that’s just one of the wow factors of China XO, the hotel’s Chinese restaurant dominated by Sichuan and Cantonese fare. Leela’s palace hotels can sometimes overwhelm you with their opulence, but China XO manages to strike a balance. Fashioned by Design Spin – a Japanese design firm whose impressive credentials includes the edgy Nobu restaurant in Tokyo – the interiors consist of elaborate accessories and intricate detailing, but don’t come across as over the top. There’s a large ocean facing lounge that leads to the restaurant – the perfect place to unwind with a cocktail while your lady friend is still figuring out what shoes to wear. The same sense of space extends into the restaurant where you won’t be able to eavesdrop on conversations from nearby tables, in case your date gets too boring. The restaurant’s private dining spaces are among the largest in the city using dark wood complemented by the red placemats on the table that make the food look even better. China XO offers an al-fresco seating option, a set of windy cabanas from where you can almost smell the sea. But given Chennai’s infamous summer temperatures most of the immediate action is likely to stay indoors where another kind of heat is turned up every few minutes. It emanates from the restaurant’s piece-de-resistance – a wood-fired oven that churns out the most delectable Peking duck - a lesson to all pseudo-Chinese restaurants on how it’s really done. The duck is marinated for 48 hours and wood-fired for 45 minutes before it arrives on your table. Meaning that you can forget about ordering it during a zippy power lunch with the boss. Most Chinese restaurants imagine they have boasting rights with one Chinese expat chef in the kitchen. China XO has quite a few of them including Chin Chon Fang who honed his dimsum making skills in Hakkasan, London. And if you can tell the difference between momos and dimsums you will find Fang’s array of dimsums (like the Chilean Sea bass dumpling) quite irresistible. China XO might only be the second Chinese speciality restaurant within the Leela fold but hits bull’s eye with a combination of dramatic interiors, a well-researched menu and indulgent service.
GQ Recommends:Prawn Cheung Fun, Scallop with XO Sauce, crispy pork belly, Sesame balls Service:Switched on Innovation: A special cooking range for the wood fired duck, handmade rice noodles Snooty factor: High Celeb-o-meter: Local corporate honchos and movie stars Classic Potential: High. The dimsums and a host of new flavours can lure diners willing to pay top dollar. Vibe:Perfect for an intimate dinner with your inner circle or for high-powered corporate entertainment
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