From London, to KOKO Mumbai: A Cantonese food episode with Chef Lee Che Liang

Flavours known and unknown, here’s what to expect at KOKO Mumbai’s pop-up with Chef Lee Che Liang, one of the top chefs in London from Park Chinois, Duck & Rice, and other restaurants, who takes over to bring a Cantonese food affair.

Inside koko mumbai. Image credit: koko.
Inside KOKO Mumbai. Image credit: KOKO.

Mumbai, an exciting international collaboration is brewing, and you are invited! Restaurateurs Tham Brothers, who also helm the other Asian favourite of the city, Foo, are taking the love for Asian cuisine a notch up—case in point, the arrival of chef Lee Che Liang to KOKO Mumbai all the way from London. 

Currently the head chef at Park Chinois that’s dubbed as one of the most luxurious Chinese fine-dines in Mayfair, Lee Che Liang will perform his culinary prowess at KOKO in Kamala Mills, Lower Parel, for a week long pop-up. An interesting curation of the chef’s signature Cantonese recipes find a spot on this special menu served as a limited edition until 19th November. 

Chef lee che liang in koko mumbai, head chef, park chinois. Image credit: park chinois.
Chef Lee Che Liang, Head Chef, Park Chinois. Image credit: Park Chinois.

Take a seat for a closer look

Inside koko mumbai. Image credit: koko.
Inside KOKO Mumbai. Image credit: KOKO.

It will be rather erroneous to think of Cantonese and Chinese as the same style of cuisine. Chinese cuisine branches out into eight main different kinds, specific to different regions of China, of which Cantonese (also called Yue) is one. In a nutshell, ingredients are the hero of Cantonese dishes, while the seasonings play a supporting role.

I discovered my primary knowledge on this cuisine take a life of its own at the exclusive pop up at Koko Mumbai where chef Lee Che Liang delicately tossed and plated up his version of Cantonese food. Once on our seats, ready with chopsticks in one hand, we were encouraged to try each and every dish from the special menu. I let fate take control of my appetite and began the evening with hot and sour poached dumplings and stir-fry edamame and hazelnut tartlet. The dumplings, moist and juicy, seasoned with a tangy sauce pushed me to call for a second round. No regrets recorded.

The Cantonese roast duck with five spice peanut were next—uniformly cut to bite-sized pieces and just the right kind of chewiness. Recalling the other platters arranged on the table, I had been eyeing the classic roasted char siu Belgium pork belly next and what I found quite intriguing was with as less seasoning and sauces required, I did enjoy the pork.

Amongst all the noshing, an anticipation to meet the man behind the Cantonese menu persisted. But with the patrons tabled up for the week-long pop up, chef Lee for most of it kept behind the pantry. A brief exchange of hellos and appreciation of the fare was it for the night as we resumed to getting towards the end of the dinner. Keep in mind though, desserts and drinks are not a part of the Cantonese Affair menu, though available on their regular menu. I found comfort in calling for Truffle Inaniwa udon with Kombu. It arrived as a brothless udon preparation, the noodles thinner than the typical ones paired with a bed of fresh truffle slices, mushrooms and Kombu greens.

Can or Can’tonese?

As per personal observations and keen interest in the Asian food culture, I would’ve enjoyed seeing a slightly broader Cantonese curation—something that’s not as common to find in Mumbai—for instance, the likes of steamed buns, brothy noodles, rice rolls and soups. As the underlining idea of indulging in newer cuisines is often to extract the most of that culture, a wholesome menu can serve so much more than just flavours—food education, insights and discoveries to name a few.

However, the pop up at Koko Mumbai makes for an interesting escape from the otherwise widely available and sometimes mundane Asian food in the city, letting you soak up the upscale dining along with the first of its kind hand-cooked magic of Chef Lee, who brings a trove of unique ingredient combinations and experiences from his long-standing stints in London, Malaysia and Singapore, too!