The former delivery/take away only China Doll has opened up a large and lovely restaurant on Alfred House Avenue. The menu includes the delivery favourite noodles and chicken wings while also branching into big family servings of popular asian dishes: penang curries, hot butter cuttlefish, singapore chilli crab, the works.
We wrote about China Doll (delivery) a while ago
. I've always wanted to like their food - their logo is beautiful, the delivery service is generally good - but I'm always a bit disappointed. The noodles tends to be a bit too sweet and there's generally just been a little something missing - possibly the copious amounts of MSG we've got so used to to thanks to Flower Drum, Kinjou and the rest.
But where the delivery service left a disappointing little gap between the yellow-boxed expectations and their actual contents, the new restaurant is a lot more promising. Firstly, the service. It's early days, but on our visit the attention to detail was noticeably good - and a sensible waiter who isn't confounded by a customer with a food allergy is a definite bonus in this city.
Secondly, the food. In Sri Lanka, Chinese restaurants fall into two distinct zones. You get the strictly 'Sri Lankan Chinese' - MSG laden platters of oozing hot butter cuttlefish, slick tangles of garlic kan kun and cubes of soya-soaked chicken accompanied by teetering mountains of savoury fried rice. Dishes that claim to have been Chinese somewhere at their point of genesis but evolve rapidly to suit a chilli loving Lankan palate. But while sharing a culinary genre, Mainland Chinese and Lankan are almost nothing alike, mainland restaurants offering vastly different flavours and dishes: dumplings, pickled eggs, cumin spiced meat, fungus, alabone...
China Doll falls somewhere in between. It's neither Sri Lankan Chinese nor mainland. It's more Pan Asian, borrowing from a variety of cuisines that usually tend to get lumped under the term 'Chinese'. While we weren't fans of their delivery menu, the actual rices and curries new to the restaurant are actually pretty good.
The chicken wontons were a highlight - curling brittle sheets wrapped around a nugget of soft chicken, balanced on a bright orange smear of sichuan oil and smattered with star anise - which wasn't just used pretty garnish - you could actually taste its flavour in the oil. The veg fried rice was also different, usingg a lot more veg than usual, notably peas, peppers, baby corn - ingredients you wouldn't find in your average calorific fry up - and drawing its savoury flavour from the actual ingredients and egg rather than through a heaping of asia's favourite culinary helper, Ms. G.
Finally, the price. This is actually great value. A meal for two - including a starter and with enough left over for a substantial doggy bag - came to just a bit over Rs. 2100. This is definitely worth a visit. The venue is chilled out and stylish (there's some cool art on the walls), the music is well curated and the food is an interesting change from the standard big, bold Sri Lankan Chinese flavours. Overally, a tasty experience. We recommend.
Try going for a dry dish of prawns or cuttlefish, those still seem to be alright.