Announcing the first Finely Chopped Table: Ling's Pavilion, Mumbai, 14th September, 2014, Sunday, 1 pm

People often ask me about what to order at Ling’s Pavilion, one of my favourite restaurants in Mumbai.

Which is why I thought of organizing a lunch where you can come and try some of my favourite dishes at Ling's, get to hear the story behind them and meet the people who create them.

Thus was born the idea of the Finely Chopped Table. A curated meal which is not your regular restaurant experience. In some cases they could feature great home chefs who has wowed me with their food and in some cases replicates great restaurant meals that I have had. The idea is to have a small and cosy gathering where you could try out the food, meet other Finely Chopped readers who possibly have similar tastes in food and chat about things culinary over a great meal.

I spoke to Baba Ling about the idea and he asked me in a very worried tone “but will they eat everything dear?”

That’s Baba’s biggest concern while hosting folks. That they should not be picky eaters.

Baba knows that this is normally not a problem with me. Fortunately, the people I eat with eat everything.

Baba Ling is the second generation owner of this 70year old restaurant group. His father came to India from China and set up a restaurant. Today Baba Ling and his brother, Nini Ling, carry on their father’s legacy. In Mumbai they run Ling’s Pavalion in Colaba which his replaced Nanking, their earlier restaurant. In Delhi they have Nanking and have recently launched Canton Spice in Gurgaon.

Old SoBo (South Bombay) hands swear by Nanking and Ling’s depending on their ages. Ling’s has a huge following and is always packed. Most of these are loyalists who have been coming here for years. It is a bit of a Mumbai secret as folks new to the city don’t know about it. There are two reasons for this. One is Ling’s is in Colaba and the new Mumbai has moved to Lower Parel, Bandra and Andheri. Secondly, the Ling’s brothers are media and social media shy. They just know how to serve great food.

While I always knew of Ling’s existence, I ‘discovered’ it 16 years after I landed in Mumbai, all thanks to friends such as Sassy Fork, made through the blog, who are Ling’s fans. I fell in love with Ling’s ever since my first visit there as have been all my friends whom I have taken there and people I have recommended it to in social media.

The Cantonese flavours in Ling’s are vouched for by the Chinese delegations visiting Mumbai who eat here looking for home food just as Gujaratis travelling abroad carry their Maharaj with them. I once went with a Korean TV crew to Ling’s who said that they eat Chinese outside of home. After eating in Ling’s they said its pretty close to the best Chinese they have had while travelling across the world. I once took a British food writer and her fiancĂ© there and they too said that the fare at Ling’s matches with the best of the Chinese run restaurants in London.

The thing with Ling’s is that their owners are just one generation removed from China unlike the Chinese of Kolkata who have been in Kolkata long enough to have become Indianised. Secondly Baba Ling keeps going to China every three months or so to shop for produce and stays current with the tastes there. Most importantly Ling’s Pavilion sees strong involvement of the family. From when the restaurant opens at 6 am for prep to midnight when it shuts, one of the brothers is there. If both are travelling then their wives are manning the counter. So eating in Ling’s is closest you can get in Mumbai to eating with a hospitable, food loving Chinese family.

Baba Ling tells me that they have not changed their suppliers of meat over 70 years and you see the results of the consistency in the brilliant quality of meat served here.

Regulars will tell you that the best way to eat in Ling’s is to give Baba Ling a bear hug, tell him what you want to eat and let him order for you. If you order excessively he will firmly tell you ‘that’s too much dear’. His brother, Nini Ling, gets flustered by my disregard for the menu and often tells me to look at the menu. I did that recently and had a wonderful dried chicken, liver and fungus dish which I ordered from the menu. That didn’t stop Nini though from sending us a sinful plate of Nanking styled sweet pork which consists of pork fat fried till its rendered to the tissue. He didn’t tell me what it was and asked me to identify the dish. I got it right.

So here’s the menu that Baba Ling and I came up with for the lunch on Sunday. It’s a bit pork heavy but the Chinese and I love pork so that’s to be expected and at Ling’s you get some of the best renditions of pork. Each dish has been a source of joy over many meals of ours at Ling’s. We have planned out the meal in such a way that in true Chinese style you can have a course by course sampling of each dish unlike when you are in a small group and are limited by how much one can eat.

For starters we have salt and pepper prawns which differentiate Ling’s from any Indian Chinese place. Here and salt and pepper prawns means just that. Salt and crushed pepper. Nothing else. Simple seasoning which allows the taste of the prawns to flower in their full glory. Very similar to the pepper crabs I have had in Singapore.

Then comes another favourite. Juicy pork dumplings. A bit like a Chinese pani puri. Dumplings with a thin casing with delectable pork inside and slivers of ginger. You pour in a light wine soy sauce and pop it into the mouth at one go and see the flavours explode in your mouth. This is served hot so be careful.

No Cantonese meal, I am told, is complete without roast pork and Baba plans to add some to the menu on Sunday.

For our mains is a sliced beef chilli with spring onion. Dry. I just hate saucy dishes where you don’t get the flavour of the meat. Recently a Goan friend who loves her beef and is a meticulous eater tried this with us and approved of it. If she does then anyone will.

Then there is pork spare ribs cooked in a sweet and spicy sauce which Baba has been cooking from the days of Nanking and is a big hit with the Chinese.

Then more pork. Stewed pork belly with shitake and bean curd. This one comes in a sauce which is filled with flavour and doesn’t shroud the meat. As any pork lover will tell you, the belly is the most gastro-orgasmic cut of meat and in Ling’s they cook it till joyous submission.

The Chinese love a touch of green to break the red and Baba suggests a stir fried Chinese greens dish to help wash our meaty sins.

With the stew there has to be steamed rice according to Baba. In deference to local tastes they serve basmati here.

Then there is the mixed meat fried rice on our menu which is the most incredibly flavoured fried rice that I have had in India. Internationally the Chinese season their rice well and fried rice can become a one dish meal. In India resaturateurs make it bland forcing you to order a side dish too. No such issues at Ling’s. The only Indian touch is the basmati rice used.

Rounding up the meal will pan fried or grilled noodles. I was not the biggest fan of noodles in a Chinese restaurants as I more fond of rice. Things changed when I discovered the pan fried noodles with meat of your choice (Baba plans chicken this time for a bit of variety) with Chinese greens. There is a crunch to the noodles and a delicate poetic touch to the light sauce in which it is served which makes the dish addictive. K who is not a fan of Chinese food at all fell in love with noodles and says that if she lived in Colaba she would order from Ling’s every day.

So if this menu sounds interesting then please come on Sunday and join us for lunch. If we are lucky we might be able to pluck the very shy Baba Ling out of the kitchen and talk to us.

Here are the details:

Date: 14th September, 2014, Sunday

Time: 1 pm seating. Food will be served at 1.15 pm. This is table service so we will need everyone to be on time

Details: 3 starters, 4 mains, 2 rices, one noodles. Optional, a bear hug from Baba and a shy handshake from Nini

Costs: Rs 2,500 (Two thousand and five hundred). Soft drinks and alcohol extra and to be charged per person at restaurant prices and this is to be paid directly to the wait staff.

Address: ADDRESS:
19/21, Mahakavi Bhushan Marg, Behind Regal Cinema, Colaba, Mumbai (in the Mondegar Lane)

Write in at or tweet me at @finelychopped or write to me at the Finely Chopped Facebook page if you want to join. Given limited seats please don’t change your minds. Looking forward to seeing you there


Smritilekha C said…
I always go to a restaurant with a simple strategy. Eat something, that you've never had before.
So, the first thing I ordered at the Lings was "Ox Tails". And, then Spare Pork Ribs. Then...... Din't have any space left!
Anindya said…
WOnderful concept Kalyan . Wish you all the success .
Gungun Chanda said…
I am very much interested to attend this rare opportunity. To attend this do I need to register somewhere?
Kim said…
Really, really wish I was in Bombay. Sigh!
Sassy Fork said…
I remember our first visit.....we were the only Indians in the restaurant! Set out trying a whole lot of new dishes that gave Chinese cuisine a new meaning.It is here that I learnt of the Chinese habit of having steamed or stir fried vegetables at every meal.Morning Glory is a Chinese vegetable available in the monsoon season that features on their menu,stir fried in garlic...subtle all their dishes
k10 said…
Thank you for the opening our palate to the aweomsess that is Lings! Thank you K!
Kalyan Karmakar said…
when I am eating alone i too prefer to focus on one or two dishes and eat them well
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Confirmed your booking. See you on the 14th
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Yes, that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship

My friends in KL introduced me to the Chinese love greens. Though in KL they add shrimp paste. I also liked the use of sprouts in Singapore. There they added cuttle fish
Kalyan Karmakar said…
was great meeting Sonal and you yesterday and eating in Ling's together
Anonymous said…
Makes me wish I lived in Mumbai.