But I needn’t have worried, for the lively restaurant was no stranger to magic itself. To the right of the entrance, a gastronomic conjurer was whipping up noodles from scratch, while a team of cheerful sirens – decked out in matching red silk dresses – lead my entranced group to our table. Near the noodle man were a handful of stations, each boasting racks of shrink-wrapped raw ingredients, as well as several watery buckets containing sea cucumbers. The descriptions next to each dish were vague, so we decided to point randomly to various plates and see what the cooks came up with (the portions at China Sea are big, and meant to share, so you’re best coming with a large group). The resultant concoctions were, in every single instance, mesmerising.
Some of what we experienced was wholly unfamiliar and no less divine (who knew we would be so transfixed with a cold salad of caramelised peanuts and dried peacock fish? Or that the grainy texture of boiled and lightly fried quail eggs, marinated in a sweet soy-based sauce and saturated with the earthy flavours of accompanying black fungus and mushroom, would feel so seductive on the tongue?). Other dishes were simply excellent renditions of old classics: the Peking duck was as it should have been, but often isn’t – crisp and juicy. The accompanying plum sauce was sweet, without being cloying. An order of crispy chicken with cashews, which five minutes prior sat raw and beguiling behind an armour of shrink wrap, was plump, crunchy, and armed with the type of sneaky heat that likes to take its time before making its presence known.
The ace up China Sea’s sleeve, though, was undoubtedly the pristine freshness of the ingredients. No one at our table could fathom how the restaurant had managed to find such tender, young asparagus (a vegetable particularly sensitive to seasonality). The green spears were served in a gentle broth, alongside ham and crabmeat. We were also captivated by tender morsels of fried shrimp wrapped in a silky bed of aubergine.
Purists can point to a variety of raw, leafy greens, and 10 minutes later, the waitress will bring it to the table, sautéed simply in a light (and refreshingly non-oily) garlic sauce. We did so with a batch of kang kong, or Chinese water spinach, a move that made us feel healthy and pampered (another unexpected combo). Our feast finished with a mixed nut pie; think a deep-fried version of the traditional jam sandwich, only with fresh chopped nuts and banana added into the mix.
Afterwards, my group and I stumbled out into the Deira streets in an overstuffed daze. We didn’t understand the genesis of much of what we ate, and the venue’s open kitchen did little to divulge any of the place’s culinary secrets. What we did know was that we had experienced an incredible feat: Ladies and gentlemen, we just may have uncovered the best Chinese restaurant in Dubai.
The bill (for six)
1x Spicy chicken with cashews Dhs42
1x Deep fried eggplant and shrimps Dhs48
1x Quail eggs, black fungus and mushrooms Dhs56
1x Peacock and peanut salad Dhs16
1x Asparagus with three ingredients Dhs38
1x Peking duck Dhs58
1x Kang kong Dhs36
1x Mixed nut pies Dhs38