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seemed promising when they opened on Mengzi Lu back in 2011. Touted as the best Sichuan newcomer in town, they'd shipped in a star chef from Chengdu to cook dishes like stewed ma la
rabbit head and Chongqing lazi ji
that made food writers in the city sing. But that was five years ago, and it’s unclear whether Chef Zhang is still running things, although the staff claims the kitchen team is straight out of Zigong and Chongqing.
I never made it to their original location before it closed, but I've been to their Kerry Center
and Xintiandi spots
, and most recently the newest in Grand Gateway mall
. Maurya looks nothing like a Sichuan restaurant, and while the food isn't on that Chengdu level, it's a fine alternative to your favorite Sichuan spot, especially if you need a place with better ingredients and cleaner vibes.
I’ve eaten through most of the menu at all three locations. I’ve entertained out of town guests here, and I can even say I genuinely like Maurya. A dining partner recently described our meal as perfectly good, even great
. But here’s the truth -- it’s watered down Sichuan food. Swashes of innovation are applied to the dishes, and while nothing wrong in that ("authentic" = good is a dumb argument, and there is a place for localized pseudo-Sichuan fare alongside Shanghai's Spicy Joints
and Pin Chuans
), Maurya’s self-proclaimed "authentic Sichuan flavor" just seems deceptive, cleverly cloaked behind lacquered "Tiffany blue" and giant taxidermy peacocks.
Given the background, that decor makes sense. The founders are Shanghainese and hail from the FCC Restaurant Group a.k.a. 熙玺府 (direct translation: "Prosperous Imperial Mansion" -- that should give you an idea of where they're coming from) whose restaurants’ interiors, like Maurya’s, are all marked by a gaudy opulence evocative of a giant Faberge egg. It seems to work though; they can claim ratings of 9.3 across all three locations for atmosphere on Dianping.
(Also, they might have the nicest bathrooms of any Sichuan restaurant in China.)
The menu at each location differs slightly. The Kerry Center location features "Old Chengdu Flavors", the Xintiandi one specializes in "Zigong (of salt-mine fame) Yanbang", and the newest location is a mashup of everything. Innards like liver, kidney, tripe, intestine, and throat feature heavily across all three menus, as do some Shanghainese and Cantonese concessions like vinegared jellyfish and fish and pork lions head meatballs (solid). And then there are also some inexplicable choices, like roti canai
, and the liberal use of fresh abalone for no apparent purpose beyond decadence.
If you go, you should get the mapo
tofu with pig brain. The texture of tofu and brain is disturbingly good, and while it could use more of a huajiao kick, the flavor is perfectly palatable.
Starters like ginger marinated okra and steamed eggplant with green chilies are simple and well executed.
The catfish shui zhuyu
is always a crowd pleaser despite being ever so slightly rubbery. Their fish is noticeably better quality than a lot of places in town, as is the oil.
The kou shui ji
(mouth-watering chicken) glistens as it arrives at the table, but may offend some by being served warm despite this traditionally being a cold appetizer.
is overcooked more often than not, but the sauce is on point.
Don’t get me wrong; the food is solid. In some ways -- the overall experience, the environment, cleanliness, bathrooms, ingredients, general tastiness -- it's better than most of the competition. I dig Sichuan Citizen
, but for hosting people, I'd say Maurya over anything else. Yes, it's diluted Sichuan, but I binge in my hometown Chengdu several times a year, so perhaps my bar is too high to pass fair judgment. While I don’t disagree with the overall positive consensus on Dianping, it's telling that the few disappointing reviews for flavor all start with the disclaimer, "As a Chengdu native…"
About the author: Jenny Gao is the co-founder of gua bao spot Baoism and she blogs at Jing Theory.