As another year ends, looking back gives us all memories. Some good ones, some not so good ones. But memories nevertheless. As a foodie, this has been a good year. Or should I say, another good year! Newer experiences, some going-back-to-the-root kind of experiences and some exotic ones.
I’ll start with the most exotic – Ethiopian. Launching for the first time in India, Abyssinian brings the essence, culture and habits of Ethiopian eating to Chennai. With its uncanny resemblance to Indian food, this is not going to be entirely new to our palates. A fun meal with all of us eating out of a single large plate on a dosa (technically an Injera) made of teff flour and loads of dishes on it, the experience was enriching both in terms of flavours and learning about cuisine. One of the gravies, a thick one that had super succulent lamb with mashed channa was like an African spiced non Veg version of the humble hummus, something I am trying to replicate at home. The coffee with butter and pop-corn was a fitting finish to the meal.
Prem’s Grama Bhojanam
Awesome things sometimes come in tiny packages! Located in a non-AC, first floor space, Prem’s surprised me! Blew out my brains, rather. With its owner going around serving tulsi and clove infused water to dosa and idly made of millets, Prem’s is the healthy, but surprisingly tasty, if not tastier than the original, version of regular South Indian khana. Curd rice and sambar rice, but with no rice in them are mind boggling. The black rice puttu, a simple yet both nutritious and yummy dessert is a testimony for trusting health in local foods. The samba 'rice' and curd 'rice', though called rice was made purely with millets. A little digging out revealed that these are on par or sometimes better than the famed quinoa in terms of nutrition. This is probably how Obama felt at his $6 meal with Anthony in Vietnam.
A 5 course dessert, Pan Asian, ITC Grand Chola
Yep, 5 courses of dessert. If I had to choose one meal as my meal of the year, it would be this one by Chef Vikramjit Roy, who made a guest appearance back at Pan Asian which he started off a years ago. A by-reservation-only, pre booked meal, Vikramjit wowed the 18 guests. Pushing creativity, he served squid coated with sugar and stuffed with chocolate to create flavors that completely confused the palate and the brain. You could taste squid in its natural flavor but the sweetness confused the brain all the way. Being Vikram, he had to finish the meal with liquid-nitrogen-dipped-frozen rose that the ladies had a ball of a time, breaking on a plate of chocolate that was done five, maybe even seven ways. I can't wait to get to Tian, ITC Maurya to taste Chef Vikram in his home ground!
Radio Room, Somerset
For a teetotaler, I love pubs a little too much. The food, the ambiance, the relaxed atmosphere that they offer, but then in Chennai, you have to suit up to let your hair down. Sort of a contradiction, yes. And recently, the music makes me feel old because both I can’t recognize the music anymore, plus my ears start and throat start to cry. Enter Radio Room. Retro ambiance. Retro music from the radio era. Music at volumes perfect for both the ears and the throat. No closed shoes or collared tees required, just make a reservation, which is yet another old school. Oh, and excellent pub food, plus celeb spotting comes free! Broccoli with cheese and the mushroom stuffed steamed buns were my favorite dishes. It was welcoming to see that good parmesan cheese used on the broccoli and not just the store bought cheese slices. While the steamed buns are usually done with pork, I didn't miss the meat in the vegetarian version. This is my kind of pub!
Chef Allesandro visits Focaccia, Hyatt Regency Chennai.
Guests chefs visiting and cooking up amazing food in Chennai is not new, but once in a while they literally cook up a storm. Or tears in this case. Chef Allesandro, an Italian chef at Grand Hyatt Mumbai paid a visit to Chennai and we all thought we knew from where Chef Gustav from Ratatouille was created from. He made my friends cry after eating the risotto, so much so that we ate a few times during the food festival. The risotto with its gorgonzola cheese and balsamic reduction and cooked to perfection with some bite still left was responsible for the tears. The chocolate mousse with just a sprinkle of sea salt with loads of chocolate elements inside the beautifully plated glass wasn't too sweet and had just the right balance to make it the perfect end to the meal
Classic vs Contemporary, 601, The Park
Classic or Contemporary? This is a raging debate that will never end, so wise young chef decided to put both on the plate. BOTH! So for every dish you order, there is a classic version and modern take on the plate and the results were extraordinary. Classic shepherd’s pie with the lamb and potato on one side, and a beautiful potato slice – roulade with stuffed lamb on the other. In both the modern and classic versions, the lamb was cooked to perfection with its flavors creeping through the creativity of dual plating. There was also a yummy dosa with an awesome prawn gravy playing for the classic side with a pasta and prawn playing for the contemporary side. My favourite was the classic lobster broth paired with a modern lobster bisque cappuccino. Perfect way to end a debate – agree to both sides!
Ministry of Crab, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Speechless. This uncanny restaurant in old Dutch Hospital complex in Colombo doles some amazing food with a waiting list to get in. Our host in Sri Lanka managed to get us seats and over lunch, we were amazed at the food. Or should I say crabs! With flavour of the gravies seeping well inside the crabs and prawns of humongous sizes, Ministry of Crab run by two wonderful cricketers, Jayawardene and Sangakkara along with a chef friend, is a must do when in Colombo.
Villa Maya, Trivandrum
Having heard so much from connoisseurs and chefs and 5 star hotel GMs, Villa Maya was on my to-do list for a while before a wedding in Trivandrum gave me the chance to travel up. Yup, I skipped eating at the wedding and showed up at Villa Maya instead. This is a place that has no cuisine and hence no constraints. It is Chef Sashi's child and is extremely under rated in India. They have breakfast in bed where you really sit on the bed and the tray rolls to you. Garden seating is not a green patch, but a real large garden. And the food spans regions and cuisines. From puttu cooked in a sand pot right in front of you to Painter's Platter that will tempt to paint rather than eat, the food leaves you amazed and I want to go back there, this time after starving for two days!
And now looking forward to an even more food experiences filled 2017!