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On the food trail in Chennai
Roshan K Thomas |
November 29, 2005
We continue with our reader-driven series on the must-sample restaurants/ eating places in India.
Here, Roshan K Thomas tells you about his favourite haunts in Chennai.
I am a self-confessed foodie and love to try out the local food in every country I visit.
When I recently visited Guangzhou, the culinary capital of China, I thoroughly enjoyed having 'Chinese' food that was nothing like what I've tasted anywhere else -- not even in Taiwan or Singapore.
The food that you get in mainland China tends to be exquisitely and delicately flavoured.
Most dishes are less spicy than what we Indians are accustomed to, even I daresay, dishes from the Schezwan province (where the food is spicier). Many different kinds of herbs are used. Every meal is accompanied by herb-flavoured 'Chinese' tea.
One dish I never got to see in China was mixed fried rice. Conversely, one of the most exotic dishes I came across was sticky red bran rice (the kind you get in Kerala) and pappadoms! My host readily admitted this was definitely an Indian influence though he couldn't explain how.
The reason I quote this example is that whenever I try out any new restaurant, I always try to judge how authentic their preparations are.
I live in Chennai and would like to list out some of the restaurants I think visitors and residents alike should not miss.
Bella Ciao (4 Sree Krishna Enclave, Kottivakkam) was started by Ciro, a chef from Rome, and his wife, Tanya. It is beautifully set in a large house just off the beach. Guests can chill out in the garden on stone benches under little umbrellas.
I would recommend the pizzas in the Neapolitan style as well as the salads, accompanied by some good wine. The Neapolitan style of pizza has in a thin crust, almost like a biscuit, in which the cheese and tomatoes are blended beautifully.
Ciro has opened another outlet in Nungambakkam High Road, which is also quite successful. I haven't found any difference between what Ciro makes and what I have tasted in Europe.
Following close behind on the pizza front is 601, the restaurant at The Park hotel (601 Anna Salai).
Most of our populace have only tasted the American style of pizza, which is what Pizza Hut and Domino's serve.
A meal at Bella Ciao would be in the range of Rs 250-350 per head (sans beer or wine), while The Park would cost a minimum of Rs 500.
I'm traditionally a carnivore but I do occasionally like to sample vegetarian food.
My all time favourite in this category is Eden (Second Avenue, Besant Nagar), started by three catering college students over 15 years ago. I was one of their first customers and still find their quality consistent after so many years.
I would recommend mushrooms on toast, and ice-creams like Streaking Kahlua and The Last Time I Ever Saw My Waist.
The cost works out to Rs 150 per head.
After having sampled the real stuff in China, nothing really makes the grade. Everything is oriented towards the Indian palate. If you can get past that, however, chef Hardy's creations at the Taj Coromandel's Golden Dragon are not bad.
Per head, the cost works out to approximately Rs 600 plus, but it could be more because I haven't been there for a while.
My favorites are Giorgio (Besant Nagar) and Peshawari at the Chola Sheraton (Cathedral Road) hotel. The spread at the Peshawari is not exactly cheap as can be expected from a five star hotel, but it is quite succulent.
I must also mention Basera -- located on the scenic East Coast Road, Vettuvankeni -- both for the quality of the food as well as the lush settings (the restaurants are on tree tops).
Giorgio works out to Rs 200 per head while the platter at the Peshawari was approximately Rs 800. A meal at Basera would cost you Rs 200 per head.
Benjorang (146, T T K Road, Alwarpet) is highly recommended, though these days I tend to lean towards the Lotus restaurant at The Par (601, Anna Salai).
The cost per head is Rs 300 approximately.
Few people are aware that there are two Japanese restaurants in Chennai -- Dahlia and Akasaka -- which have been running for a good number of years.
Of these, I find myself returning frequently to Akasaka which is situated in a residential building off LB Road (next to Jayanthi theatre). The quality of the food is not different from what you could find in Tokyo (except, perhaps, that it is even more clean!).
Prices tend to as match as a good five star (considerably more if you keep swilling sake for an extended period of time!). Sake is a Japanese liquor made from fermented rice.
My favourites are the seafood tempura (which is a collection of deep fried seafood) and sashimi, which is thinly sliced, raw seafood. Many different kinds of fish (and other types of seafood) are served raw in the Japanese cuisine. Of course, the fish has to be as fresh as possible (Akasaka owns their own fishing boat).
Sashimi can be eaten just as sashimi or as nigiri zushi, in which case the sashimi piece is put on top of a small ball of sushi rice.
Sashimi pieces are dipped into Soya sauce before they are eaten. Depending on the kind of sashimi, wasabi (a very pungent green Japanese condiment made from the root of the herb Eutrema wasabi) or ground ginger is usually mixed into the Soya sauce. Incidentally if one has a cold, a dash of wasabi will clear it in a jiffy!
Typical prices per head is easily Rs 500-600 by the time you order something beyond what you can simply inhale.
One of the oldest restaurants I know of is Kalpaka Restaurant on 318, TTK Road, a tiny place you are likely to miss -- the food is not fancy, but you get good value for money. Their Syrian beef fry is excellent.
However, these days, I tend to favour Tharavad in Besant Nagar. Their kallu makka (stone mussels) is highly recommended.
Also worth checking out is Coconut Lagoon in the Amraavathi complex opposite the Music Academy flyover.
The cost per head in all three restaurants tends to hover around Rs 100-150 depending upon what you order.
Karaikudi has a chain of restaurants all over Chennai which are somewhat consistent in their taste, but again none of them really measure up to the standards of what is actually available in Chettinad.
Cost per head is approx Rs 80.
What distinguishes a Madrasi (as people from the south are erroneously known in the north of India) is his love for idli-sambar-vada and dosa.
Muguran Idli (originally from Madurai) has set up shops in Chennai; I prefer the one on G N Chetty Road -- they have a great variety and are good value for money.
Some of the best dosas and vadas are made in a small place called Vishranthi in Besant Nagar. Dosas are in the range of Rs 20 while a plate of idlis costs Rs 12 approximately.
One of my regrets is not having found a restaurant anywhere in India so far that can dish out an authentic traditional English breakfast with good ham, sausages, eggs, baked beans, black pudding (admittedly it is full of calories and not at all good for your health... but it tastes yummy).
The closest I could get to this was Koshys in Bangalore -- they also have an excellent Spanish omelette.
Roshan K Thomas lives in Chennai travels worldwide frequently and is in charge of product management for a British software company located in Chennai.
Do you know a restaurant where Roshan can sample a mean English Breakfast? Or have a favourite restaurant or cuisine that you'd like to tell us about?
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