Tuesday 22 January 2013

If you ask anyone to name a place for food in Residency Towers, the first to be named is quite often either Mainstreet or Bikes n Barrels. But tucked away in the corner of the main lobby is a less known restaurant known as Southern Aromas. The last time I remember dining here was close to 6 years ago when one fine Sunday evening we were hunting around Chennai for a place to have dinner as most places were packed. The waiting time was close to 45 mins to a hour almost everywhere. Having hopped into close to 4 restaurants, we decided to try Southern Aromas. Believe it or not, we had to wait for the same amount of time here too. Being tired driving around, we decided to wait as it was our first time. But the experience wasn't too great and didn't motivate me to visit again soon. Coming to the present, I day I get a call from the Chennai Food Guide asking me if I would be interested to take part in the Bloggers Meet at Southern Aromas. I had an instant flashback and thought this should be a good opportunity to give them a chance once again and immediately confirmed my participation.

I was to meet with 4 other fellow bloggers for the meet and was told that we would be having an interaction with the Chef too. Southern Aromas is a south Indian restaurant serving up dishes from the 4 states in south India namely, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh & Karnataka. The best part is that they have some of the traditional dishes from these cuisines too. Arriving in time and having introduced ourselves to the team at Southern Aromas, the dishes started to arrive one by one.
(Welcome Drink)
The first to arrive were the welcome drink and papads. The welcome drink was nothing southern at all. It seemed to be an ordinary fusion drink so didn't pay much attention to the same. The papads were brought in a very stylish cone shaped plantain leaf. It was accompanied by an array of Tomato and Coconut chutney's. The papads were crisps and the chutney's finger licking yumm. 

The first of the dishes to be served was "Malli Vada". This is one of their fast moving signature dishes. I was assuming the vada's to be the usual shaped but was taken aback when it was placed on the table. Each of the Malli Vada were triangle shaped. The Chef told us that they are steamed first so that the shape holds. Although the texture seems to look hard, the vada was super soft and was just mind blowing, no wonder it is their most selling dish. 
(Malli Vada)
The next dishes were the Mutton Roast Kerala Style and Jumbo Prawns Andhra Style. The mutton were packed with curry leaves flavour and the meat too was very soft and juicy. Mind you if you did not feel the flavors immediately as I too was wondering the same. But the moment it hits within a few seconds, it makes itself worth craving for. On the other hand you could tell from the looks on the Prawns that they were Andhra style. Rich red in color  it had a superb level of spice which complemented the prawns perfectly.  Having a prawn lover in our group, you could see a gleaming smile on him once he savored the prawns. That by itself is a strong evidence that they were amazing. This was then followed by the last starter of the evening, the Coriander Chicken Fry which incidentally is again from Kerala. The chicken had a good crispy texture to it as the main ingredient used in marination was not the Coriander powder but was the Coriander seed itself. This really changed the dynamics on the palate. 
(Mutton Roast Kerala Style)
(Andhra style Jumbo Prawns)
(Coriander Chicken Fry)
With the starters all done, next was the line up of the mains. The first to make it was the Tamil Nadu style Mini Podi Idly. Frankly, why would I order this here. Adding to it, I felt the dish tasted very similar to what we get in most places. But I guess it targeted at customers who are not from Tamil Nadu for whom it may be a wonder dish. This was followed by an array of dishes. The Chicken Kothu Parotta was something different to what I've been having all this while. It was very low in oil and had a good crispiness on the parotta. 
(Mini Pody Idly)
(Chicken Kothu Parotta)
This was followed by a continual service of Dosa, Appam and Idiyappams (String Hoppers). To complement these, the gravies that were served were Poondu (Garlic) curry, Vegetable Stew, a south Indian Dhal and a Mutton curry. The Poondu curry and Vegetable stew were a perfect combination with the dosas while the Mutton curry gave a good booster dose to the idiyappams. The last to be served was the Ambur Biryani. Having tasted the real Ambur biryani, I for once knew this was not anywhere close to the original. But on the contrary, it did have a good flavour which was very unique for a biryani. It was definitely a winning dish as it was absolutely something that had never struck me before in any form of Biryani.
(Vegetable Stew)
(Mutton Curry)
(Poondu Curry)
(Ambur Biryani)
The desserts were the finale and we were served with the traditional Payasam. Being too full with just sampling the dishes, I just had a taste of the Payasam and sure it was nice. Especially after all those spices, it was really soothing. 

Southern Aroma is located at Hotel Residency Towers, T. Nagar. A complete meal for 2 can put you back by anywhere between INR 1500 - 2000. But you can be guaranteed of some good south Indian food.

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Saturday 19 January 2013

(Bajji Shop)
Banging on the success of a wonderful and interesting food walk conducted in Mylapore by the Chennai Food Guide, another such food walk was planned to be held in the vicinity of Adyar and Thriuvanmiyur to explore the famous yet less-publicized eateries in this side of Chennai. The meet was planned for a Saturday and the entire fraternity was eagerly awaiting it. Being a Saturday, two of my cousins too chipped in for this. With a scheduled start at 4 pm, we were all asked to report at Adyar Bakery. Where else to start an Adyar Food Walk from!!!

Being a working day and having to pick up my cousins en-route, we were slightly delayed and caught with the rest of the team as they finished their endeavour at Adyar Bakery. The next stop was a small yet renowned Bajji shop next to the Adyar Bakery compound. This was no small Bajji shop the moment we noticed what all he had on his offering. The shop has both sweets and savouries. Right from Bajji to Boli to Pakodas and tens of other edibles. Apparently the Cutlets here are supposed to be one of the best in the area. True to the recommendation, we first tasted the cutlets. It was tightly packed and super crispy. The rest of the entourage were busy trying out the other snacks while I was munching in to their pakodas. The pakodas were very minimalistic in oil and had a good amount of crispiness to it.
Following the heavy intake of snacks and sweets, it was ideally desired to have something to quench our throats next. And voila, we landed up at “Coronet Cool Biz”, which is located right behind ‘Coronet’. We had a huge variety of drinks here including a few variants of Falooda’s and a new drink which I was hearing for the first time called ‘Sharjah’. As told by my cousin later, apparently this is a famous drink in Kerala and tends to give an instant brain freeze. No wonder the name of such a drink is Sharjah.
(Super Falooda)
Once we were all done with the clicks and drinks, our next stop was a small eatery tucked in a junction on the busy LB Road. Named “Sri Lakshmi Sagar”, a speciality here is the idly and Sambar. Unlike usual places where Sambar is used as an accompaniment, here the idly is brought to your table submerged in Sambar. Any request for additional Sambar and don’t be frightened with what you will witness. Sambar will be served not by the spoonful but rather by the mugful. Yes, they seriously serve Sambar in a mug. The Idly in Sambar was accompanied by a nice and strong Madras Filter Kaapi. Running short on time, it was decided to wind up the Adyar segment and head to the Thiruvanmiyur area. Now being a food walk, it is an implication that we must savour the different offerings by a walk but the distance from Sri Lakshmi Sagar to our next destination in Thiruvanmiyur was a bit too long for a walk. As the folks were busy getting their logistics sorted out, giving in to a sudden impulse, a bunch of us decided to take the bus. It has been ages since I travelled by a local bus and boy did I enjoy this short trip. It brought back my college memories.
(Sri Lakshmi Sagar)
(Idly in Sambar)
The first stop in Thiruvanmiyur was at “Sri Krishna Tiffin Centre”. Located in Chitrakulam Street, a few meters from the temple, we knew from the bustle around the centre that the food here should be fantastic. Our impressions were a 100% correct. Being a tiffin centre, we decided to start with a Kal Dosa and proceed accordingly. The Dosa was super soft and yummy. The next was time for some Chapatti. There was nothing great to talk about the Chapatti as I felt it to be the same almost everywhere. By now we were all crumpled up inside the tiffin centre, which can hardly accommodate 6 people comfortably yet we were close to double its capacity. Once as everyone were almost done, I offered to know if anyone would like to taste their parotta. Parotta being my favourite variety of Indian bread, it is a self-imposed compulsion whenever I see them on the menu. The moment the first Parotta arrived, I was mesmerized by it. Coming from a place where Parotta and Salna (Term used for only the gravy from a Mutton Curry) is like staple food, I was completely surprised by the parotta here. They were super soft and super fluffy that the moment folks saw me savouring it, I was suddenly swarmed by the entire lot and in a jiffy the Parotta disappeared from my plate. Another set of parotta were ordered and it too met with the same fate. The news slowly spread to the rest of the gang and the next point of attack was the parotta master himself. All of us just stood next to him and ate the parotta as they kept coming fresh from the hot plate. Truly, it was one of the best parotta I’ve had in my entire life. We were so busy attacking the plates on whichever a parotta was there that we even failed to take a single click. 
(Sri Krishna Tiffin Centre)
(Hot Chapatti)
(Kal Dosa)
(The inside of the Tiffin centre)
(The Parotta master with few CFGians)
With all our stomach’s filled with parotta, it was time for one more round of drinks. This time we headed to “Juicetree” which is located at Sannadi Street, a short walking distance from the Thiruvanmiyur temple. It is co-owned by a fellow CFGian and we were welcomed to try out some of their unique juices. Being already full with all the parotta, I decided to give it a skip. A couple of us were busy chatting sitting outside while the rest were quenching their thirst. Being well past our scheduled time of completion, we wrapped up the food walk.
This food walk was truly worth the time spent if not for other eateries but definitely for the Parotta at Sri Krishna Tiffin Centre. If you are a diehard parotta fan, then this place is a must visit. Eagerly looking forward to the next CFG food walk to discover some more new places and interesting stories.

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Tuesday 15 January 2013

Reaching towards the end of a long and much sought after holidays, thanks to the Pongal celebrations, everyone at home were still reeling under the laziness that had set upon over the last 4 days. Being a foodie, I never let a single chance of eating at a new place slip by. Wanting to try Azzuri Bay for a long time, I at once threw up the suggestion at precisely the very moment a plan to eat out was being conceptualized. Having heard from quite a few peers about Azzuri Bay, I promptly made our reservations and looked forward to having a go at their new lunch buffet. 
(Broccoli Cream Soup)
We were a bit behind our reservation time as I had to drive almost across the city to reach the restaurant from my home. Arriving at Azzuri Bay, the first thing that stood out to me was their ambiance. Unaware that their buffet is served at the rooftop area of the restaurant, I was overwhelmed when I was led to the 3rd floor. The view was just perfect with all the commercialization visible to the eyes yet far from the disturbing noise they make. Being a little late, we immediately jumped into the food. The soup of the afternoon was a 'Broccoli Cream Soup'. The soup had a good flavor in it but a tad more creamy. Other than that nothing extra ordinary about the soup. 
(Veg Spring Rolls)

(Spring Rolls)
(Chilly Paneer)
(Thai Crispy Fish)
(Stuffed Mushroom)
(Starters Plate)
Once we were done with the soup, the next to be savored were the starters. The buffet consisted of 4 starters, viz. Veg Spring Rolls, Chilly Panneer, Thai Crispy Fish and Stuffed Mushrooms. The Veg Spring Rolls were crispy and oil less. The fillings were fresh and folded into a small bite size portion that was delightful. The Chilly Panneer I felt was a major let down. It was too spicy and the Panneer seemed hard and rubbery. The Thai Crispy Fish was good but had a strong flavor of Thai sauces in it but the fish was well cooked which gave an overall satisfaction. The Stuffed Mushrooms gave me a mixed opinion. Some of the one's I had were a bit salty while the others were balanced. The fillings were delicious and provided a good closure to the starters.
(Vegetable Steak)
(Cheese Grilled Fish)
(Veg Penne)
Coming to the Mains, being a tri-cuisine restaurant, they had a few dishes in each. The Italian was represented by 'Chickpeas & Mixed Vegetable Steak', 'Grilled Veg penne in Red/White sauce' & 'Cheese Grilled Fish'. All the 3 dishes passed my test. The steak was packed well and the sauce accompanying it was a perfect contribution to it and really helped lift it's flavors. Being a fish avoid-er  I felt the Cheese Grilled Fish was cooked to the point and was well dressed in the cheese sauce. The pasta had a good mixture of vegetables in it and was one of the best dishes of the afternoon. Heard from peers that Italian is really good at Azzuri Bay.
(Veg Noodles)
(Hunan Chicken Gravy)
(Beijing Dumplings)
The Pan-Asian cuisines were represented by 'Veg Noodles', 'Beijing Manchurian' & 'Hunan Chicken Gravy'. The noodles were more like the regular Chinese noodles, nothing that really stood out. The Beijing Manchurian was more on the lines of veg dumplings shaped as balls and cooked in a Manchurian sauce. The effect of the sauce on the dumplings were overwhelming. The Hunan Chicken Gravy was the dish that stood out in this representation. The chicken was cooked soft and had a good amount of spiciness in it along with the right balance of meat and sauce.
(Rice with Podi)
(Different Podi's)
To complete the main offerings, we had the South Indian cuisine which were represented by 'Kal Dosa', Lemon Rice, 'Steamed Rice', 'Mutton Khurma' followed by 3 varieties of Podi with Ghee. Skipped the Kal dosa as I generally tend to avoid dosa's unless they are straight from the hot stone. I believe the dosa loses it's flavors as it cools down. The Lemon rice was the typical one that we get in other south Indian restaurants. The Mutton Khurma was a good accompaniment for the Steamed Rice. But what really made my day at Azzuri Bay was the availability of Podi for the rice. Ever since I was introduced to Rice with Podi and Ghee, it instantly shot into my all time favorite list of delicacies. The moment I saw 3 different types, I was like stoned. I had to try em all but owing to my dietary conditions decided to try them all in just one plate with a mouthful of each. It was just divine. I'm sure the satisfaction and fullness that Rice with Podi can give can never be attained by consuming any other delicacy. 
(Gulab Jamun)
(Kaju Halwa)
(Brownie with Chocolate Sauce)
Being stuffed with the rice and podi combination, the desserts were more of a formality. The desserts that were made available today were 'Gulab Jamun', 'Kaju Halwa' & 'Chocolate Brownie'. The jamun was well prepared and not too sweet which according to me is a perfect one. I hate those that are served at certain restaurants where the syrup is too sweet that it powers the taste of the jamun itself. The Kaju Halwa was more of the regular types available at most places and the brownie with chocolate sauce was also passable except for the brownie being a bit too hard. Really wished that they had some desserts from the Pan-Asian cuisine rather than having 2 from the Indian. 

(At Peace)
With the buffet costing Rs. 500/- nett per person, I am of the opinion that it is a good value for money and food if not extraordinarily great makes for a good buffet over many other restaurants in town. Perfect if you are looking at treating a big group of people especially considering the ambiance and the rooftop options. 

Azzuri Bay is located #13, 1st Crescent Park Rd, Gandhi Nagar, Adyar.

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Saturday 12 January 2013

(Mylapore Post Office)
The continuous stretch of holidays that most of us in Chennai anticipate once the New Year starts was right round the corner. Yes folks, the Pongal holidays. This time with Pongal falling on a Monday, it was time for some celebrations with 4 days of continuous holiday. As it is to be, the Chennai Food Guide had also simultaneously planned for a ‘Food Walk’ in Mylapore to coincide with the Mylapore Festival which has happening during that weekend. What better way can one ask to begin their holidays. 

(Kalathi Newspaper Shop)
(Rose Milk)
The Mylapore Food Walk was scheduled to start at 2:45PM on Saturday from none other than our very own Mada Street. Hunting for an assembly point, our primary guide for the walk, Shiyam ji had instructed CFGians to assemble at “Kalathi Seithithaal Kadai” (Translation: Kalathi Newspaper Shop). This shop located at the corner of East Mada Street & South Mada Street is best known for its ‘Rose Milk’. The entourage was informed that the shop has been selling Rose Milk for the last 33 years and the consistency has been maintained and not even an iota of change in their taste was ever noticed by the frequenters till date. An interesting point to be noticed is that, 33 years ago they charged Rs. 1.50 for a glass and today they only charge Rs. 12. Yes, you got it right. The term ‘Value for Money’ has no relevance here. I guess someone should come up with a better term.
(Old Building Landmark)
(Old vs New)
(Mini Gully)
With everyone energized by the awesomeness of the Rose Milk, the next designated pit stop was the age old famous mess in Mylapore, the “Rayars Mess”. Located at a short walking distance, you must begin your walk from the Kapaleeshwar temple towards Kutchery Road and ask for Arundale Street once you cross the Mylapore Post Office. Keep walking down Arundale Street and you are supposed to locate a really old house (See Pic for Landmark). Once you locate this house, bang opposite to it you can see a mini gully and yes your guesses are correct. The famous and renowned Rayar’s Mess is located inside this mini gully. 
(Mini Gully)
(Traditional method of Eating)

When we walked inside the mini gully, everyone in the neighbouring houses were looking at us in awe as we all looked like some press people with huge cameras and stuffs. I’m sure people must have got intimidated by Dilip’s 100-400mm lens too. It was then that we came to know that the place was so small that out entourage had two eat in two shifts. Being eager to taste their offerings, I took a place on the first turn and promptly found a stool to sit on. What began next was an awesome food experience that I will remember all through my life. We were asked from a pre-set menu what we would like to have. The choices were Gulab Jamun, Potato Bonda, Onion Rava Dosa, Kal Dosa and Filter Coffee.

(Gulab Jamun)
(Potato Bonda)
(Bonda being savoured) 
(Onion Rava Dosa)
(Dosa being savoured)
(Dosa being Savoured)
(Inside of Rayar's Mess)
(The owner at work)
I wanted to taste as many dishes as possible and ordered for everything except the Kal Dosa and Coffee as I didn’t want to overeat lest I miss out on the other places. The ‘Gulab Jamun’ that arrived was pleasantly sweet and had the right textures on it. The ‘Potato Bonda’ was very crispy and wasn’t at all dripping with oil. Along with the Chutney and Sambar, it was simply yummy and a perfect evening snack. After a small delay considering that the owner was making all the dosa orders himself, came my ‘Onion Rava Dosa’. The dosa was served fresh from the hot plate with the onions as juicy as they can get. The feeling of eating a hot delicious dosa with amazing accompaniments in such an ambience is can never be expressed in the form of words. You need to visit the place to experience the feeling. The total bill for 20 of us was only Rs. 800.With a very satisfied look on everyone’s face, there was some contemplation with regards to the next pit stop. Whether to head to “Jannal Kadai” or “Mami Tiffin Stall”. But it was promptly decided to head to Mami Tiffin Stall considering that the location of Jannal Kadai was in the midst of the Mylapore Festival. 

(en-route to Mami Tiffin Stall)
(Mami Tiffin Stall)
(Inside of Mami Tiffin Stall)

Mami Tiffin Stall is located on the street diagonally opposite to Kalathi Newspaper Shop. This place is supposedly to be famous for their ‘Coffee’ and ‘Bajji’. We had each placed an order for coffee and couple of plates of bajji’s. The coffee was just too good and especially after an amazing lunch at Rayar’s mess felt like a much needed after food drink. The Bajji’s too tasted amazing but I didn’t feel much of a difference on comparison to those available elsewhere. Being already 5 PM, it was decided to wind up the Food Walk for the evening and head to Kalakkal Café. More on Kalakkal Café will be posted in a separate blog post.

(Traditional Coffee)
This being my first food walk with CFG provided me with an insight to hidden eateries that are being there in the city for ages but less discovered mainly because they are content with the customers within their locality. But this has reinstated the faith in me that such localized eateries are always better as their serve authentic and original food as compared to fancy outlets. If you happen to be in and around Mylapore, please make sure you visit these eateries.

And now for yet another of those gif's. This time the sambar being poured at Rayar's Mess...

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