Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Over the last couple of years, Chennai has witnessed the mushrooming of several new and innovative biryani places each with its own marketing technique using fancy names and associating themselves to different regions to convince their patrons on their authenticity. But none has been close to authentic in any manner. The variant belonging to the neighbouring state namely the Hyderabadi Biryani too has been in the offering for a long time yet none close to the original one's that can be savoured near the Charminar in Hyderabad. Those available in Chennai are either too spicy or too oily. They just don’t get the right combination. 

For the obvious it always seemed an illusion to authenticity whenever I see such places. My inclination was the same when I first noticed a new restaurant propping up on Lloyds Road named ‘Charminar’. I definitely believed this would be yet another marketing technique by some restaurant owners. Boy was I wrong till I met Ms. Vidya from Charminar. One of the partners of Charminar, Ms. Vidya has a professional experience of more than 5 years in the food industry spanning different categories. She believes in eating healthy so that you can enjoy your meal over and over again. According to Ms. Vidya, Hyderabadi cuisine is generally considered a healthy cuisines because of the ingredients and the way the food is processed for cooking. All the spices that are used in Hyderabadi cuisines have their own inherent goodwill. 

Noticing a dearth in authentic Hyderabadi cuisine in Chennai, Ms. Vidya took upon herself the responsibility of bringing the most authentic Hyderabadi dishes to Chennai. She revealed that they are able to replicate the same authentic taste as most of their spices are sourced from Hyderabad. Also the rice used for their signature Hyderabadi biryani is a specialized long grain rice developed by the Pusa Institute, Delhi (An agricultural research institute of the Government of India). This specialized rice when combined with their traditional method of cooking in an indirect heat, gives the authentic flavour to their biryani. As a matter of fact, the biryani is so healthy that they use only 2 table spoons of oil for every kilogram of biryani. That makes it much healthier in accordance with Ms. Vidya’s ideology.

(Pathar ka Gosht)
(Hyderabadi Chicken 65)
(Titanic Fish)
Charminar has an extensive menu that has both Hyderabadi dishes as well as a few crafted by Vidya and her team. Some of these dishes have really fancy and captivating names. The evening started with the first starters arriving on the table. The ‘Pathar ka Gosht’, a speciality at Charminar, consists of boneless slice of mutton marinated overnight and cooked on a stone tawa hence the name Pathar which means stone in Hindi. This was followed by the ‘Hyderabadi Chicken 65’, which is prepared using curd to ensure a tangy curd after taste. They were crispy and had very minimal amount of oil. The next dish had the most amusing name I’ve ever heard for a dish. The ‘Titanic Fish’ took me by a shock and created an inquisitiveness in me to try it out. Not a big fan of fish when it comes to seafood, I ventured to try the Titanic Fish and wasn’t I amused. Being the latest addition to their menu, it had a very crusty & crunchy batter coating with the fish being marinated in their signature Hyderabadi masala. 
(Loose Prawns)
(Apollo Fish)
(Banjara Kebab)
The Titanic fish was followed by yet another humorous named dish called ‘Loose Prawns’. The moment this dish arrived, I was in no mood to eat as the laughter and amusements had taken the better of me. Being yet another of their speciality dishes, the prawns are batter fried and have ingredients such as celery, garlic and oregano to give it a unique taste. The next up was the ‘Apollo Fish’ which is basically a King Mackerel a.k.a Vanjaram in Tamil, marinated with curd. With a closure on the sea food, the focus now shifted back to the ‘Banjara Kebab’ which is a mildly spiced chicken kebab that is juicy and enjoyable for those who prefer a low spice appetite. 
(Murg Hara Pathar)
(Paneer Sophiyan)
(Singapore Fried Chicken)
(Singapore Fried Chicken)
The next kebab on the table was the ‘Murg Hara Pathar’ which is a similar variant of Pathar ka Gosht excepting that it is the chicken version and the main marinade is based on palak. This was followed by the Sholay Murgh. Just like its name, the Sholay murgh had a tinge of spice yet a succulent base of mint to balance the spice. After a complete bombardment of meat it was time to take one last go at my favourite delicacy, Paneer.  The ‘Paneer Tikka Sophiyana’ was very soft and packed with aroma and flavours. It is quite similar to the Malai Tikka excepting that it had a bit more tinge of ginger. They just melted in your mouth. If I was served this first, then I’m sure I would have gorged an entire serving. The last to hit the table amongst the starters was the ‘Singapore Fried Chicken’ which is designed specifically with the kids in mind. The chicken is rolled in noodles and then marinated in their special sauce. This is then battered and deep fried. It was more of a fun food after the sampling of exotic dishes that was presented until now.
(Begum Nawab Curry)
(Kadai Paneer)
(Dal Fry)
With all the starters done, it was time to move to the next course. For the mains, a very unique dish was served as the non-vegetarian side. Called the ‘Begum Nawab Curry’ which means ‘Queen King Curry’, it was a combination of two sides in a single plate with a clear demarcation. This amazing dish can be ordered in a combination of your choice, be it chicken, mutton or vegetarian. The non-vegetarian dish is accompanied by a bed of sliced omelettes. The sample provided to us was a combination of Chicken and Minced Meat. From the vegetarian side, a portion of an excellent ‘Kadai Paneer’ was presented. Yet again the paneer was amazingly soft and succulent and the gravy had the right amount of spices to balance the taste buds. On a milder note, ‘Dal Fry’ was served in a very cute mini bucket. An assorted variety of breads is also available to pair with the mains.
(Hyderabadi biryani)
(Hyderabadi biryani)
(Lunch Take Away Combo)
A visit to any restaurant serving Hyderabadi cuisine is incomplete without savouring their biryani. As we waited for the grand finale to arrive, I was informed about a uniqueness in their offerings. Charminar is probably the only restaurant in Chennai where a mixture of Chicken and Mutton Biryani is served. No it is not a combination of the two biryanis after being cooked rather the biryani is itself cooked together with both meat from the initial phase. The biryani was as close to the authentic Hyderabadi biryani. This is probably because of their ingredients and the traditional method followed in preparing it. At the end of the day, there is finally a respite for some authentic cuisine here in Chennai. 

Charminar also offers interesting lunch combos in a take away plate. It is again offered in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. Charminar is open from 12 pm to 3:30 pm for lunch and from 7:30 pm to 10:30 pm for dinner. 

Charminar is located at 269, 1st Floor, Avvai Shanmugam Salai, Llyods Road. For more on Charminar, follow their Facebook page at Charminar – Facebook.

This experience at Charminar was courtesy of Chennai Food Guide as part of their premium restaurant feature. For more on Chennai Food Guide, visit Charminar - Chennai Food Guide

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Tuesday, 12 February 2013

 When I was made aware that a leading international brand of Ice-Cream is all set to open their lounge in Chennai, I was curious and started my guesses. We already have Baskin Robbins 31 and Movenpick. I was hoping that the new one should be one of favourites, either Haagen Dazs or Ben & Jerry's. When my guess was confirmed, I was ecstatic to know that my favorite premium brand, Haagen Dazs was opening shortly. Where else can such a brand make a forte, yes the luxury road of Chennai - Khader Nawaz Khan Road. 

More good news started to pour in as the opening date was announced. Being part of the Chennai Food Guide bloggers team, we were invited for the launch. I was joyous beyond control. Then came the big thud. I had a very important engagement that day. There was no way I could have skipped it to attend the launch. Neither could I attend both as, the programme I had to attend was close to Chengalpet. With a deep sense of sorrow, I had to wait for atleast 1 more day to savor their yummy sundaes. But as it always happens, this another day never came. Was held up with some thing or the other and the days constantly grew more and more. 

One fine evening, I was determined to go on a kind of shop hopping. With a restaurant showcase event planned in Velachery, I had to spend close to 2 hours without any work as Velachery was close to workplace and made no sense to go home and come back. An idea suddenly popped and I sent an invite to all those coming for the showcase, if they would be interested in coming to visit the Phoenix Mall. Aa & Av instantly agreed and the rest had some work. So Aa, Av and myself met at Phoenix Mall and looked around this massive place finally settling in for a cup of coffee. Post which we headed to the showcase. The showcase was kind of not out of the roof and some of our palates were not sufficed by the desserts that were offered. Instantly another devilish idea, why not head some place for dessert. As different people had different routes back home, Aa, Av and myself were all one after the other. So we instantly decided to go to Haagen Dazs as Av and myself were already craving. Having gone for the launch, Aa was already looking forward to the next time at Haagen Dazs. 

(No Ice cream for poor mosquito)
Bang in two different vehicles we promptly arrive at Haagen Dazs close to 11 pm and the place was buzzing with people even though it was a weekday. First impressions, the lounge was beautiful and gave you that instant elite factor. Going through their exhaustive menu while sampling some of the ice-creams, we decided to go for a selection of 3 sundaes that formed a unique family on their menu. If i'm correct we ordered for a Strawberry Sundae for Aa, Cookies & Cream Sundae for Av and Chocolate Chip Sundae with Chocolate Chip ice cream replaced with Creme Brulee for myself. While we were waiting for the sundaes to arrive, we had to keep a few mosquitoes to ourselves for company. Av had to swat a couple of them something which we least expected to do in a place such as a Haagen Dazs lounge. Anyways, our orders were brought to us in about 10-15 mins. They were a true visual treat. They were worth every penny spent. 
As we started digging into our sundaes, Aa and myself realized something a miss. Our sundaes had been mixed up, probably because I had requested for a change in the ice cream. Aa's Strawberry ice-cream came with a chocolate sauce while my Creme Brulee came with a strawberry sauce. We immediately brought it to the staff's attention and they were apologetic for the goof up and instantly replaced the sundaes. Hats off to their customer service. I guess credits goes to the owner as well as to their manager. The ice-creams tasted divine and the sundaes were frankly self sufficient for someone like me who has a big appetite. All of us thoroughly enjoyed our experience at Haagen Dazs excepting for the mosquito menance. At a later date, I had the opportunity to speak with their owner and had explained to him about the mosquitoes. He promised to look into it on a priority and eliminate the issue. 
(Creme Brulee Sundae)
(Strawberry Sundae)
(Cookies & Cream Ice Cream)
The total bill for 3 amazing and filling sundaes came to about INR 1100/-. Aa was very courteous to extend a INR 1000/- gift voucher she received during their launch and thereby giving us such a wonderful treat. Thanks Aa. 

Haagen Dazs is located at Khader Nawaz Khan Road on the same building as Manmandir and Cascade. 

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Monday, 11 February 2013

Spoonbill!!! Isn't that a really fancy bird? But what is a spoonbill doing in a bustling city like Chennai. Well for those of you lost in your thoughts, the Spoonbill that was spotted on TTK Road, Alwarpet is not a birdie. It is an amazing initiative undertaken by Street Food lover Charlie to bring authentic street food from Europe to namma Chennai. Still confused at the name of the restaurant or assuming it is named so because of the spoon shaped mouth of the bird. Well you got it half right but the exact reasoning behind the name is owing to the fact that Spoonbill’s are predominantly habituated in Europe but migrate ever year travelling across vast lands to our very own Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary located close to Chennai. It is this similarity and Charlie’s passion for birding that he felt appropriate to incorporate the bird's name for his restaurant. Charlie has taken meticulous effort and risk in bringing the same authentic taste of European street foods to patrons in Chennai, a task akin to migration of birds.

Having traversed the globe, Charlie has always had an immense liking to street foods available in European countries. In most countries in Europe, street food is a concept rather than a class of restaurant. Whenever one needs a quick bite in between busy schedules, it is common to often end up at a street food vendor to savor some of their delicacies. But on the contrary, street food in India is always associated with tags such as unhygienic, poor man’s food and so on. Noticing a gap in this segment in Chennai, Charlie’s goal was to serve authentic street food to Chennaite’s in a hygienic and ambient setting. Thus was born the reasoning for starting Spoonbill. But street food is not something that is restricted to a few varieties. In fact when Charlie began channelizing his thoughts, he had a list of 300-350 items that he wanted to introduce. When it came to logistics of operations, his thoughts had to take a beating. With difficulty in sourcing ingredients that go into making these many varieties to recreate their authentic taste, Charlie had to re-evaluate his intentions and finally decided to reduce the total number of items in his offering. Thus was born in 2012, Chennai’s first European street food outlet ‘Spoonbill’.

Spoonbill is a spacious 40 seater restaurant with a resto-café ambiance and with Wi-Fi to keep you occupied during your dining experience. Spoonbill also offers an unobtrusive dining experience similar to that one will enjoy in Europe where you get to experience first-hand how your meal is being prepared. They are also into outdoor catering in case you would like to have the taste of some authentic European street food at your parties.

Coming to the important aspect of the restaurant, just a quick look at their kitchen work station will re-assure you of the strict quality standards that are being followed at Spoonbill. The first dish that was crafted for us was from the land of Germany. The famous Curry wurst was served in its chicken variant. You are provided with an option of choosing the spice flavorings from a list provided near the curry wurst station. I was recommended to go in for the Madras Spice. Charlie enlightened me with the knowledge that the particular spice that he recommended is called ‘Madras’ not because of the city. In fact the original street vendors in Germany too call this combination of spice as ‘Madras’ and it is this that provides you with the authenticity. The curry that goes in is usually put to cook for close to 24 hours before the true flavor can be obtained. The curry wurst was accompanied with a Brotchen (German bread) and a portion of fries.
(Chicken Curry wurst)
(Chicken Curry wurst with Brotchen)
The next on the platter was the Chicken Doner Kebab. The doner kebab, an all-time personal favorite is the most commonly had street food just not in Europe but indeed all across the world. Doner Kebab is very similar to the Shawarma and Gyros. In fact except for a little difference in the preparation, they are mostly identical. Again depending on where you have them the presentation can vary. For example in the Middle East it is usually rolled in a sort of Pita bread known as Kuboos, in Greece it is filled in Pita pockets, in a few other countries it is served in the form of a sandwich. For those seeking it out in Spoonbill, the Doner comes sandwiched in a Turkish bread. It comes with a sumptuous filling of salad, meat and sauces, too filling for a single person to complete.
(Chicken Doner Kebab Sandwich)
(Chicken Doner Kebab Sandwich)
Taking a break in between the tastings, I ventured out to find out what are their offerings in the beverages department. I was amazed to see that tea at Spoonbill is prepared in almost the same way most of us do it at home and yet more wonderful is it gets done right in front of you. True street style on a stove. Besides different varieties of Tea and Coffee, Spoonbill also has an assorted variety of soda drinks and their own FroYo. They have wonderful monstrous muffins to accompany the hot beverages. These are probably the biggest muffins I’d ever see till date being served in a resto-café.
(Hot Beverages Station)
(Giant Muffins)
(Giant Muffins)
With the short break taken, the next on the table was from the land of Mexico. A very aromatic Chicken Burrito was placed in front of me. Already being stuffed with the portions of curry wurst and doner kebab, I had to honestly accede to the fact that I can only have a few bites of the burrito. Good for me, Nishanth of Chennai Food Guide accompanied me for the feature and requested him to share the same with me. The tortillas were super soft and the chicken flavored with the right amount of hotness. The layer of salad and re-fried bean paste along with salsa and sour cream made it a complete super dish. The burritos were accompanied by a portion of nachos with salsa, sour cream and guacamole. Being a major fan of Falafel’s and to give a fair judgement to my vegetable loving friends, I ordered for a portion of Falafel but rather than going in for a sandwich like the doner kebab, I opted for a salad this time. The moment I took my first bite, I was transformed to my days in the Middle East. The falafels are packed with flavour and they hit your taste buds immediately.
(Burrito Station)
(Chicken Burrito)
(Falafel Salad)
(Falafel Salad)
The finale was truly a mind-blowing experience. Being a sugar-addict, it is mandatory for me to have a sweet ending to any meal. While scanning through the menu, Charlie asked if he could give me a suggestion. He asked me to try their crepe. Having savored crepes at some of the best locations in Paris, I was always hesitant to try them in Chennai especially after having a disaster of sorts at an earlier outlet on Khader Nawaz Khan Road. But on Charlie’s insistence I decided to give a try once again. I had asked for a custard filling crepe as it would help my craving of post meal desserts. The moment it was brought to my table, I was amazed as it resembled the shape of a cone. It looked yummy and gave me an instant high just by its visual appeal. Not wasting a moment, I immediately took a bite and was I not amazed. The crepe were perfectly made and the filling was just mind boggling. Not too sweet but packed with flavour, this truly was the most outstanding dish amongst all that I savored that day. Every time I keep thinking about it, I can still sense those delicious flavors.
(Custard filled Crepe Cone)
(Custard filled Crepe Cone)
Being a self-service restaurant, Spoonbill has introduced an innovative technology in their ordering system which is prevalent in many eateries in Europe and the USA. They have a paging system that alerts the customers once their order is ready so that they can go and collect the same. “This helps resolve a lot of problems as the customer is not disturbed nor is his/her name/token number called out which can be embarrassing at times”, says Charlie.
(Table Pager)
Spoonbill is open from 11 am to 11 pm and has a European themed breakfast on Sunday’s during which they open at 9 am. Also they have a fantastic Happy Hour offer running between 3 pm and 6 pm when the customer may order any item equaling to their billed amount as complimentary. They are also provided with a free Wi-Fi password which can be utilized during the happy hour time at Spoonbill. Most of the items in their menu can also be upgraded to a full meal by paying Rs 80 extra which will provide them with a drink and a portion of fries.

Spoonbill is located on TTK Road, Alwarpet and has free parking too. For more on Spoonbill, follow their Facebook page at Spoonbill Resto Cafe - Facebook and they can also be reached at Spoonbill - Website

This experience at Spoonbill was courtesy of Chennai Food Guide as part of their premium restaurant feature. For more on Chennai Food Guide, visit Spoonbill - Chennai Food Guide

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