Friday, 6 February 2015

Nature and dining go hand in hand when one thinks of a perfect ambiance for a meal. Beach side or a rooftop restaurant can always elevate one’s dining experience to a completely new level. Being in Chennai, we are lucky to have the second longest beach in the world thereby creating multiple opportunities for beach side restaurants. The only hiccup is most of them are located outside the city barring a handful. But when it comes to rooftop dining, a couple of great options do exist. Albeit the summer weather can make it a warm experience, the months from September till about March are the best time to enjoy a scenic view of the bustling city from a height.

The first restaurant in Chennai that comes to mind whenever I hear the word rooftop, is ‘Kefi’ located at the Hotel Taj Club House, Mount Road. Ever since they had opened, this became the de facto destination for all memorable occasions in the family resulting in every visit bringing back fond memories.  With such great experiences at Kefi and the restaurant always delivering above expectations, I was in for a shock when I got a call inviting me for a preview of the to-be-launched ‘Rooftop Alfresco’ at the Taj Club House. I was wondering on the lines of a change in Kefi hence was quite eager to know more.

The first thing I noticed on reaching the rooftop was that Kefi still was there. This gave me a smile on my face. But then there were some differences in the seating arrangement. That’s when I was informed that Kefi will remain as Kefi while the Alfresco dining experience is a new concept the hotel is trying. With the recent ruling against the ban of hookah, the rooftop provided the perfect setting. The Alfresco dining experience comprises of the area around the pool with a relaxed seating arrangement and a hookah bar. The concept in the food revolved around quick eats and single course meals.
(Mezze Platter)
(Flamed Prawns)
The evening started off with a mocktail for the teetotallers and a glass of wine for the others. The first dish to make it to the table was the ‘Mezze Platter’ comprising of a Spanakopita, Lebanese styled Hummus, Tabouleh and a falafel accompanied by some yummy soft Pita breads. Must say the falafel along with some hummus and Tabouleh wrapped in the pita made for an amazing short wrap. Was thoroughly delighted with the mezze. This was followed by probably the funniest sounding dish I’ve ever heard, the ‘Ricotta gnudis’. Feeling funny at how to pronounce it correctly, we checked on with the creator of the dishes Chef Siddiq who revealed that the ‘g’ needs to be silent. At the end of the day it still sounded funny. So coming to the dish itself, it was an innovation on fried cheese sticks. The Ricotta were shaped into small fingers and fried with a crispy crust. It was served with a mushroom sauce that complemented the cheese sticks perfectly. As this was the vegetarian setting, the non-vegetarians got the ‘Flamed prawns’. From the name of the dish, we were expecting to see a flaming Sambuca styled prawns to make its way to the table however that was not to be the case. The dish was more of a flame grilled prawns tossed with garlic, parsley and chardonnay.
(Maize Wrap)
(Maize Wrap)
(Ras al hanout Pizza)
With a subtle break in service perfect enough for us to enjoy the wonderful ambiance, the next dish was brought up to the table. The ‘Maize wrap’, was a generously stuffed wrap with buffalo mozzarella, pesto and plum tomatoes accompanied by a small portion of fries and a lettuce salad. This was followed by the ‘Ras al hanout pizza’. The pizza slice was topped with mushrooms, peppers and loads of cheese. The next up was the final course for the evening, a splendid ‘Key Lime Pie’, which was of the perfect flavouring and had the right amount of crustiness.
(Key Lime Pie)
What was interesting with this concept of dining was that the dishes on the menu were all equally exciting and intriguing. Most of the dishes gave that feeling that it needs to be tried. I’m sure that this would definitely be possible as the Alfresco setting provides a perfect situation for those days when we are early from work to relax or on those really stressful days when you just want to have some light eat and distress yourself.

The Alfresco experience is available at the rooftop poolside at Hotel Taj Club House, Anna Salai opposite to Spencers Plaza. A meal for two should set you by ₹ 1500 without alcoholic beverages.

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Sunday, 21 December 2014

If one were to ask me which would be your favourite style of cooking, the reply would be instant. I just can’t get over grilling and reminds me of my childhood days in the Middle East when during winters the best feeling would be light up the coals and stay around it soaking in the beautiful aroma of chicken and mutton being barbequed. However as time passed, this slowly faded away and in today’s fast paced world it is quite difficult to huddle together a set of friends to plan a BBQ night.

However a few years ago, a restaurant brought this concept on to the table top in Chennai. You could do the grilling right on your table. I was fascinated and was a regular their until a little later when they started to compromise on quality and hence decided not to visit them again as they weren’t doing any justice to the concept. A couple of imitations opened up and all failed miserably.

Coming to present times, the only option of enjoying the passion of grilling was informing friends in advance and doing all the prep work a day ahead so as to enjoy the moment as it comes. This was possible only around once in a few months however it was fun. And then one evening, while as a group of friends we were driving through city, one amongst us spotted this new restaurant called ‘Absolute Barbecue’ which was opening up and had the same table grill concept. He instantly told was that this was a great eat-out in Bangalore with amazing hospitality and is a must try it once they open.

So once they opened a visit was instantly made. In fact the number of visits stands at three with the first being an invitational one by the owners who hunted a couple of us through our Zomato profiles, the second one was with family and the third again an invited visit but this time through a food group. I’m sure this should be enough to let you know how much I love this place. The three visits are reason enough to ascertain that their service and hospitality are amazing irrespective of how you visit.
Coming to their fare, Absolute Barbecue is a foodie’s paradise. One place where their cannot be any discrimination between the vegetarians and the meat lovers. The menu is same throughout the week with changes only in the dessert section. Once you settle down on your table, the dedicated waiter arrives and informs you about their concept. The first concept is the same wherein they keep bringing the starters to your table and you can grill them to your liking. The second concept is where they claim to be India’s first. Yes, they have a concept called the Wish Grill which has an exotic collection of meats and vegetables that can be paired with regular vegetables of your choice followed by the either a combination of rice or noodles with a sauce from a selection of five sauces. This is probably the highlight of their offerings.

The first starters that made its way to the table was the beautiful and succulent ‘Tangdi Kebab’ and this was followed by a juicy ‘Mutton Sheekh’. Both these starters were served on the plate as it would be a difficult task to do this by ourselves on the table. This was followed by a bombardment of kebabs on skewers that we are supposed to grill to our perfection. The skewers were of ‘Asian Chicken’, ‘Garlic Fish’, ‘Prawns’ and another variant of mutton. I loved the Asian chicken and with a dash of the pineapple sauce that accompanies, it was just amazing. The tangdi and mutton were the other favourites.
(Tangdi Chicken)
(Mutton Sheekh)
(Meats on the Grill)
(Meats on the Grill)
The vegetarian starters comprised of ‘Grilled Paneer’, ‘Assorted vegetables’, ‘Acahri Mushrooms’, ‘Grilled Cinnamon Pineapple’, ‘American Cheesy Potatoes’ and ‘Coconut Peanut Kebabs’. The paneer was delicately soft and was a yum along with the coconut kebab. I was in love with the American cheesy potatoes so much that during all visits insisted I had atleast four servings of the same. The highlight of the entire vegetarian fare is their grilled cinnamon pineapple. Oh my oh my, this was one combination that I’d never tried in my life and thanks to AB (Absoulte Barbecue as they are known), I’ve started experimenting the use of cinnamon on a lot of my cooking. Savouring this is more of an experience rather than calling it eating.
(Coconut Kebab)
(American Cheesy Potatoes)
(Cinnamon Glazed Pineapple)
(Cinnamon Glazed Pineapple)
(Cinnamon Glazed Pineapple)
With so much of starters, I’m sure most of us would be compelled to skip most of the other courses but hang on and don’t give up on the wish grill. The wish grill consists of exotic meats such as Rabbit, Quail, Shark, Squid along with a seafood medley and Duck. In total they have a combination of 16 exotic meats and vegetables. Once you select your main ingredient, the remaining procedure is quite straight forward. You need to select your vegetable, rice/noodles, spice level, seasonings and sauce. Once you hand over this to the grill master, they hand over a small token that you need to give it to your waiter who will bring you the dishes once they are ready. In the time that we waited, I had order for myself one of the best mocktails I’d ever had in a standalone restaurant. The ‘Mango Blaster’ was super extraordinary and can quench the thirst of anybody however mind it as it is quite heavy on the palate. After a wait of couple of minutes, the wish grill items begun to appear. No wonder they started to come, they were being completely wiped off. Such was the intensity that I hardly got a chance to click pictures.
(Wish Grill)
(Wish Grill Tokens)
(Mango Blaster)
With the wish grill section completed, we hardly had any space for mains. But from what I’ve heard from my companions, they were a delectable fare as well. With around 9 veg and 5 non veg courses including a crab gravy, a beautiful paneer and a filling kofta gravy along with their signature dal dish. The accompaniments include Biryani, Steamed Rice and a variety of breads.

The reason that I mostly avoided mains was to ensure I had a feast at the desserts counter. AB’s is probably the only restaurant to have a live cold stone ice cream counter and serving one of the best ‘Paan Ice Cream’. The highlight of their dessert counter is the customizable ice cream along with a hot counter that served gulab jamuns and jelabi’s during my visits. The other desserts are the regular fare such as Chocloate Gateaux, Mango Cheesecake and a summer pudding. Their Phirni and Moong Dal Halwa deserves a special mention too.
(Paan Ice Cream)
The best aspect about AB’s is that both their service, hospitality and food is excellent and they make sure that the customers are satisfied at all times. The waiter keeps coming to you after every serving to check on how the food was and if they could do anything more to better it. This is the same I’ve heard from folks who have visited their other outlets in Bangalore and Hyderabad as well. Hope it continues as I would love to keep coming here again and again.

They follow a system of variable pricing depending on when you visit and if you select vegetarian or non-vegetarian. The price per person is as follows

Rs. 555 Lunch - Veg (Mon-Sun)
Rs. 666 Lunch - Non Veg (Mon-Sun)
Rs. 585 Dinner- Veg (Mon-Tue)
Rs. 695 Dinner- Non Veg (Mon-Tue)
Rs. 695 Dinner- Veg (Wed-Sun)
Rs. 835 Dinner- Non Veg (Wed-Sun)

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Sunday, 26 October 2014

One of the most divine pairing of ingredients has to be that of Chocolate & Banana. It gets more better when the chocolate is in the form of Nutella. There is no way a dish can go wrong with these two ingredients and it also becomes difficult to highlight who is the hero when they both are present. 

In the mood to get into some indulgence, I was scouring the internet for some yummylicious combination as I had plenty of time this Sunday afternoon. After several recipes, this recipe struck me as the best of the lot and knew that this was exactly what I needed to change the boring Sunday into an exciting one

Serves: 1 Loaf
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Oven time: 60 minutes
Resting time: 15 minutes

  • 2 cups of Maida/All Purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1 cup Granulated Sugar
  • 1/4 cup Unsalted Butter
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 1/4 cup Ripened Bananas - Mashed
  • 1/3 cup Milk
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Essence
  • 3/4 cup Nutella
  1. Set the oven to pre-heat at 175 C.
  2. In a bowl, add the flour, baking soda and salt and whisk well to ensure they are mixed.
  3. In a large bowl, beat sugar and butter with a electric mixer at medium speed.
  4. Once it resembles a creamy consistency, add eggs one at a time beating well after each addition.
  5. Now add the bananas, milk and vanilla to the large bowl and blend until all the ingredients are blended.
  6. Add the flour mixture slowly into the large bowl beating at slow speed until flour mixture is well incorporated.
  7. Heat the Nutella in a microwave for 15 seconds. Add 1 cup of the bread batter to the nutella and stir until blended.
  8. Butter the insides of bread loaf tin and then spoon the plain bread batter and the nutella batter alternatively.  
  9. Using a knife, gently swirl the layers to get add texture to the bread.
  10. Bake for 50 - 60 mins and then allow it too cool for a further 15 mins.
  11. Now remove the loaf from the pan and allow it cool completely.
Recipe adapted from Chef In Training

Saturday, 11 October 2014

When you hear the term infusion, the first thing that hits you would normally be a tea or drink which has been infused with something. This is quite normal but it does definitely become unique when a new restaurant pops up in town and claims to be the first do the same with chicken. We have heard of deep fried chicken, roasted chicken, grilled chicken and even our own famous tandoori chicken but what is this infused chicken. To be honest I was assuming that it would be something similar to roasting where some herbs and masala are used while the chicken is in the oven.

With all these assumptions and curiosity, we decided to visit this new resto called 'Tovo Infusions' as the second choice for the night having had a not so filling meal at an earlier restaurant the same evening. Albeit being located on the main road, they had plenty of parking space which is a boon as this is becoming a trouble at many new places. As we entered, we were seated promptly although we didn't have any reservations. The ambiance looks like a steakhouse but unfortunately no steaks here, just chicken. As we took our seats, the question in my mind about all the infusion was somewhat answered by looking at the plate mats on the table. They had a pictorial representation of their unique method of cooking which was the infusion method. 

The waiter who attended to us briefly explained the concept and from what I could gather was that the chicken is not cooked with any oil or water but is rather secretly injected/infused with the choice of our toppings and is cooked by the water content already in the chicken. This they claimed to be unique and to me was also quite unheard as even for grilling or roasting we use some oil/butter. The waiter also insisted we try their 'Chicken Gourmet Bun'. A friend of mine and myself kept asking him if it was a burger to which prompt came the reply that this is the original version and the burger was the shortened version. We couldn't keep the amuse to ourselves but still gave brownie points to the guy who convinced us to order the same.

The way you order your meal is what the infusion is all about here. So first you choose what Mains you prefer and then the original infusion sauce from a choice of Buttery, Chilli Peppery and Cheesy Herbs followed by the toppings from a choice of Chettinad, Kashmiri, Mogul & Hyderabadi spice. The next customization was on the level of seasoning and it varies from Low to Top Notch. With so much combinations available it was quite a task to do the order but eventually settled for a 'Chicken Gourmet Bun', 'Quarter Chicken' & 'Chilli Garlic Rice Crepes'. 

(Chilli Garlic Rice Crepe)
(Quarter Chicken)
The first on the table was the rice crepes, which we ordered on the advice of a fellow foodie who was here for the second time. This was sooper spicy and will hands down win any Andhra meal with loads to spare. In fact the other two of us were just gulping down water to cool the heat. The next up was the chicken of which the combination we had ordered was Buttery and Hyderabadi spices. For once we thought the chicken was not cooked well because we noticed a few pink spots but upon close inspection it was all ok. At most places the meat is white and dry inside void of any flavour but here it was the opposite. The insides were moist and flavoursome just as they claimed with credit to their unique concept. The chicken can be tricky at times so its best to check it twice and be assured that it is well cooked. And most importantly make your selection of toppings with care, as it can make or break your palate.This aspect has lead to a lot of mixed reviews about their chicken.
(Chicken Gourmet Bun)
Having tasted their core dish, we were looking forward to find out what the Gourmet Bun was all about. It indeed made a grand appearance as we could spot the burger leaving the kitchen from the far end of the restaurant. It was humongous, most probably the biggest, meanest and juiciest burger I've ever seen. I leave the picture to do all the talking. If getting dirty with your hands is your way of appreciating good food then this is all for you. It took me two full hands and a mouth opened as wide and as high as possible to take a bite of this yummylicious burger. Straight forward one of the best in the city today. Again it all depends on the combination of toppings but the chance of it going wrong is much less with the burger. The burger was so great that I made another visit to them before writing this review but unfortunately was slightly let down as they served it a bit cold. But the taste was the same and I brushed it off as an one off day for the folks at the kitchen.
(Praline and Butterscotch Smoothie)
With the mains down and the gulping of the enormous burger, we needed something sweet to wash down the guilt. What better way to kill guilt with another guilt and so we ordered for a Butterscotch and Praline Smoothie. Yes, a smoothie with loads of indulgence. The smoothie was precisely what we wanted as it had a delectable amount of praline that made it more like a divine butterscotch milk shake rather than a healthy smoothie *pun intended*.

This is definitely a place that I would visit again for their burgers and the smoothie but the chicken still gives me a scare that I may get a wrong combination and spoil the show. The total bill for the starter, two mains and dessert came to about ₹ 850/- inclusive of taxes. 

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Friday, 26 September 2014

What does one think of when the name of a hill station is suddenly mentioned? It would definitely be the weather, the scenic beauty and the flora & fauna that surrounds such places. But when it comes to foodies, we tend to vary slightly and think of the tea/coffee plantations and the selections that one might find there. This is primarily because the food is often an adapted cuisine from the lower places. 

This was my impression until very recently. I stumbled across a food festival that was being celebrated at ‘Taj Club House – Chennai’ centred on a cuisine which so far was just the name of a hill station for me. Yes folks, their restaurant ‘Clubhouse’ has a ‘Kodava Food Festival’ that delivers some mouth-watering delicacies from the hill district of Coorg. Chef Naresh, their cuisine specialist from ‘Vivanta by Taj – Madikeri’ has pitched tent in Chennai to bring us a true blend of Kodava dishes.
(Meen Cutlet)
(Kari Bale Cutlet)
(Koli Chuttadh)
 The evening started out with a variety of cutlets namely the ‘Meen Cutlet’, ‘Kari Bale Cutlet’ and the ‘Kummu Barthad’. As the name suggests, the first was a mixed seafood mince made into a cutlet and shallow fried. The Kari Bale were roasted banana patties while the Kummu Barthad were juicy with chilli spiced mushrooms. All three though being clearly distinct on the platter resembled a close similarity in the way they were cooked. Moving away from the cutlets, we were also served with ‘Koli Chuttadh’ which were good portion sized morsels of chicken well-seasoned with spices and then griddled to perfection. 
(Attukal Soup)
With the appetizers done, next arrived the famous ‘Attukal Soup’ which is the traditional peppered lamb shank soup. This particular soup is like a biryani and can take multiple avatars depending on the person who is preparing it. The variant of spices that one uses depends on their preference and how it has been handed over time to them. I found the soup here to be delicately spiced to hit the right notch unlike others that are either too hot or too bland. 
(The Mains)
The mains that followed were quite simple in stature but strong on flavours. The curries comprised of a simple ‘Koli Curry’, ‘Molai Kuru’ and ‘Toppu Palaya’ while the accompaniments were ‘Tarkari Pulao’, ‘Kadam Puttu’ and ‘Akki Ooti’. The Koli curry was a chicken curry cooked with ground spices and worked on with cream and coconut oil. The chicken had a strong infused flavour that clearly highlighted the dish. The Molai Kuru seemed to be the perfect dish for those who are health freaks as it packed a punch of healthy sprouts well made as a dry curry. The Toppu Palaya was a traditional Kodava curry made using double beans and exotic spices. 

The Tarkari pulao was the Kodava take on how a Veg Pulao needs to be and mind I say that it infact was quite interesting. The other two accompaniments for the evening were both relatively well known to me as they were similar to the ones that usually forms part of the Kerala cuisine. The Kadam puttu is very similar to the tall cylindrical puttu that we get in Kerala while the Akki Ooti was again very similar to the pathiris while being slightly thicker. This so reminded me of traditional meal days at home when such delicacies are home cooked. But the fare that evening was as good as home food can be. 
(Cardamom Custard)
To bring closure to this wonderful trip down Coorg’s traditional cuisine, we were served with a ‘Cardamom Custard’. This was quite tricky as there was a clear battle between the senses. The sight kept beating that it was a Caramel Custard while the palate kept rebelling because of the strong infusion of the Cardamom flavour. The dessert was over before the battle could be completed but the verdict definitely is that this is a must try as the intentional overdose of cardamom is to bring the Kodava feel into the dessert. The overall experience was clearly a pleasant on the palate.

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Saturday, 23 August 2014

One of the iconic landmarks in Chennai is undoubtedly the tall triangle shaped building located in the heart of the arterial Anna Salai. Even from the air, this building is quite easily identifiable. Having been under construction for quite some time, it was great news for Chennaities when in 2011 it was announced that the iconic building was to be the Launchpad for Hyatt chain of hotels in Chennai. The ‘Hyatt Regency Chennai’ was opening its doors to Chennaities bringing with it some amazing restaurants. Being centrally located, it was an added advantage.

Over the years, Hyatt Regency has been a hotel that has been frequented by the family and myself as we share a lot of fond memories of family gatherings and functions. The food used to always make us feel better and never was there a complaint. Their all-day dining restaurant ‘Spice Haat’ is a regular fare for late night cravings. Recently, at a random discussion a friend told me that their Italian restaurant ‘Focaccia’ serves one of the best Tiramisu’s in Chennai. True to his words, it was divine when I got the opportunity to savour it.
Recently, the culinary department at Hyatt Regency has undergone a change of guard. The new executive chef at the helm of operations is Chef Subrata Debnath, who comes with a vast experience across Hyatt properties in India & South-East Asia. His best man who incidentally also joined recently is Chef Manvinder Singh. Coming from the food lover’s favourite city of Lucknow, this evening he wowed us with his arsenal. 
As part of the three year anniversary celebrations, Spice Haat recently had a ‘Northern Frontier Food Festival’. Banking on the expertise of Chef Manvinder, this food festival was all about culinary specialities from the regions of Punjab, Peshawar, Multan, Baluchistan and Kashmir. This region is also collectively known as the Indus region named after the famous river that flows through them. This food festival was also part of Chef Subrata’s ideology of incorporating culinary delicacies from this region onto their regular fare at Spice Haat.
The first dish to be served to us that evening was the vegetarian kebab platter comprising of ‘Bhatti da Paneer’, ‘Methi te Bhutte di Seekh’ and ‘Tandori Phaldari Chaat’. The paneer was soft and succulent while the tandoori fruit chat bought old memories back as this is something that many restaurants now do not have on their menu. The Seekh was crispy and had the right amount of flavourings to balance the kebabs on the platter. This was followed up with ‘Patiyala Shahi Machi’ and ‘Surkh Murg Tikka’. Not being a big fan of fish, the ‘Patiyala Shahi Machi’ on the contrary was perfectly cooked with the fish still being wet delivering on the flavours of the crispiness of its marinade. The Murg on the other hand delivered on all the flavours that one can associate with a Tikka. It was one of the best Chicken Tikka’s I’ve savoured till date.
(Veg Starter Platter)
(Non Veg Starter Platter)
With the starters done, the Main Courses started with an array of curries. The first to make its way was the ‘Thabe wala Kukkar’. It was a slow cooked Chicken curry with deep aroma of tandoor infused. This was followed by the ‘Keema Matar’ and ‘Masaledar Karele’. The Keema Matar was very delicate with juicy minced lamb while the Karele which is bitter gourd was creatively cooked and wrapped with veggies. The bitterness of the Karele was tantalizingly hidden with the flavoursome veggies that accompanied it. When its Indus cuisine, how can we miss out on the lentils. The ‘Maa Choliye di Daal’ is again a slow cooked dal. Chef Manvinder revealed that it is a common offering during Langars at the Gurudwaras. Just like the name says, it definitely had the feeling of mother’s touch in that it tasted absolutely like home food. The accompaniments for the curries were ‘Makke di Roti’ and ‘Meat wale Chawal’. The chawal was similar to the biryani but was different in that it did not have the usual spices rather was cooked in the stock of the lamb itself. The final gravy that made its appearance was the traditional ‘Sarson da Saag’. One difference here was that it was accompanied with Palm Sugar. Apparently in Punjab during the harvest festival, Sarson is served with palm sugar as Sugar cane is harvested at that time. I was puzzled on how the combination would work but it completely surprised me. The addition of the Jaggery gave it an extra dimension and elevated the dish in its entirety.
(Thabe wala Kukkar)
(Maa Choliye di Daal & Masaledar Karele)
(Meat wale Chawal)
(Sarson da Saag)
To bring a closure to this amazing North Western culinary experience, we were served with ‘Jalebi’ and a ‘Teele wali Kulfi’. The Kulfi was phenomenal with actual rose petals in it while the Jalebi was distinctive in its sweetness with a subtle and balance note to it. The highlight of this Northern Frontier Food Festival was also to identify the taste of Chennai in comparison to cuisine from this region as the dishes that have been accepted well will find its way on their regular buffer dishes. 
(Teele wali Kulfi)
For a price of ₹1450 plus taxes, one can savour a wide variety of International cuisines at the all-day dining restaurant ‘Spice Haat’ in Hyatt Regency Chennai located on Anna Salai.

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Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Amongst all cuisines for me, if it’s Mediterranean then it automatically gets on to the to-visit list with a priority. With hardly any standalone Mediterranean restaurants in Chennai, I was excited when I saw on Facebook that a new one was popping right in the neighbourhood. Unfortunately, it was during the month of Ramadhan and the multitude of attempts to visit proved futile. It was on the top of my list once Ramadhan got over but still couldn’t make it as I had to travel out of India. It just kept eluding me while couple of friends had some good reviews to make of the place that made the urge all the more significant.

Finally on 15th August an impromptu dinner plan was made with the family and before any suggestions could come up, I suggested ‘Lavash’. Having made our reservation as it was a holiday, we promptly reached the place. The first reaction was on the ambiance. It had all the perfect setting for a Mediterranean restaurant. There was both an indoor as well as outdoor seating. As we were with my son and the climate in Chennai has still not reached to the point where outdoor seating becomes a comfort, we gladly went inside. The interiors had a Middle Eastern rustic feel to them and the lights complemented the look and feel.
(Bread Basket)
As it was already way past our dinner time, we quickly got digging into the menu. The menu looks to be meticulously planned with a select variety of dishes under each category. Though this made ordering easy once you have decided on the type of meal, it made it difficult to choose the type of meal as there was easily around 10 different courses. The menu had the usual soup, salad, cold & hot Mezzes. Adding the Mediterranean touches were the grills, Tagine, Rice, Pastas, Pizzas, Shawarmas & Breads. Being a dinner and with a long weekend ahead, we decided to go light on the tummy.

(Hot & Cold Mezze)
The first order for the evening was a ‘Hot & Cold Mezze Platter’. The platter consisted of all the cold mezze’s such as Hummus, Muttabal, Baba Ganoush, Muhammara, Tabouleh & Dolmades (Stuffed veggies and rice rolled in Vine leaves) while the Hot Mezze’s included were Cheese Sambousak, Falafel, Kibbeh and Chicken Harissa. As indicated on the menu, it was a perfect fit for two. The dolmades tasted different to those I’d savoured elsewhere in the Middle East while the rest of them were pretty close to the original.
(Lamb Souvlaki)
(Shish Taouk)

The next up were from the grills and we went with ‘Shish Taouk’ and ‘Lamb Souvlaki’. Each portion served were apt for two persons. Both grills came skewered on top of the Arabic bread ‘Kuboos’. This made it easier for those who wanted to convert the grill into a wrap as all that was needed was to remove the skewer and add the desired dressing and voila the wrap is ready. The ‘Shish Taouk’ was well flavoured but the chicken seemed a tad dry to my liking. But nevertheless, it disappeared in a flash. The story with the ‘Lamb Souvlaki’ was another twist. Though the lamb was quite tough, it was marinated thoroughly and had a good amount of smokiness to it which elevated its flavouring so much that we didn’t mind the toughness and ordered again for another portion.

(Chicken Tagine)
Having favoured our desire with generous amount meat, we decided to have a very light main and ordered a ‘Chicken Tagine’. The tagine seemed to be well prepared as the stew had deep infusion of flavourings from the vegetables and the chicken. Also to mention, the chicken was well cooked this time and was very tender. The highlight was the Couscous that was served along with it. Probably one of the best couscous tasted by me so far. Overall, if they can slightly fine tune their seasonings to avoid incorporating Indian flavours and retain the authentic flavouring, I’m sure ‘Lavash’ would definitely establish itself as a dominant Mediterranean restaurant in Chennai.

Lavash is located at the Oyster Building on Khader Nawaz Khan Road. A meal for two should cost you about ₹ 1200 including taxes. 

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Monday, 21 July 2014

Having lived in the Middle East for a considerable part of my life, Mediterranean cuisine has always played a great impact in my passion for food. Cuisines from Turkey, Lebanon, Greece, Southern Italy & Tunisia have a lot in common yet are different in their own ways. The Shawarma in Lebanon is known as Doner in Turkey while in Greece it’s called Gyros. Although technically all the three are same it’s the flavourings that create the difference and this has a lot to do with the local culture. 

Most of these Mediterranean countries follow a broad classification of cuisine called the ‘Sun Cuisine’. Dishes that represent the sun cuisine have a strong domination of Olive Oil, Tomato, Seafood and Meat (especially lamb). The seasonings and methodology of preparation makes all the differences within the Mediterranean cuisine. One such country in this area that has a strong contribution is Tunisia. It was here that ‘Cous Cous’ was first prepared is also regarded as their national dish.

One restaurant in Chennai that has been serving authentic Mediterranean cuisine ever since they started is ‘Kefi’ at the Taj Club House. Kefi has always been my to-go place as the roof-top ambiance with the Gazebo seating always made it the right choice for special occasions. Being in the month of Ramadhan and wanting for some good Mediterranean food, the moment I found out they were having a special ‘Tunisian’ menu, I just couldn’t resist missing it. So as usual a group of us got together to experience the Tunisian sun cuisine at Kefi.
When it comes to restaurants belonging to the Taj group, one thing that always stands out is their hospitality. We were welcomed with a fresh smile and escorted to our table. Upon settling down, we were given a short introduction about the Tunisian cuisine as it was what we had come for. With the pleasantries done, in typical fine dine fashion, the amuse-bouche was served first. It was a cute beetroot leaf wrapped with feta cheese. This was followed by some Pita bread along with harissa and toum. Harissa is a Tunisian speciality spice dip aka Tunisia’s National Condiment and is made up of different chillies of varying hotness while Toum is a dip made using garlic and oil.

The starters for the evening were ‘Solanum Brik’ for the vegetarians while for the non-vegetarians it was ‘Fatmas finger’. The non-veg starter was themed around sea food and had a filling of mushroom, garlic and seafood wrapped in pastry sheet and fried. On the other hand, the veg starter was a Mediterranean spiced creamed potato encase in pastry sheet and baked. Of the two, the ‘Solanum Brik’ was my favourite. This followed by the ‘Lablabi’ which is a chickpea based creamy soup. The lablabi served to us was garlic flavoured chicken with a rich creaminess from the well-cooked chickpeas. 
(Solanum Brik)
(Fatmas finger)
With the soup and starts thoroughly enjoyed, we couldn’t wait for the mains. Wondering how come cous cous was not yet served, we were just waiting to see what was for the mains. We got the ‘Phoenician Spicy grilled chicken’ which looked true its name. But all that changed with the first slice through the chicken. We were surprised to find out that the meat was stuffed with cous cous and prunes. This added more flavouring to the cous cous from the fat that must have rendered while cooking the chicken. I was happy that the chicken was grilled with the skin on as that is how I prefer my chicken to be served. The chicken along with jus made for a complete dish for the cous cous.
(Phoenician Spicy grilled chicken)
Being thoroughly satisfied with the proceedings of the evening, we were eagerly awaiting the desserts. Mediterranean desserts are some of the best in the world as they are very unique and can be customized in numerous ways. The dessert for the evening was a ‘Makroudh Baklava’, which unlike the regular baklavas wasn’t stuffed top to bottom but was rather rolled in small bite size rolls. The filling for the baklava followed the traditional route with pistachios and dates soaked in rose syrup. How can a Mediterranean dessert be complete without a rose & citrus element. The citrus element today was brought in by small slivers of oranges soaked in rose syrup accompanied with an orange flavoured caramelized toffee. The entire experience truly felt like a travel to the culinary world of Tunisia. 
(Makroudh Baklava)
A great thanks to Chef Siddiq, the Executive Chef at Taj Club House for bringing such distinctive cuisines to Chennai. And yeah, don’t forget to break a plate near the entrance if you are satisfied with your meal. 

The Tunisia special menu runs till the 27th of July, 2014 at Kefi located in Hotel Taj Club House, Anna Salai. The menu is an A-la-carte and will cost you around ₹ 1,250 - ₹ 1,500 per person (inclusive of taxes) for four course meal.

P.S: Unfortunately my email subscription list had some bug because of which the updates were not getting delivered. It has now been resolved, request you to kindly click Subscribe by email on the right hand side at the top of this page to re-subscribe to keep yourself updated on new reviews.

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