Saturday, June 15, 2013

Eating my way through Chennai

Hubby and I got back from India a few weeks ago. We were there for one of my very good friend's wedding and also to visit family. Our itinerary included Chennai, Delhi (Gurgaon) and Mussoorie. We spent about 6 days in Chennai where my parents live and the place where I grew up. My friend who was getting married is one of my oldest friends, we have seen each other grow from gawky teenagers to thankfully - beautiful, confident women (and all the craziness in between) Every year when I went back home I knew her's would be one of the first few faces I would see, it's a strange feeling knowing that this might not be the case anymore, as she has moved halfway across the world to Washington, D.C. 

It's amazing how old friends can stop time and even turn it back, whenever we meet we have so much to talk about and reminisce, as if we were never apart. So to be a part of her wedding and see her enter this new phase of life was an exciting and emotional experience. If you know anything about Indian weddings,you know they are dramatic, colourful and full of chaos. If you are ever invited to one, let go of your inhibitions and just go with the flow. Chaos is the ultimate path to having a good time in Indian weddings. Nothing ever happens on time, there is a lot of food and a lot of people trying to feed you, lots of dancing, clothes go missing, people go missing just as long as the bride and groom make it on time to the ceremony, all is well. After having a wonderful time at the wedding and partaking in the madness and enjoying Marwari hospitality, we were all set to just chill and enjoy the city for a few days.

A little about Chennai, formerly known as Madras, it is one of the four largest metropolitan cities in India. It is also the capital of the southern state Tamil Nadu. Tamil is the state's official language and is one of the oldest languages in the world. Now hubby belongs to Delhi and is not a big fan of the south, all those years of conditioning are hard to get rid off that quickly. India's different regions are so varied and culturally different from one another that in spite of living in one country, no one can claim to understand every region, their language, food and so on. It's a culinary adventurer's dream and a traveler's unconquerable conquest.  I took upon myself the task of making him like the city that I know so well and love. He is not a fan of art or architecture, so no temples, churches or galleries would do. I decided that apart from the two days at the wedding we would eat our way through the city. I would take him to my local eateries that I have loved for ages and also enjoy the new culinary hot spots in the city.

Saravana Bhavan
101, Dr. Radhakrishnan Salai, Mylapore, 
Chennai - 600 004.
No visit to Madras is ever complete without eating tiffin from Saravana Bhavan. Saravana Bhavan is a Madras food institution, and has branches all over the world. Not much has changed here, the same setting, same delicious food, of course prices have inflated a lot over the years. We ordered idlis, onion rava dosa, vadas, appam with cauliflower side dish and filter coffee. The highlight for me is the consistent good taste and quality of food. I love the sambhar here and the coconut chutney is the best I have ever had. I absolutely love South Indian filter coffee, it is the Indian cappuccino if you will - perfect combination of the bitterness with a hint of sweetness and froth. The food was as good as i remembered, all my south Indian food cravings were satiated and we were both so full at the end of it all.

Food 9/10
Service 8/10
Ambience 5/10

Idlis with sambhar and chutny

Medu Vada with sambhar and chutny

Appam with side dish

Onion Rava Dosai

Cooling/frothing action

Filter coffee

Fruit Shop on Greams Road
# 49/50, Whites Road, SL:22, Base-1,
Express Avenue Complex,
Royapettah, Chennai - 600014

This used to be a popular hangout during my schooling, our very own Pop tates (Archies) if you will. The first one was at Greams Road, hence the name. It has about 10-12 branches in Chennai now and are really popular because f their superb quality of fruit juices and milkshakes. Their juices and milkshakes are as popular now as they were 10 years ago. We had a citrus cooler, kiwi based juice and the famous Jughead milkshake (ice cream based) . The quality and taste was great and the refreshing drinks was what we needed on a hot day. They even gave us a little shot glass for my nephew to have juice out of. 

Food 9/10
Service 7/10
Ambience 7/10

Citrus cooler

Kiwi cooler

Jughead special

My nephew enjoying juice in his baby glass

Mainland China
44/145,Hotel Tulip Aruna Complex,Sterling Road, 
Nungambakkam,Chennai,TN,600 034, India

I have been coming to the Mainland China at Tulip Aruna Hotel ever since it opened. The Hotel boasts of some very nice restaurants like Fusion 9 and Sigree. We went for dinner with my parents who also enjoy the food here. The food was good as usual and the service was top notch, very polite, attentive and professional. I love the Indianised Chinese food and seriously miss it a lot in Aussie Land.  It is no wonder that we non resident Indians look forward to visiting the motherland so much. The soups, side dishes and noodles were really tasty, only let down was the creme brulee which had no sugary crunch nor was the custard very creamy and it lacked the orange blossom taste which was promised in the menu.

Food 7/10
Service 8/10
Ambience 8/10

Wonton soup

Hot and sour soup
Crispy corn

Lamb stir fry

Crispy vegetables 

Pan fried noodles

Orange blossom creme brulee

creme brulee

Opposite Music academy, Cathedral Road, Gopalapuram, 
Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600086

This is one of my favourite places for Andhra meals apart from National Lodge. Andhra food is characteristically hotter and I love the gongura (sorrel leaves) chutney and the sundried salted chilli accompaniment. The food in this visit was a little bit of a let down for me as was the service. It's because I am used to efficient service and piping hot, delicious food from this joint. The vegetarian meals included sambhar, rasam, curd, 3 vegetable side dishes and accompaniments like pickle, gongura chutney and dal powder. I love the first course of rice with ghee, dal powder and chutny - yumm! My carnivorous husband enjoyed prawns and mutton with flaky parathas. I don't think he had tasted anything like it in Delhi and he loved it. 

Food 7/10
Service 5/10
Ambience 6/10

Vegetarian Meals

Spicy prawns

Mutton fry


Sweet finish - sweet and bananas with beeda paan

Flying Elephant
39 Velachery Road, Near Raj Bhavan, 
Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, 600032

This was our fancy pants night out with two of my girl friends from school. One of them had already been here and was raving about the food so we had to try it out. The restaurant is at the newly opened Park Hyatt Hotel and first impressions were impressive. I loved the interiors and the architectural finishes and use of lighting was beautiful. It even had a beautiful courtyard where I can only imagine what fun it would be to have brunch on a nice sunny day. It has been designed by George Wong and the emphasis is on the theatricality of the art of cooking, multiple levels and open kitchen stations ensures the engagement of visitors.

Mango chips with Guacamole

We were escorted to our table and given the menus. We decided to order some cocktails ( can not remember the names except the mojito) and try their mango chips (seasonal specialty) with guacamole. The mango chips were interesting, they were like dehydrated or air fried thin wafers of mango, quite tasty. The cocktails were delicious and fruity.

Complimentary bread

Indonesion Gado Gado salad
We then ordered a Gado Gado salad and grilled ricotta in a strawberry syrup for the vegetarians. The salad was good and the satay sauce was tasty but the grilled ricotta was sensational. It had both sweet and savoury notes with hint of cinnamon and cloves. It was sublime and no it was not a dessert.

Grilled Ricotta with strawberry compote

Grilled Ricotta again!

Burrah kebab

Next we ordered the tiger prawn with olives and burrah kebab for the meat eaters. It was tasty and well cooked and was thoroughly enjoyed by them.

Tiger Prawn with olives

The bar
We then ordered desserts, my friend was keen to try the pavlova which is very Aussie so that we could tell her if it's good or not. A good pavlova is crisp on the outside and soft like a marshmallow on the inside. This unfortunately did not have a soft interior. It was hard and very sugary. The fruits and cream on top were nice and the presentation was good but it failed to impress as a pavlova.

Finally the pièce de résistance arrived and it certainly was a show stopper - the Bombe alaska.  Beautifully piped meringue exterior ready to be burnished by flaming liqueur. The flaming liqueur crisped up the meringue a little. We then cut through the meringue to reveal the cake and sorbet layers inside. I couldn't wait to get into it and boy was it good. The tartness of the fruit sorbet, soft sponge and sweet fluffy meringue with the hint of liqueur was just divine. This was my favourite dish of the night. 

Bombe Alaska being lit up

Bombe Alaska
 We then strolled around in the courtyard with our drinks and enjoyed the ambience. The waiters were quick to transport our drinks outside and very courteous.


Beautiful reflections in the water - courtyard

Food 8/10
Service 8/10
Ambience 9/10

I have written about 5 of my favorite places to eat in Chennai but there are so many more. I can't wait to visit my beloved city again and sample both the old and cherished and the new and hip joints along with my mumma's cooking.  

p.s yes the hubby fell in love with the food and the city is starting to grow on him :-)

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully written and captured as always. I am reliving my chennai days through this blog.