The flavours of Vietnam at Benjarong


Among Asian cuisines, Vietnamese food is considered the most healthy. From light but flavour-packed soups, to fresh rice paper rolls stuffed with herbs and veggies, to grilled meats, seafood and food on sticks, the dishes are presented with colourful herbs on the side. And everyone knows that herbs are good for you.
So we went across to Benjarong, to the "Flavours of Vietnam" festival to check out all we'd read about the cuisine.

Chef Nguyen & Chef  Ram Kumar

Chef Nguyen Thi Nho from Vietnam and Chef Ram Kumar of Benjarong have created an interesting  menu that showcases Vietnamese food. To be doubly sure of presenting true flavours, Chef Nho has brought in Vietnamese ingredients not easily available in the city. The rest, she and Chef Ram picked up from the local markets.   

Vietnamese iced coffee; jambolan cool; passion fruit juice

We chose 3 drinks from the menu to share. One was the Vietnamese coffee. The drip filter sat over a glass half-filled with condensed milk. It's mixed together and poured over ice and if you like your coffee cold and sweet, you need to order this. Jambolan Cool was the one I liked best. Made with the pulp of jamun or damson plum, it has many health benefits, none of which came to mind as I sipped and savoured the drink. The passion fruit juice was equally refreshing.

What's on the menu?

Five spiced Vietnamese fish with sriracha and nuoc cham

Vietnam is known for its street food and when these skewers with five spiced Vietnamese fish made their appearance, we attacked them at once ...well, after the pics were taken. The fish, of course was basa and best had when dipped into the sriracha and nuoc cham sauces. Piping hot too.

Charcoal grilled shrimp on sugarcane sticks

One of Vietnam's most popular appetisers is charcoal grilled shrimp mousse on sugarcane sticks. The mousse was light and airy and clung on well to the stick, a little of the sugarcane juices  had permeated into the shrimp, making it a wonderful combination of savoury prawn and sweet cane juice. The bonus, of course, is that you can chew on the stick. In Vietnam, it is served with a version of string hoppers that is wrapped around the mousse along with the herbs and dipped into the sauces.

Fresh shrimp spring rolls

There were baskets of fresh shrimp spring rolls. Through the translucent rice paper, we could see large shrimps, finely sliced cabbage and green herbs. There was a peanut sauce to dip them, every bite was a burst of flavour and freshness. As for the mint, we had to make do with the Indian variety.

Jasmine tea is always served cold in Vietnam
Deep-fried chicken spring rolls. The wrap is made with netted rice
paper and it retained its crunch even after sitting around for a bit.

Pho bo

If Vietnam has a national dish, it must be pho. Cooking a stock for 8 hours or more will result in the most delicious base for a broth. Chef Nho's pho had thin slices of beef, onions and rice noodles for texture; other spices included star anise, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, roasted onion and garlic. The soup was deliciously aromatic. Basil leaves, sliced chillies, lime and sriracha were served on the side but for me, there was nothing else that this pho needed.

Beef roll with peanut sauce has a thin slice of beef encasing a filling of minced beef with
 chicken fat which keeps the meat moist.. 

Clay pot tofu, mushroom & aubergine in a sauce with plenty of heft...yum yum
Dried bean curd skin used as a wrap for tofu cubes. The skin was crisp, the thick sauce, moreish. 

Whole hamour steamed in soyabean sauce. Best eaten with steamed rice.

Vietnamese chicken curry in coconut gravy flavoured with curry leaves!
Perfect pairing with mung bean sticky rice. 

Fried rice with lotus seeds and wrapped in lotus leaf

Beef with glass noodles

The spread...well, part of it at least!

Baked banana cake; mung bean cake; handmade jelly tofu with ginger gruel

We tried the trio of desserts specially made for the festival. My table mates pronounced the banana cake delectable. For me, it was a toss-up between the dense but sweet mung bean cake and the pandan-flavoured jelly tofu. Both were luscious.

We learnt a few things about Vietnamese food too - the food is always made fresh, is light and full of zest thanks to the abundance of herbs used both in cooking and eaten along with the meal. Another point of interest is that coconut water, rather than coconut milk or plain water is used to cook the food which adds oodles of flavour.

Flavours of Vietnam is on till August 26th.
Benjarong is at 146, TTK Road
Chennai 600018.
044 24322640

*This was an invited review 

Q Bar and The Art of the Table


Fratelli Vineyards. Could be an Italian winery, right?
Surprise surprise... it's an Indian vineyard at Akluj, Maharashtra that produces some really top class wines.

At an elegant wine and dinner evening last month, Q Bar, The Hilton Chennai and Fratelli Vineyards presented The Art of the Table, where we tasted regionally sourced produce and Fratelli's single vineyard reserve wines as well as some from their international wine portfolio.

Chris Wedge

It's only been 35 years since India started producing wines; it's only been a year since some of these top class wines have started being sold at Chennai. International wine consultant Craig Wedge who is also Brand Director of Fratelli wines commenced the evening telling us that India does produce some really good wines but sadly, many of these wines are not considered "worthy". To prove his point, we tasted Fratelli's Grand Cuvée Brut Zero Dosage wine, a dry and crisp pale sparkling wine with a faint yeasty finish. Close your eyes, savour the wine. Yes, it has a 'made in India' label on it!

Fratelli Grand Cuveé Brut Zero Dosage

Pork rillette walnut bread; apple & liver bouchée

Chef Manish Uniyal's culinary creativity was on show as the evening progressed, starting with the appetisers. The selection of vegetarian and non-vegetarian offerings included apple and liver bouchée as well as pork rillettes on walnut bread, both of which were perfect with the wine.

Fratelli Shiraz Rose from Akluj

Green tea savarin, tomatoes compote, salvia blossom

Fratelli's Shiraz Rosé makes for a lovely aperitif wine from Akluj. Pale pink and reminiscent of strawberries and red stone fruit in colour and taste, it was served with a green tea savarin. Not only were the colours striking but the cheesy aftertaste of the savarin was well-balanced by the acidity of the wine.

Duck Three Ways; Moulin de Gassac Languedoc-Rousillion from France

We had Duck Three Ways with Moulin de Gassac Sauvignon. All three ways were delicious, the pairing wine a perfect match for the slight smokiness of the duck meat.

Soup course: White asparagus truffle cream
Swordfish Green Peppercorn Butter

The white asparagus truffle cream soup was silky smooth. Punctuating the silkiness were slices of white asparagus that added texture. It was delicately seasoned.
The first entrée was swordfish with green peppercorn butter. The flesh was firm and well-cooked though I thought the sauce could do with more acidity. Even the squeeze of lemon juice over did not really help. Of the two wines, Kloof Street Chenin Blanc from South Africa and Fratelli Sangiovese from Akluj, I preferred the Indian wine.   

Champagne and orange sorbet to cleanse the palate. A perfect balance of flavours

Kloof Street Rouge Swartland, SA

Balsamic glazed lamb rack, Romano gnocchi, glaze

Balsamic glazed rack of lamb brought the spotlight back again on Chef Manish's culinary talents. Fork-tender lamb ribs finished with a balsamic glaze and a moreish Romano gnocchi to brush it up with. The delicate tuile had a faint herb flavour. Pretty as a picture too and perfect with the spicy notes of the Kloof Street Rouge from South Africa.

Anna Pavlova Forest Berries

A light end to the meal came in the form of a meringue. The tartness of the red berries cut through the sweetness of the pavlova, the soft-whipped Chantilly cream was almost cloud-like. The only jarring note in this creation was the too-thick disc of white chocolate. Perhaps, it was just that - not meant to be eaten.

We talk of new world wines that are made in non-traditional wine growing countries but it was indeed an eye-opener to know that India also produces world class wines.

Cheers to that! 

*This was an invited review. 
Disclaimer: all opinions mentioned here are my own and need not agree with those of others.

New menu at Bombay Brasserie


The waiter poured out the soup from the aluminium kettle into a glass. For a minute, I was transported back to those halcyon days at college and the memory of the canteen man with his battered kettle, pouring what was, without a doubt, coffee that tasted like no coffee ever should. "Enjoy your soup, Ma'am". The waiter's words brought me back to the present with a jolt; the canteen man never called anyone ma'am 😄
The soup, by the way, is delicious.

Soul satisfying tomato soup

Bombay Brasserie has a new menu in place. Invited for the preview, I couldn't make it that day to the restaurant at Adyar but they gave me an alternate date. The restaurant has already decided what they were going to serve the both of us and that was definitely a relief.

The 6 chutney papad tokri

The papad platter had a big papad that had been roasted and shaped into a basket (how do you even do that) filled with aloo papads and sabudana papads with homemade chutneys, onion slices and mint chutney. Here's a tip - the mango chutney is delicious. 

Aam papad paneer - paneer with lotus stem &Amritsari street food spices. Too tangy & could do with more lotus stems.

Kashmiri naan kebab

The Kashmiri Naan Kebab scored on the audacity of presentation as well as taste. You could order it as a one dish meal, quite a filling one too. The meat of the kebab was finely ground and flavoured with the aromatic kebab chini. The whole kebab was placed on a saffron-brushed naan. The walnut chutney was served in a wooden spoon with onion slices on the side.

Bootlegger blues (mocktails of course) in quarter bottles - Go Gone Goa & Jaipur Gulabo with poha mixture  

Rajputana murg soola kebab

A bit of theatre on the dining table never goes amiss when a whole fillet of chicken, the Rajputana murg soola kebab was torched at the table. This final finish gave it a beautifully smoky aroma and it tasted spectacular.

Gunpowder potatoes

Gunpowder potatoes is a tribute to Madras. It had gunpowder or podi masala powder tossed through cooked potatoes. With onion and capsicum strips, curry leaves and grated cheese, it could pass off as this city's interpretation of chaat! However, it was rather bland; the masala would have done better with more spice.

Love the chandeliers
Busy chef

Bombay Lunch - home veg curry and banana leaf rice

Coast-to-coast chicken with mixed seed roti

The mixed veg curry was served in a jar. Stuffed into the mouth was fried rice vermicelli. To eat with it was a banana leaf packet with steamed fragrant coconut milk rice. The vermicelli was mixed into the curry and it tasted just like idiyappam but I couldn't quite figure out why rice 2 ways was being served. However, it was tasty.

Chur chur paratha

30 ingredients in a spice mix?! BB's Coast to Coast chicken was dark, aromatic and absolutely delicious. A little too tangy too but it was perfect with the mix seed roti. Both our main courses came with papad. To mop up all that delicious gravy, we had a flaky chur chur paratha. It is one of the Brasseries's specialty breads.

Bombay ice cream sandwich

The dessert platter was ingenious; a conversation piece and designed to bring out the child in everyone!

The food at Bombay Brasserie has always been a family favourite and the new menu is going to make it even more so. The presentation, the food and the quirky way of serving will make diners leave with a smile on their lips.

A meal for 2 at Bombay Brasserie could be about 1500/++.     

Bombay Brasserie
Villa 77, 1st Main Road, Gandhinagar, Adyar.
Call 044 24913443 for reservations.

On The Plate, On The Rocks


There's an air of elegance about On The Rocks. The split-level restaurant at Crowne Plaza, Chennai is quiet, the seats are comfortable, the setting romantic, lights are focused on the centre of the tables and there's an awesome selection of wines and great food. Now, it has introduced a new concept called On The Plate which I had been invited to preview.

OTR's signature focaccia rolls with garlic oil & dip

Cheerful chef indeed!

Pomo Cino
Sommelier Anand Krishnan at the wine vault.
Pic credit: Crowne Plaza Chennai Adyar Park

From the cocktail menu, I chose Pomo Cino and it was a stunner. A mix of cinnamon-infused vodka with pomegranate juice and lime juice, it tasted like a refreshingly spirited pomelo juice.

Mixed leaves, cucumber, feta, pomegranate with maple dressing & candied walnuts

Salad is a good place to start a meal and I've become such a fan of the restaurant's maple syrup dressing. The salad was colourful with torn frisée and arugula, sliced cucumber, feta, pomegranate and candied walnuts.

Juicy chicken thigh with bbq sauce and blue cheese sauce

Smoked duck from Thailand. The skin has been scored before being grilled

Executive Chef Deva.
Pic credit: Crowne Plaza Chennai Adyar Park

On the Plate has been curated by Executive Chef Deva. You can opt for either the 3-meat course which has chicken, Australian lamb and filet mignon or the 5-meat course which has the previous 3 meats as well as smoked duck and jumbo prawn. Each of these meats has a dry rub and is brushed with a special marination that Chef Deva cannot reveal! They are grilled and brought to the table on skewers. All the plates are served with a side of buttered vegetables, mashed potatoes and a selection of sauces. The staff will tell you the best sauce pairings with each kind of meat.

Sauvignon Blanc

Sommelier Anand Krishnan had chosen Sula wines to go with the meal. With poultry, he selected a Sauvignon Blanc. It was a good choice, loved its crispness and slight acidity and a perfect pairing for both chicken and duck.   
Australian lamb

Filet mignon on a skewer

Plum red Cabernet Shiraz

Both the Australian lamb and filet mignon were deliciously tender. To dip in or smear over the meat were little pots with chimichurri and smoked tomato salsa dips. Sula Cabernet Shiraz was the accompanying wine that was medium bodied with a slightly oaky taste. Since the bottle had just been opened, Anand poured it through a wine aerator. Unfortunately, the video I took was too dark to make out anything much.

Whether you order the 3 course or 5 course meats, it is unlimited. How done would you want your meat? I had asked for mine to be done medium and it was pink in the middle. To be able to treat meats with this level of skill is remarkable. 

Tiger prawn cooked just enough to retain flavour

Coco Passion with lemongrass ice cream paired with a glass of Chenin Blanc 

Chocolate mousse entremet with more chocolate 

I find most dessert wines too sweet but Sula's late harvest Chenin Blanc hit the right spots. It was fruity and well balanced and had a lovely finish. It was the perfect ending to, not one, but 3 desserts. All three were spectacular so different from each other. Torching the Espresso Crème Brûlée brought the meal to a dramatic end.

If you liked the existing menu at On The Rocks, the good news is that it is still in use.

On The Rocks
Crowne Plaza Chennai Adyar Park
TTK Road, Alwarpet.
 044 24994101 

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