Ugadi ruchulu at Dakshin


Push open the embellished wooden door of Dakshin at the Crowne Plaza and you could as well be entering a room that time nearly forgot. A brass lamp and an urli with floating petals decorate the foyer. On the walls hang Tanjore paintings, there are wooden carvings, brass artifacts and pillars. A group of musicians are seated in front, playing classical music. Tables are set with banana leaf-fitted thalis, water tumblers and steel katories. The room is dimly lit but enough light shines over the tables so you can read the menu. (The menu is a conversation starter - the cover looks like two doors!) The decor is unmistakably South Indian and very elegant. Dakshin serves cuisines of the southern states of India.

Table setting; papads and panakkam

It is a beautiful setting for Ugadi Ruchulu. Ugadi is the Telugu New Year and it's definitely one of the best of times to visit Dakshin to taste the flavours of the festival. Sous Chef Prabhakaran's menu is a celebration of this festival and we're welcomed with panakkam, a mix of jaggery and ginger powder. It's not only refreshing but also a digestive.

From top: jaggery; butter; beetroot, ridge gourd, coconut and tamarind chutneys

Four chutneys - tamarind, coconut, ridge gourd and beetroot were served first , along with butter and cubes of jaggery. All the chutneys are delish, every day, there is a new selection.

Appetisers -Thotakura jeedipappu pakodi (spinach & cashew); the famous Rayalaseema kodi vepudu (fried chicken)

Mokkajonna garelu - corn vadas with a yummy raw mango chutney

Peethala charu

Peethala Charu is a thin spicy crab soup, the flavour of the crab was almost indiscernible. The other soup, Miriyala Kodi Ulavacharu, was much nicer, the lentil adding body to the chicken broth.

Green mango dal; curry leaf curry; prawn; country chicken curry; lamb & drumstick; brinjal ; dal & drumstick 

There is an a la carte menu but we decided to order the non-vegetarian thali on the chef's recommendation. The gravies are served in little katories. There was green mango with dal, curry leaf curry, delicious prawn, onion and tomato in a thick gravy and country chicken curry in the katories. Other side dishes were dal and drumstick, whole baby brinjal and a stunning lamb and drumstick masala. The wholewheat paratha did a good job of mopping up the gravies. The best was definitely mulakada mamsam - lamb cooked with drumstick. The other standout dish was the prawn in onion-tomato gravy. And also the curry leaf gravy which was not at all bitter. 

Andhra cuisine has a reputation for being very spicy but surprisingly, none of the dishes reduced me to tears.

Prawn curry; mulakada mamsam

Black-eyed peas with garlic and drumstick

Tangy green mango dal

Curry leaf curry

Country chicken curry

Ragi sangati

Ragi sangati - ragi dumplings were something I've never had. They look like cannonballs and came hot off the steamer. They're rather gooey and best eaten with any of the gravies. Very filling too and healthy.

Nellore kodi biryani

The Nellore-style biryani was very flavourful and mildly spiced. The diced tomato was the only thing that didn't quite belong in the dish.

Desserts - pootharekulu, gummadikaya halwa; pandulu payasam

Well, we were stuffed but that pootharekulu was tempting. Making it requires plenty of skill but the end result is delicious. The halwa was made with ash gourd and lightly sweetened.

There are some iconic dishes at Dakshin that you simply cannot afford to miss. One is their banana dosa and the other, the filter coffee. I am quite finicky about my coffee but I must admit that this one floored me!!

Ugadi Ruchulu is on at Dakshin, Crowne Plaza till March 21st, for both lunch and dinner. The veg thali is priced at 1800/++, non-veg at 2200/++.

The menu

Taste of Italy at the Hilton


Chef Andrea Spurio is young and energetic; his food reflects that youthfulness and what contemporary Italian food is all about. His plates are bright and flavoursome and you can even eat the garnishes!

Bruschetta mista

Selezione di salumi misti; lamelle petto d'anatra con insalata 

Est, Hilton Chennai's 24-hour lobby cafe is a long way from Hilton Molino Stucky in Venice which is Chef Spurio's home turf. The platter of Bruschetta Mista brought the colours of Italy to the table - the garlic-rubbed toasted bread had been topped with mushrooms, diced tomatoes and roasted peppers. Then it was a medley of cold cuts - Parma ham, coppa, speck and salami. Pickled pearl onions, artichoke hearts and slices of gherkins were the perfect way to counteract the effects of all that salted meat along with the pillow-shaped gnocco fritto. The meat in the next dish, thinly sliced duck breast had just the faintest blush. Decorated with green beans and shavings of black truffle, it was bathed in a balsamic vinegar salad that livened up the flavours.

Spiedini di pollo - chicken skewers with Parmesan

Caprese con burrata

Caprese must be one of the simplest of salads and the burrata absolutely stole the show. So creamy and amply flavoured by the basil pesto yet toned down by the white balsamic vinaigrette and sweet cherry tomato halves.

Risotto mantecato al Prosecco doc con battuto di scampi e melissa - risotto with scampi and lemon balm

Orichietti con funghi

The risotto was lovely - long grains of rice cooked in Prosecco with plenty of scampi. The taste of lemon balm was delightful, punctuating the rice with zesty freshness. Chef Andrea's style of cooking is not restricted to any one region so there was even orichiette, ear-shaped pasta in a mixed mushroom sauce - yeah, there were lots of mixed mushrooms in the sauce.

Trancio branzina con variazione di funghi e salsa al Prosecco - broiled sea bass

Pollo alla diavola - devilled chicken

Sea bass with mushroom and Prosecco sauce was the first of the main courses. The fish had been broiled on its scales and we loved the fresh, firm flesh. Loved the juicy meat in Pollo alla Diavola or devil's chicken which was served with rösti that looked exactly like hash browns. The chicken was super tender and juicy. Yum!!

Pomodoro confit con ricotta - tomato confit with cottage cheese

Tomato confit with cottage cheese, mint and honey was a delicious offering; the creamy cheese, stuffed into tomato cups was especially appreciated by the lone vegetarian at our table.

Saffron pannacotta; il classico tiramisu

We were treated to 2 desserts - a bright saffron-hued pannacotta with raspberry coulis and a heady tiramisu. Don't forget to order that tiramisu - it's a fitting end to an Italian odyssey. 

The Taste of Italy is on till March 20th for lunch and dinner. The menu is à la carte and priced at 4500/++ for two.

Sicilian flavours at Etna


Etna is an Italian ristorante in Singapore that's just a 5 minute walk from home. The place is always buzzing with diners -no wonder family and friends living in the neighbourhood have only good things to say about the food there.

We headed there for dinner a few nights ago and luckily had made reservations. There's outdoor seating but since a few drops of rain had fallen just as we left home, we chose to sit indoors.

Bread selection

It is a slightly cramped space but it was nice to sit at a table with white tablecloths and linen napkins. The liquor choices are aplenty and they have a good selection of wines. If you're not sure what to order, the staff will give you suggestions. A basket of breads that included focaccia slices is served first with olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dip them into.

Burrata di Andria

Named after an active volcano in Sicily, Etna specialises in Sicilian flavours, vegetables and seafood.
The antipasti we decided on was Burrata di Andria. The combination of buttery cheese and Parma ham was delicious. Sweet cherry tomatoes and peppery arugula brightened the flavours.
Bruschetta di Pomodoro

Bruschetta di Pomodoro was a pretty sight. Tasted yummy too though the bread had not been evenly sliced and the toppings kept falling off.

Ciriole alla Norcina

Ciriole alla Norcina was fabulous. The sauce made with mushrooms, sausage and truffle paste was big and bold with earthy flavours and the fat strands of smooth light yellow homemade pasta mopped up the sauce and had us scraping the dish clean.

Filetto di maiale Marsala

The meat course was Filetto di Maiale al Marsala. Thick but absolutely tender medallions of pork rested on a bed of mashed potatoes. Roasted baby potatoes and mushrooms were plated beside and that Marsala sauce was just wow! A serving of gremolata and briny capers along with thin slices of Parmesan cheese  provided much needed notes of acidity - a lovely balance of flavours was the result.

Pizza Etna

Imagine going to an Italian restaurant and not ordering a pizza - unthinkable! So a pizza called Etna arrived. Generous shavings of Parma ham, mozzarella and cream cheese, mushrooms and pistachios decorated the top. Quite a nice combination of toppings but we could only manage a slice each and had the rest packed up. 

Etna has a few interesting desserts on the menu. Their portions are generous and even though the three of us had shared all the dishes, we wouldn't have been able to do justice to dessert. We've saved that for next time. Service is very efficient.

Etna is at 110, Upper East Coast Road, Singapore. Phone: 64449530 and at
49-50 Duxton Road Road, Singapore. Phone: 62205513.

The Gourmet Experience Centre


Haddows Road is the address of the Gourmet Experience Centre. This is a space where cooking experiences can be created not just by masterchefs but even by cooking enthusiasts. The Centre houses a 1000 sq. ft. cooking studio and a cook area fitted with the latest in kitchen equipment by Siemens.


The sleek side-by-side refrigerator-freezer with black glass finish had us enthralled. It has a digital display and touch electronic controls. The shelves are adjustable. The doors too have shelves and there's quite a bit of stuff that this fridge can hold. dream fridge for sure...

Built in oven, combi oven & the coffee machine

Any kitchen needs an oven and this one has two!! There's a built-in convection oven and a combi steam oven. This is great for not only steam cooking but even for proofing breads! The ovens are energy-efficient and self-cleaning to boot. Fitted beside it is a built-in fully automatic coffee machine and below that, a warming drawer... my dream ovens and a coffee machine too...sigh!

Works on gas & electricity

Multi-functional cooktop

The Domino cooktop is multi-functional. There's a standard gas burner that can be used for wok cooking, a ceramic induction cooking zone and beside it, a lava grill, a deep fat fryer and a teppanyaki grill. Meats and veg can be cooked on it and even dosas, we were told. The last 3 come with flush fit covers and once the cooking is done and the covers fitted back, they practically go out of sight.

Siemen's dish washer

And who's going to do the washing up after a dinner party? This semi integrated dish washer takes care of that job. It has three racks and a fourth basket is just for cutlery. Even stemmed glasses stay stable during operation. The complete wash cycle in this machine is shorter, thereby saving water.

Island workspace

In the centre is an island countertop, providing sufficient working space. While the kitchen occupies about a third of the area, the remaining space is multi-functional - it could be converted into a dining area for guests attending a private dinner or double up as space for a cooking classes.

The Centre is the baby of chef and entrepreneur, Regi Mathew. The idea behind the setting up of this enterprise is manifold:

*Want to play chef? The space can be used for hosting parties where you could either cook the meal yourself or get one of the Centre's chefs to help with the planning and cooking;

*Large windows let in plenty of sunshine and the setting and lighting is perfect for photoshoots and food-styling classes;

*Culinary workshops can be conducted here;

*Standalone restaurants and star hotels can use the kitchen and the expertise of the Centre's chefs to standardise their recipes;

*Corporates can conduct cooking and baking sessions as part of their team building sessions;

*As an experience centre for Siemens products. All the equipment is by Siemens and you could even watch a demo before deciding to buy any of them.

If you love the cuisine of Kerala, there's Kappa Chakka Kandhari on the floor below. KCK translates to tapioca, jackfruit and bird's eye chilli, 3 ingredients that are a must have in most Kerala homes! The restaurant, run by Chef Mathew, John Paul and Augustine Paul serves 'neo-stalgic' food - the kind of food made in Kerala homes, food that every Malayalee pines for when he/she is away from home.

Kappa & fish curry

After we were shown around the Centre, we were served kappa and red fish curry, one of the most popular and iconic dishes of Kerala. Delish! Plenty more followed at the food tasting:

Crisp corn in cups, chilli mess; pork with puttu; vegetable money bags
Finger foods

Vegetarian baos; teriyaki chicken

After a while, we weren't sure if we had to eat the food or admire it. The team's culinary prowess is truly remarkable.

Orchid tempura!

Banana payasam and tres leches cake

While KCK serves a huge variety of Kerala dishes, Chef Regi is an expert in Asian and Thai cuisine in particular.

Gourmet Experience Centre
No. 10, Haddows Road,
Chennai 600034.

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