Eastern Wedge - pan-Asian and vegetarian

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It's called Eastern Wedge and it's fast becoming an extremely popular pan-Asian vegetarian restaurant in Chennai. Situated at Poes Garden, this 55-seater restaurant is wheelchair accessible. The seating is spread out across several rooms and the interiors are very elegant.

Chefs Ram Kumar, Yanagida and Alex

Chef Ram Kumar of Va Pho and Benjarong, heads the operations here. Expat chefs Yanagida from Japan and Alex from Malaysia have helped in curating the menu.When he invited Smitha and me to the review, he told us that if non vegetarians like us did like the food, it would be a huge endorsement for the concept.



One part of the kitchen features an open space. Inside stainless steel compartments, there are skewers threaded with appetisers. Mis en place is impeccable, in the otherwise clinically clean space, the burst of colours of the veggies is eye catching.

Nutty Milo; lemongrass cooler

The Lemongrass Cooler, fragrant with the aroma and flavour of lemongrass is so refreshing. If you like Milo and peanut butter, it's the Nutty Milo you should be ordering. It's a perfect blend of both ingredients and deliciously addictive.

Kushi yaki with sauces and dips

Kushi age

The menu that features Japanese, Chinese, Thai and Malaysian cuisines used to have about 80 dishes but now has been whittled down to about 40! 40??? So it's a good idea to start with Kushi Yaki. Our platter had a selection of broccoli, mushrooms, tofu and capsicum. The veggies were grilled just right and retained their colour and crunch. Artistically plated and sprinkled with pumpkin floss, they were served with miso mayo, wasabi mayo and kushi yaki sauce.
The Kushi Age basket held baby potatoes and cherry tomatoes. The tomatoes were lovely, the batter that coated them was light. Of the dips, the tonkatsu sauce was quite delicious. 

Spinach dumpling; pandan paneer

Szechuan shiitake

The skin of the Spinach Dumpling is soft and chewy. The filling is substantial, vegetable protein bits give it an interesting texture. Pandan Paneer, an out and out fusion dish, comes wrapped in a pandan leaf. The paneer is soft, the fragrance of the leaf has permeated the cheese and it's an absolute standout. Each of these appetisers comes with a set of sauces that are the result of much R&D by the chefs. The star dish at Eastern Wedge must be Szechuan Shiitake. Slices of shiitake mushrooms are batter fried and tossed in their signature Szechuan sauce. It's chewy, garlicky and spicy and the flavours do a salsa on the tongue.

Glutinous rice in lotus leaf

BBQ buns

Glutinous Rice in Lotus Leaf is on the menu. I've had the non veg version several times while abroad so was interested in trying out Eastern Wedge's interpretation. Though a dead ringer in looks and texture, the tea-like aroma of the leaf was a tad too strong and the rice was quite sweet. The BBQ Bun was rather doughy and I found the filling pasty in parts. Chef Alex revealed that they do not use yeast to ferment the dough. 

Chanko nabe with udon noodles

Baama curry rice; Eastern Wedge eggplant

Dandan noodles

Chanko Nabe with Udon Noodles in tomato is a filling, one-pot dish. The broth was thick and flavourful though there was no perceptible Asian flavour to it. Still, if you want something a little different, this will be apt.
Northern-style Bamaa Curry Rice is delicious. The gravy is quite similar to Thai red curry but here, it's thicker and aromatic with the fragrance of kaffir lime. Even the carrots had been sliced artistically. Eastern Wedge Eggplant could do with bolder flavours but it is an interesting presentation of the humble aubergine. I loved the different textures of Dandan Noodles, it's definitely a dish worth ordering. 

Sesame ball

Dessert was Sesame Ball, filled with a red bean paste and served with a scoop of ice cream. Honestly, I was quite content with the Nutty Milo!

Plenty of pan-Asian favourites have found their way into the menu at Eastern Wedge. If you're a vegetarian and have wondered what a proper Asian meal would taste like, it is worth exploring the menu.

Eastern Wedge is at 11, Kasturi Rangan Road
Kasturi Estate 2nd Street, Alwarpet. 
044 48689800

A revamp of TFE's bar menu

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The bar at The Flying Elephant has had a revamp and is now a stunning and stylish space. In keeping with the new look, the bar menu too has been given an upgrade and there are some great cocktails to go along with the food.

Exec Sous Chef Michele Cero

Over dinner with a fellow bloggers, we met TFE's new Italian Executive Sous Chef, Michele Dal Cero. He graduated in mechanical engineering and then found his true calling as a chef and has 20 years of experience, the last 7 of which have been at Seoul.

Charcoal lamb
   
As for the menu, there is a good selection of Asian, mid Eastern and Indian flavours presented as small plates as well as a decent selection of vegetarian dishes. Naturally, a couple of Italian dishes found their way into the menu too. We started with Charcoal Lamb. Well, it hadn't been coated with charcoal but had been roasted over it. Marinated for hours before being cooked, it was fork tender and beautifully spiced. It was the perfect accompaniment for my Whisky Sour.

Beetroot ravioli stuffed with goat's cheese - a forever favourite
Paneer e Hassan - slices of soft paneer sandwiched with a filling and grilled

Light as air Asian flavours - steamed edamame and truffle dimsum


Shish taouk

The Middle Eastern flavours of the shish taouk were delightful. Succulent cubes of chicken had been interspersed with coloured capsicum slices, served over a sumac-dusted onion salad. To scoop up the chunks of meat and veg was Turkish bread that doubled as a plate. Yummy!

3 cheese jalapeno & pesto mushroom

Three cheese jalapeno and pesto mushroom tikka is another addition to the menu. Large mushrooms hid within their caps a mix of pesto and cheese, jalapeno bits added pops of heat. Slices of toasted, garlicky baguette and onions rings would definitely have you raising your glass to the balance of taste and texture.

Prawns tossed in garlic, chilli & coriander

Prawns tossed in garlic, chilli and coriander was my favourite. Served slightly warm, the flavours of garlic and olive oil had permeated the prawns and was finger licking good. 

Pumpkin ravioli

Vegetarian pizzas

The pumpkin ravioli was introduced into TFE's menu a while ago. The kinks have now been ironed out and it's quite a delightful dish in its present avatar. Especially those candied walnuts. The pizzas, on the other hand, were very ordinary and we do look forward to Chef Michele and the team doing a makeover on them too.

For a bar menu, the serving sizes are just right. Every morsel could be speared with a fork, leaving your other hand free to hold your drink.

Main course - Indian breads, dal makhni & butter chicken


Dessert platter

Churros and dips

For dessert, Chef Cero and his team spoilt us with a selection of dark chocolate cake and slices of cheesecake. We even got a serving of churros (TFE's version is fabulous) with jars of apple cinnamon, salted caramel and chocolate sauces to dip into.

The best part must be that the right side of the menu too has been revamped. A meal for 2, sans alcohol is about 3000/++.

The Flying Elephant is at Park Hyatt Chennai and is open from 7pm.

For reservations, do call +91 8939871109.

Coastal cuisine at Samudra

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If you're on the way to the airport, chances are that you've seen the entrance to the Trident Hotel Chennai at Meenambakkam. The property on GST Road is low slung as compared to other five star hotels in Chennai because of its proximity to the airport. A brand of the Oberoi group, while the hotel has been operational for the last 30 years, the interiors have a timeless elegance about them, belying its age.



Indian Coastal cuisine is served at Samudra, one of the two restaurants at the Trident. While the name is a reference to the sea, the sea theme is very subtly played out in the decor with beautiful shells enclosed in niches and playful fish which swim about in their large tanks.

The restaurant is open only in the evenings but they will serve you a meal in the afternoon if you are entertaining a group of friends and want to do it in a charming setting.


Beautiful setting for a meal

Two things grab your attention as you walk in further - a rectangular glass chandelier that hangs in the centre of the ceiling and large glass windows that look out onto the lush, beautifully manicured lawns. A paved walkway leads to the spa and a little beyond is the pool. The muted colours of the furnishings get a boost from the red table runners. Very charming yet very sophisticated.

Executive Chef Indranil Nag

Executive Chef Indranil wields a fine ladle here. Invited for the last day of the Kerala food festival, I did think I was lucky to dine in such a setting. The food was a bonus. Joined by some of the staff from the sales and F&B teams, we spent an interesting afternoon talking about everything under the sun and one of the things I learnt was that the hotel and the Trident brand gets its name from the Trisulam hills in the area.

Papad and homemade pickles to start. The smaller platter is for vegetarians

Aatukul soup

The deep red aatukal soup made with lamb trotters was divine. Every bit of flavour must have been extracted during the long, slow cooking process because it was all there in that ambrosial broth. The flavour of caramelised onions and pepper added to the perfection and despite its colour, it was not pungent. Bits of tender meat from the bone were there for texture.

Tapioca fingers with chammanthi

Pepper fried mushrooms

Appetiser selection of kozhi porichathu (fried chicken), koonthal (squid) coconut roast & fish fry


Meen pollichathu

This festival covered the different cuisines of Kerala and the tapioca finger chips were a novelty for me. Pepper fried mushrooms were also an interesting dish. Shallots, pepper and coconut oil were the base flavours and the flavours were repeated in the koonthal coconut roast, kozhi porichathu and fried fish. Each of the proteins was cooked to perfection, crusty exterior yielding to softness within, the use of coconut oil pointing to the provenance of the recipes. The fish pollichathu was the only dish that didn't quite reach the standard set by the other meats - only a karimeen (pearl spot) is suited to this kind of preparation I think. 

Appam & parotta

Selection of gravies - vegetable stew, Nilgiri curry, prawn mappas, aadu varutharacha curry

The red and yellow gravy was what I was most interested in. Prawn mappas and it was stunning. The gravy was creamy, coco-nutty and tangy, the prawns, so easy to overcook, were juicy and perfect. The vegetable stew was equally delicious. Both appam and flaky Kerala parotta were perfect accompaniments.

Colours of Kerala

Lamb biryani

There was lamb biryani to end the meal with. Made with kaima rice and studded with cashewnuts, it was delicious, the grains of rice carried the flavour of everything that had gone into the pot but held on to their pearl-like shape.

Coconut rolls and tender coconut payasam

Dessert was what I planned to skip but the warm coconut-stuffed rolls were irresistible. The covering looked deceptively thick but was soft, the coconut inside had been sweetened with jaggery. The pièce de résistance was definitely the tender coconut payasam. Served in a martini glass, it was sweet and extremely addictive with bits of tender coconut and the merest hint of cardamom. It was, most certainly, a blissful end to the meal.

Samudra is a gem of a restaurant, a hidden one, no doubt. I can just imagine what it must be like to dine there in the evening, sitting beside those large windows, sipping on a glass of wine and enjoying the best of coastal cuisine. The only sound one would probably hear is the tinkle of glassware and muted conversations.

A meal for 2 at Samudra is approximately 3000/++. Prior reservation is highly recommended.

Samudra, Trident Chennai
1/24 GST Road Chennai 600027.
91 44 2234 4747.


The A - Z of baking supplies & where to find them

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If you are a home baker in Chennai, you would have made several visits to NS Mani Distributors on Walltax Road by now. From cooking chocolate to canned and dried fruits, butter paper to wafer paper, fondant and fondant tools and even stand mixers, there's very little that a baker will not find on the shelves of this store.

The old address of NSMD

But first, a little history. 80 years ago, on December 1st, 1938, Mr. NS Mani set up a store selling "carbonic acid gas" (soda water in local parlance), imported synthetic food materials to make syrups, essences and ice creams, citric acid and saccharine. "Cool drinks" were popular thirst quenchers for the tropical heat of the city and business was good.

Sprinkles and seasonal decor

Around the 1990s, the soft drink segment was dominated by two cola manufacturers and the synthetic drinks market took a nosedive. Distributors like NS Mani diversified into the bakery business; they started catering (pun intended) to bakeries and cafes, supplying them with ingredients like margarine, cocoa powder and icing sugar. This was the time when many foreign companies set up shop in Chennai, expats took up residence in the city and there was huge demand for pasta and passata, black bean and hoisin sauces and of course breads.

Quite a range of sauces

NS Mani took up distributorship for Calpro bread mixes and soon enough, bakeries, both standalone and those attached to starred hotels were churning out specialty breads. Those were exciting times when mass-produced breads became less popular and words like ciabatta and focaccia rolled off everyone's tongues and everyone's shopping basket was filled with multigrain, Italian herb, seed breads and baguettes. Instant yeast and gluten became available and we could finally get around to experimenting on a variety of homemade bread. 

Glazes and cake decor

By 2005, the firm started stocking cooking chocolate, chocolate chips and home bakers started frequenting the store. The year 2013 saw dairy products like butter and cream cheese being added to the inventory. Also around this time, cake decorating tools from China flooded the market; you no longer had to bug friends and relatives going abroad to get you the much coveted fondant modelling tools, chocolate moulds or flower cutters - they were all there in the store!



Local & imported nuts and berries

Over the years, the variety of products kept increasing, keeping in tune with emerging market trends and while essences are still the mainstay of the business, the growing bakery and confectionery market saw newer products line the shelves.  It is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, recording a 16% growth, the benchmark being standards in Europe and Turkey.

Squashes, syrups & chocolate

Today, NS Mani's original shop has been converted into a supermarket model where customers choose items displayed on the shelves and have them billed at the counter. Quite different from the old days when one stood behind the counter and yelled out the shopping list to one of the harried staff.

Modelling tools and cutters


Food colours


From a shop selling essences and synthetic syrups, today, it's a treasure trove for any home baker looking for the Chefmaster range of food colours, sliced almonds and almost the complete range of products from Bakersville. You can even get edible photo prints done at the store.

Helpful staff

On a friend's recommendation, I first visited the store in the mid-1990s to pick up cake boxes, got sidetracked by the essences sold in 500 ml bottles (never seen such large bottles of essence). Soon, my shopping list at NS Mani Distributors grew longer and Mr. Mahesh, the present owner and grandson of Mr. NS Mani, would give me catalogues of the new products he was stocking. The store was a veritable Aladdin's cave and buying stuff at wholesale rates was an added incentive to shop there. If something was not stocked in the shop, they would make the customer wait while someone ran to the "godown" nearby to fetch it. Today, the godown has been converted into an office-cum-store from where larger orders to commercial establishments are dispatched.

Cupcake liners

Apart from starred hotels, cafes and restaurants located within the city, NS Mani Distributors, being a direct importer and distributor, has customers from Thoothukudi, Nagercoil, Kanyakumari, Pollachi and even the Andaman and Nicobar Islands! One of his oldest customers is Vijaylakshmi Bakers and Sweets from the Island.

Meeting the demand for essences

While many restaurants and businesses have opened and then shut shop for lack of patronage, it's good to see a store that has survived 80 years. Anticipating and meeting the needs of customers is the key here.

Reach N.S. Mani Distributors at
145 Walltax Road
Park Town
Chennai 600003.

9600057149
9600057150

 
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