Go Goan at Spice Haat, HRC


The closest I got to Goa was booking 2 tickets to fly there and then having to cancel. Yeah, life is like that sometimes.

Chef Vithal Naik 

Still, we have to look at the positives, like when Chef Vithal Naik of Grand Hyatt Goa came to Chennai with a bagful of Goan ingredients to convert Spice Haat into "A Goan State of Mind". The restaurant was decked up as a mini Goa with stalls by RASA, an NGO, selling imitation jewellery and clothes (they have some really nice ones with embroidery). Lively Goan music and the colourful clothes worn by the service crew added to the carnival- like atmosphere.

Stalls selling clothes and imitation jewellery


I was invited to review the festival and the welcome drink, plum-coloured kokum juice was served first. It has a peculiar sweet and sour taste and is not unpleasant. It is a non-alcoholic digestif with a host of health benefits so don't forget to drink up!

Ros omelette; veg cutlet pav; mutton sukka 

Looking for the appetisers? They're right up front as you walk into the restaurant.  The ros omelette, an omelette cooked with diced tomatoes, onions and herbs is topped with a little chicken gravy. The veg cutlet pav, served with tartar sauce was the one I liked more - the cutlet was coated with rawa and was super crunchy.  

Ladyfish, sardines, basa and squid in their different marinades and then on the grill

Seafood grill platter with chilli paste

At the grilled fish counter, platters held marinated ladyfish, sardines, basa and squid rings. All that seafood is very fresh and served with an absolutely delicious peri peri paste - wait, not peri peri but Kashmiri chilli paste. Still, it was red, zesty and gave off this lovely warmth and went well not only with the grilled seafood but everything else, including the pulao!

Prawn rissois

Back at the table, the prawn rissois were waiting - deep fried half moons of dough filled with a delicious chopped prawn mix. And the chilli paste is the perfect dip; if you find that too spicy, tone it down with some of the tartar sauce. You can try to eat the grilled fish with cutlery but my advice is to just do the job with your fingers.

Chicken xacuti

Goan fish curry

Lots of mushrooms and cashewnuts in alambi kaju masala

Suran caldeen

Mooli ki bhaji; vegetable khatkhate

Main courses were arranged on the buffet counters. Everyone has a favourite way of cooking the ever-popular chicken xacuti and Chef Vittal's version, thickened with coconut paste and redolent with the aroma of spices was tasty. The vegetarian dishes were all delicious, especially suran caldeen - raw banana cubes cooked in coconut paste (could have had a whole bowl of it), vegetable khatkhate - vegetables cooked in Goan spices and mooli ki bhaji - slices of radish cooked with coconut. All these are served with rice though I did wish there were sannas to mop up the gravies with.

Chorizo pulao

Prawn pickles; more pickles

The highlight was definitely the chorizo pulao. Long, yellow grains of rice glistened in their coat of oil interspersed with chunks of the meat and the green of coriander leaves. The slightly smoky aroma of the chorizo was so alluring and it tasted fabulous. I've never had Goan sausage cooked in a pulao and this was quite a discovery. The perfect accompaniment was of course the prawn pickles.

Bibinca; doce; dodol

There are plenty of desserts to choose from and if, like me, you're only interested in the Goan ones, there's bibinca, doce and dodol. The bibinca and dodol are delish and worth keeping some space in the tummy for them.

Goan State of Mind is on till July 23rd, 2017 and is priced at 1450/++ per head. 

Royal Repast - secrets of a Nawab's kitchen at J. Hind


There was an encounter that night. The flash of metal (spoons), blowtorches shot out flames and there was smoke - err - mist everywhere. Casualties? Of course, most folk would have gained a little weight by the time it was all over.

The encounter, of course, was of a culinary kind.

Nawabzada Asif Ali, Dewan to the Nawab of Arcot

Amir Mahal is the home of the Nawab of Arcot. The palace is about 150 years old and at its heart, as with any home, is the kitchen. Generations of cooks have worked in the kitchens of Amir Mahal, following time-honoured recipes and methods of cooking and over the years, fine-tuned many of them and even created several of their own.
Jugalbandi Hindusthani, J.Hind for short, the avant-guard restaurant at Grand by GRT Hotels has chefs who apply modern cooking methods like sous-vide and spherification to the food they cook. These two worlds met head-on recently when chefs from the hotel went to the palace kitchens to learn the secrets of Arcot cuisine.

Colourful & quirky interiors of J.Hind. Many of the pieces are restored antiques 

During their time at the palace, the chefs learnt treasured recipes and culinary techniques that kept the nawabs contented. When they came back to the hotel kitchens, they didn't just do a copy-paste job. Instead, home-style recipes were given a molecular twist and that was how we got to experience Royal Repast, a culinary jugalbandi of heritage recipes cooked with some molecular gastronomy.

We were invited to preview the 12-course degustation menu that was quite the talking point throughout the meal.

Subza rose milk; apricot and nut spheres

I just love anything rose-flavoured and the subza (basil seed) rose milk was perfect in terms of taste and temperature. The amuse-bouche - dry nut and apricot spheres were perfectly formed and tasted nice.

Narial doodh ka shorba

Time for soup and we had little muslin bags in our cups. The soup, a tender coconut broth was poured over, releasing the flavours of roasted garlic, ginger and cumin from the bag. Did I say it was flavoursome? Delicious? Comforting? Mellow, light and coconutty? All that and then some more. The chaat trolley trundled up and we got to watch the creation of focaccia shermal with a little nitrogen fix. Quite an unlikely combination but it was one that worked. Nothing like a tangy spicy chaat to whet the appetite.

Saffron-infused subzi galouti

Smoked tikkas

Rangoli lal machhi tawa masala

Nawabi gosht

Flaming fish tikkas, super-tender chicken tikkas finished with a lick of flames from a blow torch were all very interesting till the anda jhinga tamatar was placed in front of us. What a combination of hard boiled egg with a jumbo prawn; the sauce was absolutely yummy. A stack of Indian breads - wheat, sundried tomato and ulta tawa parathas were served to mop up delicious gravies.

Anda jingha tamatar

Indian breads

Arcot gosht biryani

The one dish that we all awaited, Arcot gosht biryani was presented in a glass jar - nice touch of whimsy there! The mildly spiced, smoked, aromatic rice was a pale yellow and cooked to long grained perfection. Each grain was separate and flavoured with the lamb juices it was cooked in. Definitely worth the wait.

Nawabi paan shots; jackfruit icecream; gulabi kesar; badam peach halwa

Of the desserts, the soft and creamy jackfruit ice cream stirred in with some liquid nitrogen stole the show. As a finishing touch, ruby red frozen rose petals were sprinkled over. And that paan shooter, it's yummy.

Royal Repast, the Nawabi degustation menu at J.Hind, will be served for lunch and dinner till the end of July 2017. It is priced at 1450/++ per head (vegetarian)  and 1650/++ (non-vegetarian).

Savoury chocolate dip


July 7th is World Chocolate Day and all over the world,  pastry chefs must be putting the final touches to their chocolate creations. Can't wait to see it all on Instagram!

Most of us like chocolate because it is sweet, a far cry from its original name, xocolatl (bitter water). In our heads, anything that looks like chocolate must be chocolate, hence must be sweet.

Crab-sticks; samosas; cucumber; crumb fried chicken fingers & sausages

A friend asked me to make a savoury sauce from chocolate. Making it was not the problem, what to serve it with was. Still, when it was done, it looked thick and dark from the top, exactly like melted chocolate. Finally, the family decided that it should be served as a dip, gado-gado was what came to mind. 

On my platter, I had crumb fried chicken fingers, cucumber sticks, a couple of samosas, crab-sticks (what? who eats crab-sticks!!??) And sausages. The verdict? Excellent with the samosa (especially the pastry) and cucumber, good for crumb fried chicken (or crumb fried anything), meh with sausages (the sausages themselves were a meh brand) and blah with crab-sticks. Since it was nice with cucumber, I think it's a good dip for crudites.

If you want to remove every last bit of sweetness, I'm guessing a paste of cocoa powder and water can replace the melted chocolate. Or use a 100% chocolate bar. Do give it a try and tell me what you think.

Savoury chocolate dip

20 gm butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed and minced fine
1/4 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp red chilli flakes (can add more)
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp tomato ketchup
100 ml cream
40 gm dark chocolate, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter over low heat, sauté shallot and garlic till glassy.
Also add in the thyme and chilli flakes.
stir in Worcestershire sauce and tomato ketchup, when it comes to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for a minute.
Add in cream, remove pan from the heat and stir in till well mixed.
Put the pan back on the heat, add the chocolate and stir gently to let it melt, remove before it boils.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Cool and pour the sauce into a ramekin and go dip dip dip!

Sensational seafood at Stix, HRC


While Chennai restaurants do serve seafood, it's surprising that for a coastal city, there are only a couple of exclusive seafood restaurants. When the chef from Stix, Hyatt Regency Chennai decided to go fishing, he ended up combining the bounties of the sea with some spicy Sichuan ingredients that resulted in a promotion called "Seafood Sensation with Chef Sun."

Chef Sun has been enjoying the past few mornings at the Marina Beach, picking up fish, crabs, squid and prawns. I had an invite to the promotion and I was curious to see how local seafood varieties would taste, not with the usual South Indian masalas but with typical Sichuan ingredients like chillies, peppercorns, scallions and maybe even doubanjiang or spicy bean sauce.

Mackerel with black bean sauce

Stix serves some delicious Sichuan food but this cuisine is not necessarily spicy. In fact, it's a harmony of spice and salt, smoky and sweet. The mackerel on the menu that evening was tossed through a black bean sauce. Take my word - it's delicious.

Seafood hargow

Crispy prawn in scallion sauce

Crispy prawns in scallion sauce were served in the shell. It lived up to its name - no need to shell them and crisp enough to be eaten whole.

Wok-tossed ladyfish with Sichuan peppers. The combination of fresh fish and piquant sauce is fabulous

Grouper with mushroom soy sauce

Pomfret with pickled chilli sauce

Chinese sauces go so well with the delicate flesh of pomfret. The pickled chilli sauce it was coated with had bits of heat and tang and the fresh, firm-fleshed fish was the perfect way to taste them all together.

Crab in pepper sauce; squid in oyster sauce

With seafood this fresh, light marinades and sauces bring out the sweetness of the meat, as the crab in pepper sauce did. The meat was so succulent; just dig in with your hands as that's the only way to enjoy crab.

Some of the ingredients in Chef Sun's culinary arsenal. Nah, not that spicy!

Chef Sun cooks everything in a wok. As he works, his wok and the ladle become extensions of his arms and it's therapeutic to watch him toss ingredients and catch them all back in the wok. For a man who knows no English and communicates with the help of a translation app on his phone, he knows exactly what his customers want.

The menu depends on the day's catch and there's usually 2 ways that it's prepared. The regular Stix menu is also offered but I think the seafood goes best with steamed rice.

Fried ice cream

Our dessert was fried ice cream with chocolate sauce. This must be one of the best I've had, loved the crisp coating of batter with the faint aroma of coconut. Perfect execution too!

Seafood Sensation with Chef Sun is on till July 2nd. An a la carte meal for 2 would be about 3000/++. 

Kaiseki Zen at Spectra


There was nothing zen-like about the weather that night. Intermittent rain flooded the roads leading to the Leela Palace Chennai and when we were finally seated inside Spectra, we could see flashes of lightning that lit up the beach. What drama!

Sake - light, delicate and a little sweet 

Slowly, the elements quietened down as if in a bid to provide us with the perfect setting of traditional Japanese meal.

More than mere food, for a Japanese chef, Kaiseki Zen is an art form though which he can express his creativity. Prepared with much care and served in courses somewhat like a set meal, the colour, taste, texture and the arrangement of food is given utmost importance. Each course has a different method of cooking and usually includes a pickled appetiser, sashimi, soup and a grilled dish (there could be more). At Spectra, the meal had been conceptualised by Executive Chef Dharmen Makawana and we had been invited to experience it at the Chef's Table.

The meal started with a salad with two kinds of lettuce, thin slices of cucumber, halved cherry tomatoes and topped with kaiso, a kind of seaweed that had a gelatinous texture and a slightly fishy taste. The dressing was light and delicious - sweet, salty and a little vinegary and it doubled up as a palate cleanser.

Different kinds of seaweed that went into our meal - kombu; kaiso & wakame

Tamagoyaki (egg roll); scallop; salmon; tuna; hamachi; sushi; pickled radish; pickled ginger & wasabi

It is served on individual plates that are chosen with as much care as the preparation of the food itself because it showcases not just the chef's skill but also the respect he has shown the food. The tamagoyaki was skillfully made, topped with a little mayo and crunchy roe. Each slice of fish was so fresh and delightful - the salmon, striped with bands of fat just melted in the mouth. The hosomaki had fresh tuna as filling, delicious with pickled ginger and the dynamite wasabi paste. The colours, the textures - everything hummed with freshness and flavour.


The next course was tempura - eggplant, prawn and ladies finger in a crunchy tempura coating. There was a soy-based dipping sauce to dunk them into.

Miso soup; steamed rice; grilled salmon

The last course was miso soup, steamed rice and grilled salmon. The soup had small cubes of silken tofu and wakame and I found the umami flavours delicious. The dashi stock was not as strong and overwhelming as it is in some restaurants. Eat it with the sticky rice for the whole experience. My favourite was the lightly grilled slice of salmon served skin-on with teriyaki sauce. Simple presentation, simple flavours and a gorgeous slice of fish to end the meal with.

Kaiseki  Zen will be presented at Spectra every day for lunch and dinner till 2nd July. Prices start from 1350/++ onward.

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