World Street Food Festival at PHC


There's no noise, no cacophony on this street, just soft piped music. The "hawkers" are dressed in their chef whites and handle food with gloved hands - oh yeah, they do that in most countries. Food carts are piled high with beansprouts and tofu and spring greens, some stalls have colourful peppers, garlic bulbs and tomatoes hanging down from skewers - we've definitely wandered into Park Hyatt Chennai's World Street Food fest at the Dining Room .

Siomay & batagor

A group of us were invited to review the first day's offerings and yay... my favourite dim sums were on offer. These are the Indonesian versions so we had Bandung-style siomay - wantan skins stuffed with meat and either steamed or fried and batagor - tofu stuffed with minced meat and then steamed. The food carts double up as live cooking stations so everything is cooked on the spot. Drizzles of peanut and chilli sauces decorated them, these were light on the tummy and absolutely heavenly!

Laksa stall


Laksa is a popular street food in South East Asian countries and laksa Jakarta was definitely in my sights. Thin rice vermicelli noodles, prawns, fried tofu cubes, beansprouts, fried shallots and spring onions are placed in a bowl that is then topped with spicy coconut milk curry. This version did not have belachan (shrimp paste) but I didn't miss it as the thick coconut milk and perfect blend of spices in the curry paste gave the stock fragrance, aroma and tons of flavour. Definitely ticked all the boxes and most definitely worth going for seconds.

Live pav station

Pav station; ros omelette; pav with cutlet

Ros omelette

Mumbai's famous vada pav and ros omelette from Goa are yours for the ordering. I've never had a ros omelette - diced chillies and tomatoes are mixed with beaten egg and made into an omelette. A mildly spiced tomato gravy is poured over it and served with a pav (bun). Super! There were also mutton cutlets (actually they looked like oversized tikkis) stuffed into toasted buns but the one that took the cake - err - bun - was the vada pav. Oh man, those buns were supersoft, the garlic chutney-potato patty combination tongue-tickling. And those chillies -we played the chilli version of Russian roulette with them -some of them were hot, some were mild like capsicums.

You could consider the street food section as the appetiser because the Dining Room has salads and 9 main courses at the buffet station. There are usually an Indonesian special or two and definitely biryani. That day, there was nargisi kofta biryani; the koftas had been stuffed with cheese and they were delicious.

Ice kachang station; ice kachang with fruits; banana roti; banana-less roti 

To cool you down is the Banana Roti station that serves ice kachang and banana roti. A thin flour ball is rolled out, stuffed with sliced bananas, folded and cooked on a griddle. Peanut butter and caramel sauce are slathered over and a scoop of ice cream is added to bring it up to a zillion calories! I'm told it was worth every one of those calories. Or, like me, you could ask them to make you a half portion without the bananas.

If ice kachang rocks your boat, there's plenty of ingredients for you to choose from. However, I preferred the selection of desserts from the dessert counter.
Over the next few days, there will be other stalls dishing out momos from Tibet, Kolkata-style wraps, tacos and lots more. This festival will go on till May 31st, 7-11 pm and is  priced at 1600/++.
Do call 044 4991 9965/7177 1234 for reservations.

New menu at 5 Sen5es, Westin Velachery


5 Sen5es at The Westin Velachery has been in a makeover mood and we were invited to review the new menu. What can I say except that I'm so glad that I did! Gone is the pan-Asian menu (you can still get sushi) and instead, they've got a new one that features Sichuan - Hunan, Cantonese and Zhejiang specialties.

The menu; saliva chicken!

The tasting menu began with a cold starter - Saliva Chicken [sic]. Ok, this moniker got our attention and after a few wild guesses, were told that you can't help but salivate when you start eating it. It's poached chicken that's tossed in a mix of soy and sesame oil dressing with flecks of crushed peppercorns. mushrooms and peanuts. The deliciously tender meat and the method of cooking is somewhat similar to the Hainanese chicken rice meat.

We were served a mocktail - Zhejiang, which is also the largest tea producing region of China. The drink was tea-based and very refreshing.

Tofu & spinach dumplings; crispy mustard fish

Other appetisers were spinach dumplings  and mustard fish. The dumplings had spinach puree mixed through and would have tasted even nicer if served steaming hot and with a little more filling. The fish with its slightly pungent mustard-y overtones was nicely done but I would have liked a crunchier coating on the fish.

Lemon coriander soup with chicken. Delicious, flavoursome stock that was perfect with the acidity from the lime 

Main courses-  braised lamb; stir fry of water chestnut, asparagus & shiitake; salt & pepper quail

Each of the main courses was skilfully made. The quail was tender and the salt and pepper sprinkle tickled the tongue. Cooking the bird is not easy, the meat can go from moist to dry in a matter of seconds. 5 Sen5es achieved this perfectly and you might as well lay down those chopsticks and use your hands for this one.
Hot garlic eggplant
Sticky rice in lotus leaf; veg hor fun noodle

Hot garlic eggplant positively sizzled with flavour. With a healthy dose of Chinkiang vinegar, it was the best dish of the day and we scraped out every last bit from the bowl, the perfect accompaniment to the steamed rice and sticky rice in lotus leaf. The sticky rice was not quite sticky and the flavour of the shiitake mushroom did not permeate the grains. The lotus leaf on the other hand, did leave a mild fragrance (of course, some Chinese sausage and belly pork and maybe some dried shrimp would have made it a feast fit for a king ...wishful thinking)! Hor fun is flat rice noodles and the finished dish usually swims in gravy. But here, it was almost dry and had a lovely smokiness and was bang on flavour.

Kaffir-lime chocolate log; pumpkin pudding

Dessert was kaffir-lime scented chocolate log, firmer than a mousse but not as firm as a marquise and it was divine - dense, chocolaty and zesty with the thinnest slice of cake below.  Chocolate sauce was poured over the top but honestly, it didn't need any adornment. Yum yum yum!

The new menu at 5 Sen5es is definitely worth checking out as the food is more authentic and flavours have been skilfully recreated. A  meal for 2 will be about 2500/++ and the restaurant is open from 7 pm onwards.

Westin Chennai Velachery
154, Velachery Main Road, Velachery
Chennai 600042.

Do call 044 66333777 for reservations.

Delhi-cious Dus Din Dilli De at Spice Haat, HRC


Delhi is well known for its street food. There's parathas of all shapes and fillings, layered or plain, tikkis and meaty kebabs, rich curries and of course, the sweets.
No trip to Delhi is ever complete without a trip to one of the street food hubs or iconic restaurants located in the Old Delhi area.
No trip to the country's capital in your foreseeable future?

 Chef Anil Khurana

Do not despair - Chef Anil Khurana, Corporate Indian Chef of Hyatt Regency has taken up residence in Chennai, though only for a few days. A little bird told me he's brought with him a whole lot of ingredients and spices just so we get to taste the same flavours of Delhi's celebrated street food at the Dus Din Dilli De festival at Spice Haat, Hyatt Regency Chennai.

Kites, flowers and buntings for the occasion! 

Dilwali fruit chaat with shakarkand aka fruit chaat with sweet potato

Buttermilk-based pani; dahi bhalla chaat; poori with pumpkin mash & potato curry

As you enter Spice Haat, a line of chaat stalls is what grabs your attention. And there's the genial Master Chef himself. One minute we are shaking hands and the next, he has put together a plate of dahi bhalla papdi chaat for me. All sorts of textures and flavours - soft dahi bhallas, crisp papdi, the crunch of pomegranate arils, juicy strips of ginger, a perfect mix of sweetness, tang and salt run riot in my mouth. Then he dips a golgappa into a pot of buttermilk-based pani - so deliciously different from the usual tamarind-based one! And there he is - plating up a freshly fried poori with a potato gravy and pumpkin mash. You simply have to taste this awesome combination! Chef Khurana's food is like his energy - stunning!

Paneer kesari tikka; tandoori bharwan aloo; murgh Afghani& tawa fish tikka 

We were a large group who had been invited to review the festival and as we took our seats, platters of tikkas and kebabs were brought around. Both the boti kebab (lamb) and murgh afghani tikka (chicken) were delightful. The lamb in particular almost melted in the mouth. The kebab masalas were not overpowering and it was the perfect balance of meat and spice. There was also tawa fish tikka made of basa. The paneer kesari tikka, mildly flavoured with saffron, was enjoyable, a softer paneer would have made the experience even more enjoyable. All the kebabs were served with onions and mint chutney.

Gosht shorba, broccoli soup for vegetarians

Methi malai mutter; baingan ka bharta

Kadai paneer; aloo gobi adraki
Rajma; dal makhani

There are about 10 specials on the buffet counters, the selection changes every day. What appealed most to me were the fabulous colours of the vegetarian sides, if the essence of Delhi street food could be plated, this is what it would look like. Aloo gobi adraki with bits of heat from the ginger was fabulous and perfect with the selection of Indian breads. Methi malai mutter, thickened with cream and ground cashewnuts was also outstanding Other diners raved about the baingan ka bharta, the masala was thick and tangy with tomatoes and onions. We all agreed there was something special about the rajma - it tasted like what you would make at home and no wonder it's everyone's comfort food!

Kadai murgh; mutton husaini korma

Chicken biryani

Mutton husaini korma and the chicken biryani were absolutely delish (didn't try vegetable biryani). The chicken was lightly spiced and aromatic.

Kesari rasmalai; besan ke laddu

Moong dal halwa; jalebi

Save some space for dessert - they are totally worth it, starting with moong dal halwa. The slightly grainy texture, mellow taste of ghee and mild sweetness will convert even halwa haters into life-long fans! So also the freshly-made jalebi with rabri (awesome). Equally awesome are the spongy kesari rasamalai and besan ke ladoo.

Dus Din Dilli De is on till May 28th, from 7 pm - 11.30 pm at 1450/++ per head.
For reservations, do call +91 44 61001234.

Pasta Speciali at Spectra


Spectra at The Leela Palace is uber chic - stylish, elegant and luxurious. The restaurant is large and seating is interspersed between 7 interactive cooking stations.

Imagine a food festival dedicated to just pasta. There's more to the Italian staple than the few shapes our supermarkets stock as we were soon to find out. Invited to the Chef's Table at the restaurant to experience the Pasta Speciali, the menu has been curated by Executive Chef Dharmen Makawana. Our 4-course tasting menu was going to feature only pasta. Our group of 4 veered mostly to the vegetarian side, I was the only one who didn't.

The bread basket


Gnocchi a la caprese

The first course was gnocchi a la caprese where gnocchi dough was filled with sundried tomatoes, shaped like ravioli and pan-fried. Slices of bocconcini placed atop the warm gnocchi had the cheese melting onto it. Faithful to the caprese tag for the most part, there were also tomatoes, the cherry variety and a basil pesto.

Carbonara ravioli

Rigatoni with ragu

Carbonara ravioli looked like perfect little pillows stuffed with cheese. The sauce was a little thick while the pasta was doughy. The salty bits of bacon added a much-needed respite from the almost monotone flavours of the egg, cheese and cream sauce.

The ridges and hollows of the penne rigatoni held on to the delicious lamb ragu the pasta was tossed through. The pasta was slightly underdone but the lamb was perfect. Long, slow cooking resulted in meat that was very tender; tiny cubes of carrot added richness, sweetness and flavour to the braised sauce.

Duck cappellacci

Duck cappellacci was a stunner both in presentation and taste. I was only half listening to the chef as he explained how to confit duck legs and how to smoke the meat. The beautifully crafted tortellini stuffed with finely minced duck confit and a perfect accompaniment of artichoke puree had the rest of my attention. Sun dried grapes added bursts of sweetness and acidity while the thin slices of smoked meat were deliciously moist.

Pyramidoli of wild mushrooms and truffles

The plating of pyramidoli of wild mushrooms and truffles was a study in earthy tones. The dish was composed of little pyramid-shaped dough filled with a mix of finely diced wild mushrooms. Served with a smooth and rich porcini butter sauce, it tasted meaty and savoury. Shimeji mushrooms and Parmesan crisps contributed to more texture. Hard to believe that this is a pure vegetarian creation. The best was saved for last!
From the patisserie - opera; macaron; cheesecake; mango tart

Pasta Speciali has 10 specials on the menu, 5 of them vegetarian and all available à la carte. Prices range from 750/- to 950/- excluding tax. The promotion is on till May 30th, for lunch and dinner.

The Leela Palace Chennai
Adyar Seaface
# 175, Sathya Dev Avenue Ext
MRC Nagar, Chennai 600 028.

+91 44 33661234 

Through the Pantry D'or


Pantry D'or Cordon Bleu is located in a quiet, leafy lane in Alwarpet. As you enter, the patisserie is to the right. Invited by a friend to review it, it's a little difficult for me to move away as all the gateaux and bakes on display look trés chic; I do have a thing for beautifully executed slices.

Pantry D'or's summer special menu

It's summer and Pantry D'or has a couple of specials - Freak Shakes and Rediscover Mango - a mango sandwich menu. We sink into huge armchairs right next to the bar counter and within looking distance of the patisserie. The cafe is cosy, the decor is part rustic, part minimalist and I love the grey and brown tones of the walls and furniture that add a sense of coolness as one walks in from the searingly hot outdoors. The seating is all over - the lounge where we are seated, a private room (dimly lit), garden seating and the upstairs.

Tiramisu Shake

Finally, I decide on a Tiramisu Shake, the guys are willing to cut down on the cream and they warn me that it will not look freakish! It comes in a mason jar, dark sauce creating an interesting pattern inside the glass and a slice of biscotti perched precariously on the top. It's thick, refreshing and creamy even without the additional cream and a perfect coffee rather than tiramisu shake.

The menu

Fried coconut shrimps; jerk chicken

The menu is in French, followed by the English translation, and runs into several pages of what looks like a fancy notepad with leather covers. Apart from the usual burgers and pasta, they also have sandwiches like croque monsieur and pides. The fried coconut shrimps are fresh, juicy and moist but the jerk chicken was a rather tame affair and the meat a tad dry. Personally, I like jerk chicken bone-in as there's oodles more of flavour.

Chicken stroganoff; lasagna; minced lamb pide

For mains, we started with Poulet (chicken) Stroganoff. Pantry D'or's version of the dish had chunks of chicken in an Indian-inspired gravy; I liked only the rice which was small grained and fragrant. Chicken lasagna was not one of those with many layers but the portion was large. The bolognaise sauce lacked depth, was tangy yet bland. The Turkish lamb pide was a different story. It came with an egg which we asked to be served separately. The bat-shaped Turkish flatbread with its topping of minced lamb, cheese cubes and diced tomato was delightful. We had a hard time keeping the filling on the thin bread but that was ok - just fold it over in half and all's well! And do spread on some of the lovely garlic flavoured dip it is served with.

Chocolate praline

Dessert was a large slice of chocolate praline. Drizzled with streaks of chocolate sauce and topped with a thick layer of chocolate, it looked pretty decadent; the cake layers were a little dense and the chocolate flavour was underwhelming.

Mango- avocado-blue cheese sandwich
We were asked to try a mango avocado open sandwich. And to think I almost turned this down! If you like blue cheese, you will absolutely love this sweet and savoury combination of mango cubes, blue cheese, avocado and onions on toast - not any old toast either. Absolutely mind-blowing. Everything else on the plate pales in significance.

The mango sandwiches will be on the menu only till the end of the fruit season. Go on - live dangerously!

Pantry D'or's menu is definitely worth a revisit. A meal for 2 should be around 800/++

Pantry D'or is at 2/13 A, West Street Cooperative Colony, Sri Ram Nagar, Alwarpet.

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