Hamsa

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In Hindu mythology, Hamsa is depicted as the vahana or vehicle that transports Goddess Saraswati. This beautiful bird, described as a swan, is a symbol of purity and grace. It is also a popular motif in Indian art, literature and on textiles.


Art installations

Hamsa is a newly-opened vegetarian restaurant at Gandhinagar, Adyar. Once you're inside the foyer, everything seems surreal. The reception area has white cages that hang from the ceiling. In the cages are flowers and under them a pool of water that has bronze lotus blooms, a symbolic representation of global warming and rising water levels. Each of the walls is textured with motifs. It's the super silent ultra tech lift that takes you to the restaurant situated on the 1st floor that snaps you out of your reverie...

Silver garden

I was met by a friend who took me up to the Private Dining Room on the 2nd floor. Silver peacocks on silver doors open into the "Silver Garden" whose walls are lined with 16 silver panels. The panels form a pattern of flowing plants, flowers and birds. In the centre is a large table and there are chairs around it. The reflection of the silver panels falls on the table, casting a strange brightness around the room. Truly a sight to behold.


We come back to the restaurant, admiring the 108 bronze bells, the intricately carved jaalis on sandstone, the pattern inspired by Mughul architecture and a zari and bead glycine tree that spreads its branches across the wall. Nithin Kalkiraju, the owner tells me that it took 3 years to get Hamsa ready. And no wonder - the dim lighting, textures on the walls and the artfully laid out tables are opulent yet classy. Every element in the room is symbolic in one way or the other.  



Images of Hamsa

Images of Hamsa are everywhere - from the silver artifact that sits at the entrance to the restaurant to the tiny one that is perched on top of the bell-shaped filigree sweet box with a hinged lid. There's a box at each of the 48 place settings. Inside is a saffron rasagolla and a single petal of a red rose rests against the rounded contour of the sweet.

Panchamritham

Thandai


We were served panchamritham as a welcome drink. Made of 5 ingredients, including banana, I declined mine and so was served a delicious thandai instead.

Paneer saunfiya

Makkai muthia chaat

Leaf enclosed paneer!


Paneer saunfiya; kache kele aur anar tikki; cheese kurkure

The menu for the blogger's meet started with 4 appetisers. My favourites were paneer saunfiya - cottage cheese triangles that held a fennel-based masala, delicious makkai muthia chaat and a crisp pastry covered gooey cheese-filled kurkuri. Kache kele aur anar ki tikki - (green banana and pomegranate tikki) was quite pasty and it's a texture that could grow on you. Leaf enclosed paneer was a slab of paneer coated with an onion and tomato masala and then baked. All the paneer is made in-house.

Mains - kamal kakdi kofteh; Delhiwal hara turai; Bhagirathi meher paneer; urlai roast

For mains, we had Bhagirathi meher paneer, creamy paneer in a creamy gravy. This one was so rich and smooth that it was difficult to differentiate where the gravy ended and the paneer began. Delhiwal hara turai was a hollowed length of gourd stuffed with spices and cooked in a coriander gravy, I would have liked the gourd to have been cooked a little more. Chettinad-style roast baby potatoes simply stole the show but the one I loved the most was kamal kakdi kofteh, one of Hamsa's signature dishes. The koftehs were made with lotus stems, chopped nuts provided texture. The gravy was reminiscent of a well made paneer butter masala, and is best had with the selection of deliciously soft Indian breads.

Kamal kakdi kofteh
Alu anardhana paratha; Amritsari kulcha






 





Anar aur hari meeri ka chawal

Anar aur hari meeri ka chawal - pomegranate and green peppercorn rice was a visual delight not just for the eyes but also for the palate. The fragrant rice was topped with golden fried shallots, pomegranate arils, cashewnuts and pistachios and it tasted fabulous, though the rice was a little overcooked. Tiny green peppercorns provided heat which the pomegranate immediately cooled down. It was served with a simple raita.  

Anjeer aur adrak halwa; amrud phirni

Anjeer aur adrak halwa is a dark halwa full of the crunch of fig seeds and warmth from ginger which made it an instant favourite. The second dessert was pretty pink amrud phirni, a phirni made of guava and topped with slivers of almonds. Guava is not a fruit I particularly like in a dessert; the phirni itself was creamy but the flavour of the fruit was a tad overpowering.

The menu at Hamsa is predominantly North Indian - from Varanasi, Lucknow, Delhi and Kolkata but there are some South Indian favourites as well.

Vegetarian and fine dining? Hamsa seems to have aced it. A meal for 2 would cost about 1800/++.    



Hamsa
40, B. Ramachandra Adithanar Road
Gandhinagar, Adyar 600020.
044 24459999

Viva Italia with Chef Ferrari at Hyatt Regency Chennai

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There's something comforting about walking into Focaccia after the sun sets. The lights are dim but there's enough of it to watch the chefs working their craft. Stand in front of the large brick oven and you can feel its warmth on your face. The pizza chef smiles at you while he rolls out dough with an enormous pin, loads it with toppings and dispatches it into its cavernous interior. The chef-de-cuisine is almost always at his station and even though he's busy, there's a cheery "hello, how are you" called out...even if he and you are seeing each other for the first time.


Chef Mauro Ferrari is Hyatt Regency's newest expat chef. Born in Saronno, famous for almond-laden amaretti biscuits and amaretto liqueur, this Milan-based chef has worked at the Michelin-starred Pomeroeu Ristorante Soranno. He is also a sommelier and an entrepreneur, having opened 2 restaurants - at Tuscany and at Milan. He's come to Chennai from his last posting at Grand Hyatt Muscat and when he came over to talk to our group of bloggers at the end of the meal, he confessed that he found Chennai very humid and preferred the weather in Oman.

Chef Ferrari has enhanced Focaccia's existing menu with some of his signature dishes. We were told that he cooks authentic Italian food just the way it is done at Milan or any other city in Italy. As a chef, he does not believe in overloading a dish with ingredients, just 3 to 4 at the most.

Baked onion, burrata, yellow capsicum coulis

Invited to review the degustation menu, some of our friends blogger friends were vegetarians so we got to try their courses as well!

The first appetiser was onion, burrata cheese and yellow capsicum coulis. The onion had been baked and the layers separated into little cups that held the soft creamy Italian cheese. It rested in a pool of smooth capsicum coulis surrounded by blanched tomato slices, micro herbs and dots of pesto. The onion tasted mild and the cheese absolutely stole the show.

Pan fried shrimp, calamari, confit potato and tomato, green bean & garlic croutons  

Pan-fried shrimps, calamari, potato, green beans and tomato confit was a deliciously light dish. The prawns were juicy, the calamari tender and the riot of textures ranging from soft cubes of potato to crisp croutons to firm tomatoes to crunchy beans, was interesting, each bite a revelation of the chef's understanding of how the ingredients worked together.

Potato gnocchi, vegetable ragout, basil zucchini cream

We had handmade pasta - potato gnocchi with vegetable ragoĆ»t and basil zucchini cream and it was definitely an unusual dish. The gnocchi had a melt-in-the-mouth quality but the flavours in this dish though mild, were underwhelming. 

Lobster and red chilli pepper risotto

Lobster risotto certainly had a bit of a bite from the red chilli. Chunks of lobster were stirred though beautifully cooked risotto but for me, the flavour of the lobster stock was overpowering. Even so, it was delicious, the rice beautifully cooked. Talking to the chef later, we learnt that lobsters available in the local markets taste different from those caught in the colder Northern seas.

Pan-seared sea bass, asparagus and chopped tomato

The first of the main courses was pan-seared sea bass. The fish was so fresh and a fork was all that was needed to flake it into smaller pieces. What a lovely contrast to the crisp skin! Placed on a bed of asparagus spears, it was topped with diced tomatoes. A deceptively simple dish but one that will be loved by seafood aficionados.

Beef cheeks with Milanese risotto

Beef cheeks with Milanese risotto - saffron-tinged risotto with beautifully cooked beef cheeks resting on it. Long cooking ensured that the meat was very tender and the flavours had so much depth and balance though the risotto was slightly underdone.

Crepe with ricotta, spinach & beetroot leaves, pok choi, Parmesan fondue 

We were curious about what the vegetarians were being served so we tried some of their ravioli. The pasta was a tad underdone but crespella di ricotta, spinaci, foglia di barbabietola e costa con fonduta di parmiggiano (crepe with ricotta, and a mix of leaves - baby spinach, beetroot and pok choi with Parmesan fondue) was so yummy... bellisima!!

Muskmelon with organic rosewater and ice cream, Hot Chocolate Cup, apple cinnamon jelly

With us was L. Nitin Chordia, founder of Cocoatrait and India's only certified chocolate taster so we knew chocolate in some form would be part of dessert... and we were not disappointed. It was a Hot Chocolate Cup - a baked pudding made with a blend of 70% dark chocolate from Peru and Ghana, along with other ingredients. The surprise element was apricot jam at the base of the pudding. It wasn't too sweet but it offset the bitter notes in the chocolate perfectly and had us almost licking our cups to get the last bits out. A second dessert was muskmelon and home made vanilla ice cream. The fruit had been so beautifully perfumed by the fragrance of reduced organic rosewater from Rajasthan. There was also a scoop of apple-cinnamon jelly on the plate and whatever combination you spooned into your mouth was nothing short of bliss. Both jams are from Bhuira.

Every dish  had simple ingredients allowing the main ingredient in each to stand out. Plating of each of the dishes was simple yet sophisticated, the colours pleasantly pastel. Less certainly is more!

Catch Chef Ferrari at Focaccia
Hyatt Regency Chennai
365, Anna Salai, Teynampet, Chennai.

Do call +91 44 61001234 for more information or reservations.



"Taste of Chennai" Festival at Paprika Cafe

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Street food is immensely popular the world over and one of the cheapest ways of having a quick and delicious meal on the go. It's no different at Chennai, but there are many who are wary of eating at these stalls, hygiene, or rather its lack, is often the reason.

Courtyard by Marriott Chennai has brought the street food of Chennai into Paprika Cafe. A group of us were invited for a tasting session and believe me when I tell you that the only things we missed were the crowds jostling for space in front of the stalls, dust from passing vehicles, the honking of a thousand vehicles and perhaps even the salt-laden sea breeze (and maybe some sand) from the Marina Beach...!!
(As it was a blogger's meet, we were served some items from the menu of the subsequent days as well.)

Sowcarpet specials: Chaats; dhokla, laddu, jelabi; pav bhaji, samosa and kachori; papdi chaat; pani puri, samosa chaat 

"Taste of Chennai" has been divided into 4 popular hubs - Sowcarpet with its chaat stalls that included the ubiquitous murukku sandwich, Triplicane and the Marina beach for biryani and bajji (and fried fish!), Mylapore for rose milk and variety rice and T'Nagar where you can have your fill of appams, kal dosa, idlis with everything to accompany from chutneys to sambar to vadacurry to a delicious mutton roast.

Murukku sandwich
Customers at a chaat stall

Whistle stall


The cafe had been set up to resemble street-side stalls and names of shops reflecting famous localities. There was even a "pavement" stall selling whistles.

The making of... pav bhaji

Chole batura and sandwich stall
Testing the jelabi batter; frying jelabis; jelabi, laddu, khandvi & dhokla

Sowcarpet had a guy making fresh jilebis, pani puri, pav bhaji, chole batura and muruku sandwich. There were also dhokla and khandvi and large orange-coloured boondi laddus. If you found the chaats spicy, ask for a glass of thick, sweet lassi to cool your mouth with.

The lassi stall

Freshly fried masala vadas, banana bajjis, crisp fried sankara fish, nethili and squid strips represented the iconic Marina beach.

Fresh seafood specials - squid, sankara, nethili

From Triplicane, the fragrant chicken biryani served with raita and a tangy brinjal curry was a winner. For the vegetarians, there was the veg version of biryani.

Fragrant chicken biryani; veg biryani with raita and brinjal - the taste of Triplicane

Hot off a Mylapore mami's kadai - masala vadai & bhajji

Delicious tamarind & lemon rice with wafers; rose milk (so yummy); paniyaram with chutneys 

Mylapore was represented by lime and tamarind rice...and pastel pink rose milk with aniseeds that was so delicious and cooling. Don't forget to order a steaming cup of filter kaapi to end your meal.

Dosa with fried mutton; idlis with chicken kolambukal dosa with vadacurry

T'Nagar was amply represented by dosas and a melt-in-the-mouth mutton fry that also had chunks of garlic and shallots. Kal dosa and vadacurry was a lovely combination, a first for me. There were also soft idlis accompanied by a delicious chicken kolambu.

Desserts with an Indian twist - baked yoghurt, malai moussegulab jamun cheesecake, coconut jaggery mousse; fruit strudels

The selection of desserts included gulab jamun cheesecake, malai mousse, coconut jaggery mousse, kheer, carrot pudding as well as regular ones like a decadently pink strawberry gateau and baked mango yoghurt.



There's even a rickshaw parked in a corner; jump in for a great photo-op! On your way out, do stop by the paan shop for a bite of the popular digestive.

The men behind the fest - Chef Vinesh, F&B Manager Bharath, Executive Chef Jacob

Here's the schedule of the Festival:
July 22 - 23 - Sowcarpet - samosa, pani puri, chaats, dhokla, badam milk, murukku sandwich;
July 24 - 25 - Triplicane and Marina Beach - mango salad, candy floss, peanuts, sugarcane juice, seafood fry, variety bhajji, bhel puri, kebabs, biryani;
July 26 - 27 - Mylapore - masala/keera vadai, aloo bonda, parotta, paniyaram, variety rice, idli;
July 28 - 29 - T'Nagar - frankies, bread omelette, dosa, paratha, jigarthanda.

Paprika Cafe is at Courtyard by Marriott, Chennai. The festival timings are from 7 -11 pm. Cost per head is 1475/++.
Do call 044 6676 4000/ 66764488 for reservations.



Marwari Food Fest at The Dining Room, PHC

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If you start cooking at the age of 10, what sort of cook would you be 40 years later? Is that the true definition of a masterchef?

Amrit Maharaj

Amrit Maharaj looks to be just that if the food he cooks is any indication. Modest in manner, he certainly has culinary magic at the tips of every one of his fingers. No wonder he is the one consulted for all Marwari feasts in the city.

Geography labels Rajasthan a desert state. Scarcity of water and fresh vegetables have made the Marwari cook develop a cuisine that uses whatever Mother Nature dishes out by way of ingredients - lots of milk that is converted into buttermilk and ghee, millets, pulses and lentils ground into flour and made into delicious ghatte and the berries of the ker plant.

Samosas; dhokla

Park Hyatt Chennai's The Dining Room is celebrating a Marwari Food Festival. Invited to review the festival that is on for 2 days more, we were treated to some remarkable Marwari specials. Our starters comprised paneer samosas wrapped in a crisp ajwain-flavoured pastry and soft moist dhoklas. 

Veg pulao; alu jeera; makai palak; ker sangri; kofta curry; dal-batti-churma

Five katories with a medley of sides and one with a pulao was served to each of us. Along with them were selection of Indian breads, some tinted green with spinach, some plain but brushed with ghee and a millet flatbread, bajra ki roti.

Components of dal-batti-churma

The star of the evening was dal-batti-churma. Battis are dough dumplings that are flattened a little and baked. Ghee is poured over it along with a dal (a stew of mixed lentils) and it is topped with a mix of powdered batti and sugar.

Phulka; alu jeera; kofta; makai palak

There was aloo jeera, a dry dish of potatoes and cumin cooked till crusty on the outside, a soft kofta curry, gatte ki subzi - dumplings made of chickpea flour that were steamed and then added into a tangy yoghurt-based gravy. My favourite was the ker sangri. I had no idea what it was and googling kher threw up the name Anupam Kher! By then we got the spelling corrected to ker sangri, a dish of berries and beans. The beans looked like burnt brown sticks. Cooked in mustard oil, it tasted fabulous, the berries adding a beautiful tang to the mix. Far from being burnt, the beans in fact  were very succulent. Another was the makai palak - a corn  and spinach gravy.

Ker sangri

Marwari food is pure vegetarian. For me, unused to some of India's regional cuisines, all the dishes were a good introduction to Rajasthani food. The use of oil and spices is restrained and the thali is a good way of tasting the different dishes on the menu.

Spinach phulka
Mung dal halwa


Dessert was moong dal halwa, a classic Rajasthani sweet made with split mung beans, sugar and ghee. Studded with crunchy almond flakes, it tasted just heavenly.

The Marwari Food Festival is on till July 24 at The Dining Room, Park Hyatt from 7 pm onwards. Cost per head is 1350/++.

Park Hyatt Chennai
39, Velachery Main Road (near Raj Bhavan)
Chennai 600032.
044 7177 1655.

 
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