Villa Maria Wine Estate dinner at the Vintage Bank


The Vintage Bank at the Hilton Chennai is well known among regulars as one of the best places for wine and cheese in the city. It was also the setting for the Villa Maria Wine Estate dinner last week to which yours truly had received an invite.

New world wines have been making inroads into the wine cellars of many establishments and home bars. The climate and soil conditions of these regions produce wines that are aromatic and fruity. Villa Maria Estates, the 4th best wine brand in the world, is a winery in New Zealand that has won the most number of awards; the winery's Brand Ambassador and Export Market's Manager, Michele Lam was on hand to talk us through an evening of exquisite wines paired with some excellent food created by Chef Roberts and his team.

The pale yellow Villa Maria Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2017 set off the event. Light and zesty, the aroma of passion fruit was rather pervasive but the wine tasted crisp and fresh. 

Crab tian with cucumber jelly and baby arugula

Crab tian with cucumber was a pretty sight to behold. The meat was fresh and the cucumber jelly was refreshing. Sprigs of baby arugula provided peppery contrast notes. It looked and tasted like summer on a plate.

Pastry encased chicken breast, grilled potatoes & truffle emulsion

Veg & dates tabbouleh, za'atar chips & pomegranate sauce

The grapes that go into Villa Maria's Private Bin Chardonnay 2017 are grown in Hawkes Bay, on the east coast of North Island. The bay is a great spot for surfing and the warm weather is perfect for the grapes to ripen; they are matured in oak barrels which gives the wine an oak-y undertone. The fruity, medium body wine was served with baked chicken breast encased in pastry along with grilled potatoes and truffle emulsion. A pretty presentation but the chicken was a little dry. My friend's vegetarian dish of veggies and dates tabbouleh with za'atar chips and splotches of pomegranate sauce was art on a plate.

Open lasagna of confit duck with orange sauce

Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2017 had been decanted earlier and our glasses were soon filled with the beautiful red that is the second most famous in NZ! It had the aroma of plums and cherries and was the perfect pairing with the moist, darker meat of the confit duck in the lasagna. Neatly constructed, the lasagna was served with a sublime orange sauce, the dehydrated orange slice reinforcing the fresh citrus taste.

Lamb loin, potato rösti with cabernet glaze, baby carrots & asparagus
Pic courtesy Mohnish Carani

Save the best for last, they say, and they did - the pairing of a New Zealand wine with New Zealand lamb. Hawkes Bay is the home of NZ's Bordeaux wines. The Private Bin Merlot & Cabernet 2015 is a beautiful ruby red blended wine that has the fragrance of dark fruits like plums and blackcurrants and spice notes. Aged 12 months in oak barrels, it is a smooth wine, the tannic undertones complemented the flavour of the lamb and the herbs. The lamb, cooked to juicy medium pink perfection was the talking point the rest of the evening.

My invite to the Villa Maria Wine Estate Dinner was from eazydiner. Reservations done through Eazy Diner will fetch you a discount.

The Vintage Bank is at Hilton Chennai.
+91 44 2225700; +91 9500058722.

Melange at Mercure


It was a long drive along the road that leads to one of Chennai's most developed industrial areas. It's also home to major car manufacturers like Nissan and Ford and industries like Samsung and Apollo Tyres. The roads were wide though ongoing road works narrowed the width at some places. We passed miles of open countryside when finally, like an oasis in the Oragadam desert stood our destination, the Mercure Chennai Sriperumbudur.

Part of the Accor group, Mercure Chennai is Oragadam's first luxury hotel. We were greeted with ponnadis (so cool😊) and refreshingly cold drinks. What I noticed was the entire lobby and lounge was so well lit - not with artificial lighting but by natural sunlight.

Welcome drink

The 100-room hotel is a 45 minute drive from the airport. There are 2 restaurants and a bar that will soon get its licence. The lounge, Hybrid has a sporty theme - a chess set awaiting players, a pool table and an Xbox. Outside the lounge is the swimming pool, the impossibly blue water is so inviting. The area around the pool will soon be the venue for weekend barbeques.

The bar; snooker table; Melange; lobby lounge
Pool scenes

Pickles & podis; salads; desserts

Exec Chef Satya Seelan

Melange is the all-day restaurant and we managed to snag a table that overlooked the pool. However, our focus was entirely on the food, the exclusive turf of Executive Chef Satya Seelan.

The buffet service had been laid out at one end of the restaurant. A make-your-own-salad counter took centre-stage and there's a good mix of international and regional Indian cuisines.

Papads; galouti kebabs; cheesy pizza; chicken haryali kebab, achari prawn

For starters, we had galouti kebab that was melt-in-the-mouth delicious. Chicken haryali was equally tasty and the achari prawn was so good that we even ate the tails! There are some innovative chutneys to dip them into.

More starters - green pea tikka

Prawn cocktail


Mango sushi

Chicken seekh; torino karage & crisp ebi cutlet with tonkatsu sauce; bharwan kebab

Chef Satya Seelan's forte is Japanese and the large platter of mixed seafood and vegetable tempura was so yummy. His specialty is the mound of grated daikon and ginger that you need to eat together with the tempura and soy dipping sauce. The mango sushi, smeared with a dab of wasabi paste and soy was quite refreshing. 

Lamb chops

Beef tenderloin

Well, we soon discovered that not only Japanese, even Chef's western roasts are spectacular. The lamb chops were cooked to tender perfection, so too the grilled tenderloin. The roasts are not on the buffet but can be ordered from the Ă  la carte menu.

Kheema paratha; Chettinad chicken


We couldn't eat a morsel more but were persuaded to try a spoonful of Hyderabadi biryani. Tender meat and fragrant rice - if you love a good biryani, you should just dive right into this one.

Buns baked with vegetable puree

Kanchipuram idli with podis & oil

We had been promised a taste of the famous Kanchipuram tumbler idli and how could we leave with tasting it? Chef Seelan has done plenty of research on making it and I was only too happy to taste what had been made by an expert. It exceeded all expectation - soft, spongy and with a slight touch of sourness from the curd. The accompaniments - curry leaf and milaga podis, made in house, were perfect. The tumbler idli is served at breakfast at Melange.

Yummy green tea mangomisu 

We could have had any dessert from the buffet selection but chef had made us a delicious green tea and mango tiramisu. It was light and fluffy and filled with cubes of sweet mango. Not just the dessert but everything that we ate that day was delicious, the attention to detail was meticulous and with chef serving us some of the food, we loved that personal touch.

The buffet lunch at Melange is 899/ ++ per head. As for the rooms, single occupancy rooms are pegged at 4999/ ++. Looks like a great place for a weekend family getaway!   

7 plates by 7 chefs at Ayna, Hilton


Dahi kebab, chapli kebab, Rampuri seekh kebab - if these kebabs feature on a menu, you know the food of Uttar Pradesh is on show.

Ayna at the Hilton is celebrating the culinary diversity of India with "7 Chefs 7 Plates", a food festival that celebrates regional cuisines from seven Hilton hotels located in seven Indian states. For the next 2 weeks, master chefs from these hotels will be showcasing their individual specialities, each of them over two days. The menu for the first two days was curated by Chef Manish Kulshreshtha of Double Tree Hilton Agra and what I experienced was truly a remarkable meal.

Chef Manish 

Outline of Uttar Pradesh on tableware

In the lobby of the restaurant are plates that display spices and other dry ingredients that are used in cooking these cuisines.

Uttar Pradesh is known for kebabs, kormas, rotis and each region has its own style of cooking. I know I was looking forward to the kebabs.

Papads and chutneys

Veg starters - kumbh khasta tikki; firduse e numa; paneer ke sholey; dahi kebab

A vegetarian kebab platter was what we started our meal with. Dahi kebab, coated with a semolina crust was fabulously soft and tangy. Kumbh khasta tikki - spiced mushroom patties were just as nice, the earthy flavour of the mushrooms came through with every bite. Paneer ke sholey, featuring large chunks of cottage cheese had a lovely masala and char but you need to eat it quick before it becomes cold.
On the plate: rawa machhi; murgh ke parche; Rampuri seekh kebab; chapli kebab

The non veg platter was even more interesting. Rampur's famous gosht Rampuri seekh was a kebab that featured minced lamb and a perfect proportion of spices. Murgh ke parche was moist and tender, rawa machhi, crusted with a coating of semolina revealed a moist fillet of kingfish within. The best was definitely the chapli kebab and we could only marvel at the way the griddle-cooked crust was all that held the meat together.

Makhmali raan; murgh rizala; paneer dum anari; subz zebunisha; dal Mumtaz; sheermal; ulte tawa ke paranthe

I loved the thali the mains were served in. It had an extension that held all the katories of gravy. Chef Manish had cooked up five fabulous gravies to go with the sinfully delish ulte tawa ke paranthe and the even more deliciously crisp sheermal. Each one of the gravies had a different base. Makhmali raan had an onion and mustard gravy, murgh rizala was enveloped in a velvety-smooth almond enriched gravy, paneer dum anari, slightly astringent but equally flavourful in its onion and tomato gravy, a dry dish of vegetables - subz zebunisha done in Mughalai style and dal Mumtaz, white lentils that got its flavour from a simple tempering and ginger shreds. 
Flavoured basmati pulav cooked with coloured dumplings 
Shehed e Azam; kele ki kheer; petha paan

Paan is not my way of ending a meal but this one was truly special. This version had gulkhand rolled up in the thinnest sheet of petha. Had absolutely no trouble finishing it! 
Jewellery counter at the restaurant lobby

What's on for the next 12 days?

Chef Mangesh Ghanekar from Hilton Mumbai - 16 & 17 May. His specialties include Girgaum Chowpatty‘s sabudana wada, Worli chi Malwani chicken curry and of course, shrikhand for dessert;

Chef Shaji Kumar, Hilton Garden Inn, Trivandrum - 18 & 19 May will cook his specialties like Travancore chicken fry, kaithachaka pulissery and ada pradhaman;

Chef Vinod Kumar, Hilton Jaipur - 20 & 21 May will cook machali Jaismandi , sev tamatar ki subzi and the famous  Alwar special milk cake;

Chef Akshay Deshpande, Conrad Pune - 22 & 23 May. He will showcase tawa surmai, phodniche varan and mango mastani;

Chef Rajesh Singh, Hilton Garden  Inn Baani Square Gurgaon - 24 & 25 May will treat his diners to the delights of Delhi. His menu includes Karolbagh-wale machali ke pakode, chap tazdar, usually served for seher during the holy month of Ramadan and galliwale paratha.

Chef Biswajit, Hilton Chennai - May 26 & 27 will present his signature poda murgir mangsho, macher kaliya and kheer kadam.

7 Chefs 7 Plates is on till May 27th for both lunch and dinner and the menu is Ă  la carte.
Reservations can be made at +91 44 2225700; +91 9500058722

Mexican coffee buns at Antari


Antari is a café that occupies one end of the Soul Garden Bistro complex in Kilpauk. What took us all the way there was the promise of fresh and hot Mexican coffee buns.

Breads and bakes

Jignesh Pujara

The café is quite tiny and rather quaint. There's a shelf along one wall that holds yeasted delights. The menu is prominently displayed on the wall above the counter and a large oven occupies pride of place in one corner. I'm quite convinced that Antari is a Spanish word but the genial owner, Jignesh Pujara tells me that it's an acronym - a combination of the names of his children!

Everything on the menu is vegetarian, egg-free, mostly organic, some gluten-free and keto friendly; the breads and buns have no preservatives and are baked fresh every day.

There's cutting chai on the menu... and flavoured teas

While waiting for the other bloggers to show up, Jignesh took me across to 196 Degrees Below, the dessert restaurant where I got to watch ice cream being made with liquid nitrogen. There are plenty of flavours and some unusual ones like chawanprash! I stuck to the classic chocolate orange and marvelled at the smoothness of the ice cream.

Chocolate orange ice cream

Peanut butter & hazelnut toppings. The darker bun is coffee, the other, cinnamon

Caramel and white chocolate toppings

Back at Antari, we learnt that the dough for the coffee buns is kneaded, shaped, filled with a cube of cold butter and left to prove. When an order comes in, the patissier pipes a spiral of the coffee cream or cinnamon cream over the top and pops it into the oven. As it bakes, the topping starts to melt and covers the entire top of the bun. The aroma is irresistible. 15 minutes later, it is pulled out and transferred onto a plate. From here onwards, Antari does it a little different from Papparoti or Rotiboy - the buns get one more topping before being served. Our buns had white chocolate with red velvet crumbs, caramel, peanut butter and hazelnut biscuit.
What's inside the bun ...oooh...butter!

Organic tea
The coffee buns have a molten buttery centre with a sprinkle of sea salt. Not as soft in texture as the original but considering this is made without egg, it's definitely good. The coffee flavour is not as strong as in the original but hey, who's complaining! The cinnamon crusted bun has a mild cinnamon-y flavour and if you're wondering if it tastes like a cinnamon bun or even cinnabon, then no. The piped crusts tend to soften the longer they sit around and that could also be due to the toppings so for sure they are best eaten hot. As for the toppings (are they really necessary), I liked the hazelnut the best. The peanut butter topping is homemade, the nuts could have done with a little more roasting. Each of the buns was served with a beverage - our choices were cappuccino, spiced chocolate and a moreish hot chocolate that has just 2 ingredients - a chocolate bar and milk. We had 2 flavoured teas as well - mint and mango. Nice mild flavour but it was the cup with the built in strainer and lid that fascinated us.

Each one of these is a combo


We also had churros with chocolate sauce. It was light but not as airy as the version with egg. The sauce came in a small bowl, perhaps a small jar would have been easier to dip into.

If just a bun is not enough, CafĂ© Antari has a combo offer where you can get a bun and a beverage at 249/-

Peri peri idlies; buffalo potatoes

To offset all that sugar, we had peri peri idlies. It's so very crisp, just a bit oily but absolutely delicious. Buffalo potatoes - baby potatoes, skin on and coated with buffalo sauce was devilishly tangy and springy - as in poke them and they spring back.


Fans of Harry Potter might be interested to know that Jignesh has concocted his version of butterbeer. It's golden yellow and served with cream on top. You need to mix both together and then drink it. It's sweet, a bit fizzy and a hit with the young ones.

CafĂ© Antari is at 86/87 New Avadi Road, Kilpauk, Chennai.
044 48510161.

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