Ranna Ghar at Spice Haat, Hyatt Regency Chennai

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Anyone living along the Bay of Bengal must have had this thought - if you sit in a boat and set sail, you should reach your destination... right? In this case, if you point the bow sort of north north east from Chennai and sail away, you should eventually reach the Hoogly river and from there Kolkata is just a hop, skip and jump away! I wonder if anyone has done it!

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The reason for the hypothetical journey is that I suddenly have this craving for Bengali food. Fell in love with it on my last trip to Kolkata, in fact, have been invited to live there permanently by my sister in law as she has relocated to that city. But not as yet because "Ranna Ghar" has come to Chennai, to Hyatt Regency Chennai to be specific.

Executive Chef Subrata Debnath has curated  an absolutely delicious menu to celebrate home style cooking in a five star setting. The aromas and flavours of Bengal have been lovingly recreated at Spice Haat, one of HRC's specialty restaurants. One could make out his total involvement in bringing this festival to the city as he enthusiastically took us around the buffet service and told us about the specialties on offer that night.

Rice and fish, in fact, seafood, is the mainstay of Bengali cuisine. Along with other spices, the essential spice blend used in this cuisine is panchphoron, a mix of mustard, fenugreek, cumin/aniseed, nigella and ajmoda seeds. Mustard is used extensively, not only in cooking but also as a condiment.

Panchphoron. Pic courtesy HRC

I was there with a friend to review Ranna Ghar (I'm told this means kitchen), and we were joined for dinner by Chef Subrata and PR Manager Aully. So keen is the Chef to give diners the total Bengali experience that the ingredients for the fest, including seafood, is flown in every day from Kolkata.

Kolkata is well known for chaat so of course there is a separate section for chaats, manned by 2 chefs. In front of them was a great, big, flat tava and the most amazing aromas wafted from it -Kolkata ghugni!


Made with white peas and myriad spices, we asked for tiny portions which were topped with chopped onions, diced tomatoes and a sprinkle of chopped coriander.

The chaat counter; jhuri allo bhajaj; aloo kabli, dahi bora

There was also jhuri allo bhajaj - puffed rice with potato and spices, aloo kabli - potato cubes with chickpeas and dahi bora - curd vadas.

Aloor chop; paneer tikka; rosemary murgh malai tikki; tawa fried fish

Soft and flavourful paneer tikka and  crisp aloor chop - potato croquettes stuffed with beetroot were the vegetarian starters. Non veg appetisers included tender rosemary murgh malai tikki and tawa fried fish. We couldn't decide which we liked the best, they were all so good.


There was also topse bhaja - a variety of small fish that is coated with chickpea flour and spices and then deep fried. The bones are soft enough to munch through. The fish tasted fresh and with the coating of spiced chickpea flour, it was somewhat reminiscent of eating a bhajji. It looked like one too.

Narkeli cholar dal; chingri malai curry; potel dorma;kochi pathar jhol; mochar ghonto; rosogollar dalna; aloo phulofor tarkari; posto murghi 

The best way to experience a Bengali meal is to try a thali - on a large plate, a mound of pulao rotna - flavoured rice studded with nuts and raisins surrounded by 8 side dishes. Each one of the dishes was delicious on its own as well as with the rice. Posto murghi is chicken cooked in poppy seed gravy. The potel or pointed gourd is one of my favourite vegetables, this one been cooked in a mild gravy. Another interesting dish was the rosogollar dalna - rosogollars are spongy sugar syrup laden balls of deliciousness but here, they had been cooked in a curry. Uber soft and not at all sweet, it just melted in the mouth. Another favourite was the banana flower - mochar ghonto - we loved the texture. Also loved the absolutely tender lamb in a dark gravy that was perfect with the flavoured rice.


With the narkeli cholar dal, we were served loochis - thinly rolled out flour discs and fried till puffy.


We were told to sprinkle some deep fried potato sticks on the dal and scoop up the combination with the loochi. Wow, what a combination of coconut based dal, crisp potato and the loochi itself.

Most delicious of all was the chingri malai curry - river prawns cooked in a mellow tender coconut based creamy gravy. We tried the mangshor biryani too. Bengali biryani not only has meat but also potato cubes and egg. Fragrant with rose water, the dual coloured rice was cooked perfectly.

Mangshor biryani; posto murghi; kochi pathar jhol; chingri malai curry

Narkeli cholar dal; rosogollar dalna; potel dorma;  mochar ghonto; aloo phulofor tarkari

What's a Bengali meal without the famous smoked bhappa elish? This is Chef's speciality and it was presented to us with a flourish.


A slice of hilsa coated with mustard sauce and steamed to perfection. The beautiful soft white flesh of the fish was the perfect foil to the slightly pungent mustard coat. The only thing that detracted were the little bones, in fact, we were warned to be careful while eating the fish. Still, what's a minor thing like fish bones when all that flavour was just waiting to be enjoyed?

Pepyer chutney;tomato kejurer

 And if you must have a bit of chutney to go with your meal, there are 2 on offer.

From top: malpua,rasmalai; baked yoghurt, mishti doi; rosogolla

We had to have dessert but decided to share it 3 ways. Loved the malpua with the added tick of flavour from the aniseed, loved also the rosogolla and rasmalai. Baked yoghurt is not a Bengali dessert but I simply had to have it and it was delicious. The only thing that didn't work was the mishti doi that tasted like sweetened yoghurt.

The festival is on till August 2nd. It's a dinner service, both as a buffet and a thali. The buffet is priced at 1500/++, veg thali at 1000/++, non veg thali at 1200/++. It is also on offer as Sunday brunch at 1850/++.

For reservations, do call +91 44 6100 1234.

No need for that boat ride to Kolkata as yet!!


Bicycles and memories at Ciclo Cafe

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Ciclo Cafe on Gandhi Mandapam Road, Kotturpuram has a pretty facade - big bay windows and bicycles hanging from them. Finally I got around to going there last week with a couple of charming ladies. As one enters the cafe, the cycle store is to the left and on the right is an interesting rustic seating area. However, we were told it was closed for service and were directed upstairs instead.

Cycles and cycle parts hung all around, cycle wheels replaced the legs of some tables, a clock with a cycle wheel face. Uber attentive staff with earphones led us to seats near a large window overlooking the main road and a cycle hung from the window. The space was quite cosy, wooden tables and chairs with colourful upholstered seats and at one end were display cases that held savoury pies, tarts and lasagna and delectable desserts.

Lasagna and quiches

We placed our orders - hot chocolate, Americano and a latte machiatto. The chocolate was good but the machiatto seemed to have an identity crisis - it was the colour of milky chocolate but had no flavour of coffee. However it was steaming hot and just right for the cool setting of the cafe.

Latte macchiato

Waiting for the appetisers, my eyes went back to the bicycle on the window and I remembered the time when my brother tried to teach me to ride one. I must have been about 6 years old. Dad was a doctor in government service and we lived in a huge house with an even huger garden spread over 3 levels, the house sitting squat in the middle level. All my previous attempts to learn cycling ended in failure but fed up of being called a coward, I finally agreed to be taught one last time.

We got onto the cycle, he behind me and we did a kind of a slow pedal from the top of the driveway to the front of the house, or rather he pedalled while I stuck out my legs. We took a curve around the side of the house, and that's when I realised his intentions. By then we had picked up speed and as we turned the corner, the steeper back slope came into view. I tried to jump off but too late - we flew over the top of the slope and I swear if not for the chicken coop at the bottom of the garden, we would have flown straight over the fence and into the neighbour's compound. Instead we fell against the chicken wire in a heap of arms and legs, screams from me, raucous laughter from him, chickens squawking and flying in all directions and the final ignominy of the cycle falling on us. Well, that was enough to wake Mum up from her afternoon siesta and she came out to investigate. With threats of "Wait till your father gets home" ringing in our ears, we untangled ourselves and while my brother tried to do some hasty repairs, I took myself off to the storeroom where I ministered to myself  with the full contents of a bottle of iodine and several rolls of gauze and plaster.

Chicken strips; pesto bocconcini

Our starters brought me out of my reverie - chicken strips and crumb fried pesto flavoured bocconcini. The chicken was sliced really thin and though fried to a crisp brown, was tender but a tad under seasoned. The bocconcini was deliciously crisp and thankfully the pesto was not overpowering. It was served with dots of mild red sauce. Both starters came with a bit of green salad and a dip.

Pepperoni pizza

A large thin crust pizza with pepperoni came next. It looked delish, plenty of pepperoni slices all over but I missed the air dried smokey flavour of  a well made pepperoni. Other than that, it was an impressive pizza with a generous amount of topping.

 

Classic beef burger with bacon was recommended and we were not at all disappointed. The bun was fresh and soft, the herbed patty was juicy it had cheddar cheese, sliced tomatoes, gherkins and lettuce. An extremely well crafted burger that held together till the last bite. It was served with fries and cubes of pickled veg. That was a nice touch.

Tough choices to make for dessert. These were some of the things on offer:

Chocolate crumble tart; salted caramel cheesecake; creme brulee; flourless chocolate cake

Finally we chose these -

Salted caramel cheesecake

The salted caramel cheesecake was served warm. I missed the tanginess of a regular cheesecake; the texture reminded me a of a light bread pudding for some strange reason. All the same, it was delicious and before we dug in, admired the plating.

Creme brulee

We also had a creme brulee which was ok though I would have liked a slightly thicker layer of burnt sugar on the top.

Overall, it was good food, generous portions and good service. Everything we ordered was served fairly quickly. It's a nice place to catch up with friends for a meal and a bit of a chinwag. A meal for 2 should work out to about 1600/ including taxes, a little pricey considering it's a cafe.

  

 
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