Gourmet Passport @ East Coast at Madras Square


East Coast at Madras Square was the setting of a very different kind of dinner hosted by Ameeta Agnihotri, Brand Host of #GourmetPassportExperiences. At the restaurant, our group assembled in a private dining area for an evening of low calorie cocktails to be followed by a healthy dinner.

The menu

When I saw the menu, my first instinct was to turn tail and run because the promised "healthy dinner" was going to be completely vegan. Thankfully, curiosity got the better of me so I stayed put :)

Ameeta and Chandni from Gourmet Passport

Deepali of Aakaariya

Chandni Anzar of Gourmet Passport introduced some of us to the salient points of the program. Deepali of Aakaariya then took over to talk about the importance of being environment friendly not only in the way we live but also in our food choices. She told us how she had put together the meal we were going to be served. The focus of the evening was on healthy eating and what better than a complete vegan meal to put that point across.

A cocktail of strawberry, basil and kombucha


We had a selection of 5 cocktails to choose from. All of them were fruit based and sweetened with, not sugar, but honey or even stevia. The strawberry basil kombucha cocktail with a base of vodka, was refreshing; kombucha lent tartness and zing to the drink. That it was healthy was definitely a plus point. Pencillin was a very mild version of a whisky sour and minus the froth.

Pita triangles; beetroot dip; babaganoush; smoked pepper dip; vegan cheese & crudités

The hors d'oeuvre was a platter of pita slices, dips, crudités and what looked like slices of steamed sweet potatoes. The "sweet potatoes" turned out to be smoked vegan cheese made of cashew nuts. The texture was somewhat like very soft tofu though it didn't have the "cheesy" flavour of regular cheese. But it was quite an intriguing experience to eat a cheese made out of a nut.

Vegan summer rolls

Zucchini noodles

The second course was zucchini noodles with pesto sauce. Served warm, the noodles had lots of bite and strips of sun dried tomato provided welcome tang.

Main course 1: Quinoa risotto with mashed beans; chilli pineapple; mashed peas & grilled mushroom 

Main course 2: Herbed red rice; vegan cheese sauce; spiced tofu; grilled veggies & sautéed spinach

For the main course, the choice was between quinoa risotto and herbed red rice. The vegan cheese sauce served with the rice was outstanding. It had the flavour and creaminess of a regular cheese sauce and what was remarkable was that it had been made with a vegetable - the humble cauliflower, in this case.

Date snickers bars

A marriage of dates and chocolate, called date snickers bites, was the dessert of the day. The little treats kept disappearing into our mouths almost as soon as the platters were laid on the table. The other interesting dessert was the sweet potato mousse. Smooth, velvety and chocolaty.

More desserts - oatmeal jar

Sweet potato mousse

Prithvi, the young man whose family runs the restaurant, was a gracious venue host. We marvelled at the perfectly appointed dining area and the series of black and white prints that hung on the walls. At the end of the evening, he pointed to the "roof" of the restaurant and lo and behold, it retracted, leaving us gaping at the night sky. What a spectacular end to the evening.

Sitting under the stars

Il Grande Pranzo revisited


It's about 3 years since I went for the wildly popular Italian-style Saturday brunch at Focaccia at Hyatt Regency Chennai and have seen that it's gotten so much better. The cheese and salad counters are still there, also the one with cold cuts, hot appetisers and the bake and roast section. What's different is that it's now about quality rather than quantity.

Red rice salad

Spinach and ricotta cake



Leek & prawn quiche

Sausages on cabbage

All set for the grill

Do stop by at the pasta station

At the salad counter, the salads have got healthier - more fruit and veg based ones with lighter dressings. Quinoa has been given the cold shoulder, at least on the day we went and instead, there was a really nice red rice salad. If you see the spinach and ricotta salted cake, do pick up a couple of those slices -you'll be dreaming about it for days. While you can't really mess with the cheese counter, the cold cut section features just parma and cooked ham, salami and smoked salmon. There's chicken hamburger in a rustic puttanesca sauce, sea bass in a sunshine yellow sauce and yummy pork sausages that Focaccia always manages to source.

Roast pork belly

Asparagus and ricotta stuffed casoncelli

Pizza margherita

The roast of the day was pork belly and the apple sauce served was a fitting companion. Over at the pasta live counter, we chose a plate of asparagus and ricotta casoncelli to share. It is the stuff of dreams and crafted to perfection. The thin crust pizza margherita was so light; even after it got cold, the bread was still soft. Chef Mauro says the secret is in the kneading and using very little yeast.

Mirroring our reaction at the dessert table

The dessert section too has been trimmed of the flab. In the place of shot glass desserts, there are olive oil cakes, choux pastry, a delish rum truffle cake and chocolates of course. What takes centre-stage is Chef Mauro's tiramisu. If you have wondered where in the city you get the best one, make no mistake - it's at Focaccia.

Macs, of course and financiers

Passion fruit choux buns

Salted caramel tart

Chef Mauro's irresistible tiramisu

More tiramisu

What takes centre-stage is Chef Mauro's tiramisu. If you have wondered where in the city you get the best one, make no mistake - it's at Focaccia.

Il Grande Pranzo is priced at 2250/ (includes taxes) with alcohol; the non alcoholic version is priced at 1850/.

Flavours of Coorg at Food Exchange


The Kodavas are a people who live off the land. Rice is their staple food, their curries are made with seasonal produce; coconut and pepper are used extensively in their dishes. At one time, they even used to hunt wild game for meat. Even before gluten-free became a fad, that was their diet.   

The chefs

The week long Coorg Food Festival, curated by food expert and home chef, Smitha Kuttayya and Chef Gopi at Novotel Chennai Chamiers Road bears testament to this. Under the cloches, the kumbala (pumpkin) and kommu (mushroom) curries glisten. Oyster mushrooms have been used to make the kommu curry; they have a chewy texture and give the gravy substance. There's also thoppu palya, a dry spinach preparation.


Akki roti

Kumbala curry

Kommu curry

Koli nallamalu fry

Koli curry

To celebrate pepper which grows abundantly in the region, there's koli nallamalu (chicken pepper fry). It's not an overdose of pepper, rather a gentle warmth and the tell-tale dark colour to announce its presence. It's a dry dish and goes perfectly well with the thin akki roti or the rice dishes. The koli curry has ground coconut to thicken the gravy; ground cumin adds to the earthy fragrance. 

Coorg yerchi pulao; nei kool

Nei kool - ghee rice - has a wonderful fragrance. The rice is small grained and aromatic. Yerchi pulao is the Kodava version of biryani, chunks of mutton are cooked along with rice. It's a tad oily but the mild flavours allow it to be paired with any of the gravies.

Pandi curry

Pandi roast

If there's one dish in Kodava cuisine which has superstar status, it is Coorg pandi curry. At one time, it was made with the meat of wild boar which they were allowed to hunt. Smitha uses chunks of meat with fat. Spices are toasted till dark, ground to a paste and added to partially cooked meat. What gives it that special colour, taste and tanginess is kachumpulli, a kind of black vinegar made from a fruit. Making kachumpulli is a painstaking process but no Coorg kitchen will even be without a couple of bottles of this. This dish pairs well with just about all the breads and especially with sannas. There's also pandi roast, a dry version with no fat but equally tasty.

Neer dosa 

Nool puttu with chicken curry

Neer dosa, a thin crepe, is also made with rice. It's light and pairs well with each of the gravies. The nool puttu maker is an interesting contraption. The puttu is a little different from idiyappam - here, the rice paste is cooked before being pressed out. No further cooking is required.

Sardines are marinated in a little kachampulli before being fried 

Coconut chutney; jaggery water; ginger relish

Do look out for these little pots. Balla neer or jaggery water is fabulous with both neer dosa and nool puttu. To add another dimension, taste it with a tiny dab of the inji pajji which is like a ginger relish. Your taste buds will sing in delight!

Desserts - akki payasa; khas khas payasa; kuvale puttu

The food at the festival is delicious, homely and a good representation of what comes out of a Kodava kitchen. It's on till November 18th at Food Exchange and only for dinner and priced at 1400/++

*This was an invited review 

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