A Welcome Hotel breakfast

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*This food trip was done a few weeks ago, before the lockdowns and shutdowns due to COVID 19 happened.

Like a lot of folks, I love me a good South Indian breakfast. But unlike a lot of folks, the opportunity to have one never seems to come around. Good friend Guddu Anand has posted plenty of times about his trips across town to Welcome Hotel at Purusaiwalkam for a breakfast fit for a king. He'd talk about the softest idlis that swam in a pool of sambar that the restaurant was well known for. And the vadas, pongal, chutney...sigh... In all my years of living in Chennai, I never thought of going there even though for a time, I used to work in that area. Even friends used to rave about that sambar and all I could do was to put it on my bucket list and hope of making it there some day. In this lifetime.

And that day came just a few weeks ago when food writer Ameeta Agnihotri brought up the topic. Of course, yours truly was very interested in the plan and Gudduji was only too willing to drive us all the way there on a Sunday morning. The catch was that we had to be at the restaurant by 7 am as Gudduji warned us that not just parking but even seats would be hard to find if we were even a little late. Well, what's an hour - or two - of lost sleep on a Sunday morning for a chance to scratch something off a bucket list??  Sacrifices have to be made sometimes.  Maybe he took pity on us because late in the night, I got a message from him to say that I was to meet them at Guindy at 7.25 am!

Welcome to Welcome Hotel

Luck was definitely on our side because not only did he find a nice parking spot but we even found a table at 8 am. It is a typical South Indian restaurant with functional 4 seater tables, old fashioned chairs and packed with hungry customers. A busboy cleaned our steel topped table while servers brought out idlis and dosas from a cavernous kitchen.     

Idli & sambar 

Plates of idlis were placed in front of us, along with a small container of coconut chutney. The server seemed to know we were going to take a video so he paused a moment dramatically before pouring the sambar over. There are 2 soft idlis to a plate and they are fairly large. Cut into one and you can see that it is not the ultra-fluffy one, rather one made from a coarsely ground batter which allows all that sambar to soak in. The sambar is thin, not too spicy, just a little sweetish and so delicious.


Next was the plate of vada with its crisp outer crust and soft inside. The sambar, once again was poured all over and was the perfect accompaniment. So good.

Dosa with more sambar, vadacurry & coconut chutney

My crisp, plain dosa came with more sambar, a coconut chutney and vadacurry which was a novelty for me. Lentil flour is mixed with water and seasoning, shaped into dumplings and either fried or steamed. The dumplings are then broken and added to a spicy onion-tomato gravy that gives it the typical coarse texture.

Pongal & vada with accompaniments

And then, there was the quintessential South Indian breakfast combo comprising pongal and vada with more sambar, vadacurry and the freshest, unadulterated coconut chutney. The pongal had lots of halved cashews in it  and with every mouthful, you could smell the delightful flavour of ghee.  Such a delicious way to start the morning but of course, by this time, we were pretty full and could only nibble at it.

The perfect glass of coffee

Guddu told us that the payasam is mouthwatering but we decided to finish with coffee. I usually skip coffee because in a lot of places, it is too milky but Welcome Hotel's coffee is something else. It has the perfect ratio of decoction to mik to sugar and is served at the perfect temperature. In no time, I was looking into the bottom of an empty glass.

On our way out, we met owner, Venkata Ramana Upadya. Started by his father in 1978, the restaurant is well known for the consistent taste of its food. In the 42 years of its existence, they have had a series of 4 head chefs who have been reponsible for maintaining this taste. The sambar and chutnies are made three to four times a day, which accounts for its freshness anytime you taste it. As for the sambar, it is made according to a secret Manglorean family recipe but cooked by Tamilian chefs. Simply amazing, isn't it?

Welcome Hotel is at No. 241, Purasawalkam High Road, Purasaiwakkam, Chennai 600007.
The breakfast service starts at 6 am.



Gourmet Passport @ East Coast at Madras Square

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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

Penicillin

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

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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

Cheeses

Frittata

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

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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.

Kadambuttu

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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