Utsav at Hamsa


Many, many moons ago, during the season of Lent, my dad took us to a vegetarian Chinese restaurant run by Buddhists. There were predictable groans from us kids (!!), a completely vegetarian meal was not something we would have chosen but there was no negotiating with Dad once he decided on something. To cut a long story short, we staggered out of the restaurant after that meal - it was about the best meal that we had ever had. Even now, I remember what I liked about it - each dish was composed of several vegetables, the integrity of each vegetable was maintained and there was a cohesiveness in the whole.

The charming young lady who invited me to Utsav at Hamsa asked me why I was not too confident of reviewing a vrat meal. The Buddhist meal came to mind, so, on the appointed day, I found myself at the Gandhinagar restaurant.

Navaratri, or Durga Puja, is an auspicious Hindu festival that celebrates the victory of good over evil. It also marks the approach of winter; people observe a nine day fast to prepare for the change in climate, sattvik food is the norm as it helps to detoxify the body.

Utsav is Hamsa's way of celebrating Navaratri. It's a time of vrat (fasting) and it tests the cook's ingenuity in coming up with dishes that are vegetarian (of course), and with no onion, ginger or garlic. Sattvik food is naturally grown food and absolutely no processed ingredients are used. Fresh and seasonal ingredients come into play which include millets, water chestnut, both as vegetable and flour, buckwheat, sago and nuts.

Celebrity chef, Rakesh Raghunathan has curated a menu that incorporates these ingredients. It would be gluten-free, nutritionally balanced, rich in antioxidants and light on the stomach, he promised. The dishes are based on recipes from Maharashtra, UP, Bengal, Jharkhand and Gujarat.


But first, Hamsa's little filigree bell has to be opened. Inside, there is a little gulab jamun that has become the restaurant's signature amuse-bouche. A traditional Indian meal starts with a sweet.

Sabudhana moongphalli thalipeeth; kuttu aur paneer ki kachori; shakarkandi tuk chaat; singhare aloo tikki

The sago was chewy, the peanuts were... well... nutty. The size of a small pancake, sabudana moongphalli thalipeeth is an interesting combination of textures. Green chilli thecha added a measure of spiciness. Singhare and aloo tikki was a little patty made with water chestnut flour and potato. Both the mint chutney and tomato, date and raisin chutneys were perfect for these little tikkis. The buckwheat pastry crust of kuttu aur paneer ki kachori, was short, crisp and light. Deep fried slices of sweet potato formed the base of Shakarkandi tuk chaat which was then layered with paneer, yogurt and sweet chutney. Chaat masala brought about balance of sweet and savoury.

Mathura aloo

Paneer shahi gulabi; dahiwale singhare ki subzi; annanas ki subzi

Mathura aloo, one of the curries in the main course, is a very homely dish; dry mango powder adding a slight tang to the mashed potato gravy. Pineapples help in digestion and annanas ki subzi was my favourite. Cubes of it were cooked in a thick coconut gravy and the tempering was sufficient to not overpower neither the fruit nor the gravy. Sliced water chestnuts rather than whole ones in dahiwale singhare ki sabzi might have worked better in the spiced yoghurt gravy. For a touch of the exotic, there's paneer shahi gulabi. Dried rose petals and almonds had been stuffed into cottage cheese slices and cooked in a cashewnut gravy. What appealed was the crunch of nuts.

Kuttu aloo paratha; singhare & kuttu puri

Both breads were very good. Kuttu aloo paratha, stuffed with mashed potato, was crisp yet soft though the filling was barely perceptible. Dark brown and puffed up beautifully, singhare and kuttu puri, made with a mix of water chestnut and buckwheat flours, were served hot. Being gluten free, it did not have the slight elasticity that wheat-based puris have. It was slightly greasy but was the perfect accompaniment to the gravies.
Vrat ka pulao

Vrat ka pulao, made with saamai (little millet) did look like it had been made with rice. It has loads of fiber and does taste a little nutty. Peppercorns, cumin seeds and nuts added to the flavours. Ghee gave it richness and it was good enough to eat it by itself. 

Mewa ki kheer; sitaphal basundi

Sitaphal basundi had the pulp of custard apples cooked along with milk into a porridge-like consistency. I found it rather sweet and thick. Mewa ki kheer, on the other hand was much lighter in consistency, not too sweet  and had a good amount of nuts for texture. Fox nuts were a welcome addition.

As promised, the meal was  gluten-free, nutritionally balanced, rich in antioxidants and light on the stomach. And enjoyable!

Utsav by Hamsa is on till October 29th and all the vrat dishes can be ordered from the à la carte menu, both for lunch and dinner.

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

Oktoberfest 8 at Hyatt Regency Chennai


Checked blue and white tablecloths and striped tents, wursts and beer mean only one thing - it's Oktoberfest once again. It's Season 8 and the party is at 365 A.S.

Exec Chef Hermann

The tradition of "breaking the barrel" was done by German Consul General Karin Stoll. Executive Chef Hermann Grossbichler from Grand Hyatt Kochi Bolgatty and his team cooked up a veritable feast. Luckily, everyone brought along their appetites for food and fun and with foot tapping German folk music playing, it was an extremely spirited evening.


Cheeses; mushroom stew that had everyone raving; cannellini bean&shrimp salad; spinach spaetzli; potato   

The pretzel tree!

More breads

Wursts on the grill

Pork schnitzel

Roast potatoes & sweet potatoes 

Blond beer roasted chicken ...so very good!

The star of the evening - roast pork knuckle with sauerkraut

Cheeses, plentiful salads and an array of breads had been laid out. There was mushroom stew, beer roasted chicken and spinach spaetzli and sausages grilled to perfection. Along with a selection of German beers, it all made for an awesome combination. But the star of the evening was the roasted pork knuckle. Well marinated and beautifully roasted, everyone raved about it.

And then, there it was - the train dance! 

Apfelstrudel; black forest; berliner; rote grutze; sacher torte; kaiserschmarrn

Berliners are doughnuts without holes and it was a nice addition to the dessert selection. We also got to sample the black forest cake and kaiserschmarrn with plum compote.

Oktoberfest is on till October 6th and it's recommended that you make a reservation. It's priced at 1599/++ for buffet with soft beverages and 2299/++ for buffet with German beer.

Hyatt Regency Chennai
91 44 6100 1234.

Oktoberfest Vintage Bank style


Hilton Chennai kicked off Oktoberfest 2019 in the city with a festive launch party. The hotel chain is celebrating its 100th year while Oktoberfest, as everyone knows, has been happening since 1810!

Mr. Ruban Das, GM of Hilton welcomed us and then, Deputy Counsel General of Germany, Mr. Wegener gave us a few stats - last year's Oktoberfest at Munich attracted more than 6 million visitors. As for the food, 500,000 chickens and 25,000 kilos of fish were consumed, along with 6.6 billion glasses of beer. It took us all a while to digest that!!

Mr. Wegener & Mr. Das

This is the 2nd year that the hotel is celebrating the Bavarian beer and sausage festival. Beer barrels took centre stage, the familiar blue and white checked tablecloths at the Vintage Bank adorned tables on which stood jars of mustard and other condiments.

Mr. Wegener tapped the barrel open and to cheers and cries of "O'Zapft", the golden brew flowed into waiting glasses.

Beer in a bottle

Tankard & stein

The beer came in bottles, pilsner glasses, tankards and steins. The wheat beers are particularly nice and went fabulously well with the food. Have you seen pictures of the waitresses in the beer tents carrying 6 steins (1 stein =1 litre) of beer in each hand? Err...some of us needed 2 hands just to lift up a stein!! 

Pretzels, potatoes and mash

More mashed potatoes

The best wursts!

All this plate needs is some mustard!

5 kinds of wursts were being served hot off the grills. Accompanying them were mashed potatoes, sauerkraut, corn on the cob and baked potatoes. And of course, pretzels and rolls.

The beer menu

German folk music played while the more enthusiastic folks sang along.

Ein Prosit!

On till the 6th of October, The Vintage Bank is the venue for Oktoberfest and at Q Bar on Wednesdays. Timings are from 7 - 11 pm.
Do call +91 9600669107 for reservations.

*This was an invited review 

Masterclass with Maestros @Sheraton Grand Chennai


Sheraton Grand Chennai had organised an informative baking session with their pastry chefs. We were an eager bunch of participants, all ready to learn the secrets, tips and tricks of making Classic chocolate brownies; Chocolate chip cookies; Peanut butter cookies; Chocolate textures and a Classic tiramisu.

Here are scenes from the class:

Exec Chef Mukesh & Chef Rajesh

Mis en place

Portioning the brownie mix into the moulds. Definitely a fun job!

Shaping chocolate chip cookies

Choco chip dough before baking

Shaping peanut butter cookies

All ready to be baked

Melting chocolate for chocolate textures
Textures ready to be filled into shot glasses

Eggs getting whipped while the syrup reaches temp for tiramisu

Bountiful table with tiramisu, chocochip cookies, brownies & peanut butter cookies

All prettied up - chocolate textures in a shotglass

A colourful lunch spread
After the class, we were treated to a sumptuous lunch. 

Red cherry crumble tart

Chocolate gateau

More such masterclasses are in the pipeline and if you want to know the schedule for future classes, do follow their page, Sheraton Grand Chennai Resort & Spa.

KooX @ Novotel Chennai Chamiers


There's a brand new Asian grill in the city and this one is up on a rooftop, the rooftop in question being the one at Novotel Chennai Chamiers. Called KooX, it's the domain of 2 chefs, one specialising in Japanese fare and the other, Sichuanese.

From the outside looking in

Invited for a preview, I loved the place at first sight. Up on the 8th floor of the hotel, it has the pool and gym for company. KooX has an alfresco seating area from where you have a good view of Chamiers road and the adjoining flyover. What a view! It's pleasantly breezy and right now, open to the sky but before the first of the monsoon rains hits the city, it will have a roof.

Perfect lighting

The adjoining grill room has a bar counter where the bartender makes some real cool KooXtails cocktails! On the opposite end is the glass-enclosed kitchen where you can watch the KooX cooks chefs at work. The lighting is dim, the space is very cosy and the music is so cool.

Drunken Chemist

There's cinnamon in my cocktail!

My cocktail, Drunken Chemist, had vodka, celery leaves and sour mix with dehydrated apple slices clipped to the side. The first few sips tasted very nice but after a bit, the celery leaves became a bit too much.

A second cocktail had pineapple juice and a nice hit of cinnamon. A torched stick of cinnamon floated around and yes, this one was so much nicer.

Conversation starter - edamame

Veg sushi

Seafood sushi in a boat!

A couple of boatloads of sushi arrived on the table, one vegetarian and the other, seafood. The interesting one on each platter were those made with Assamese black rice. How dramatic can rice look? Slightly nutty and absolutely delicious, it held together so well while being lifted with chopsticks and presented a beautiful contrast for the other components of the sushi.

Salmon tartare

Chilli chicken skewers with house made dips

Our appetisers included  salmon tartare with green onion, cucumber slices and aged soy sauce. The composition was very pretty and the salmon was fresh. Chilli chicken skewers was nicely done and they do pack quite a punch, perfect with drinks.

Watermelon carpaccio

Watermelon carpaccio was delightful. Take alternate bites of the melon and balsamic caviar and you'll know what I'm talking about. Pondicherry feta is much less saltier than its Greek counterpart and with briny olives to provide contrast, this was a refreshing take on the usual watermelon and feta salad.

Norwegian salmon & NZ lamb chops

Sichuan dry pot with broccoli, lotus root & parsley

Salmon, lamb chop; sprouts, cabbage & beancurd; noodles; dry pot veggies & sticky rice

The main course was a mix of their speciality cuisines. Norwegian salmon fillets and New Zealand lamb chops graced the tabletop robata. The salmon, glazed with mirin and teriyaki, was delicious. The lamb chops, with soy, garlic, togarashi and sesame oil, had been cooked perfectly. The centre was pinkish and the meat tender. The Asian main courses of sprouts, baby cabbage and bean curd were a little overdone. The Sichuan dry pot of lotus root, broccoli and parsley as well as the Koox-style Sichuan noodles could do with a little more heft while truffle garlic sticky rice was good. 

Dessert arrangement

Gooey 5 spice molten chocolate cake

The pastry chefs were having a whale of a time laying out dessert - really laying it out! Tiny bowls of yoghurt brûlée, green tea tiramisu, 5 spice molten chocolate cake, little bowls of tender coconut ice cream, macarons, cake crumbs and tarts filled their canvas, interspersed with micro greens. Such a pretty sight.

KooX is a great place to hang out with friends. It has great music, a lovely ambiance and good food too. Timings are from 6pm - midnight.

Novotel Chennai Chamiers Road
11, Chamiers Road
Nandanam. Chennai 600035.
+91 44 2302333.

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