Chef's table for bloggers at Novotel


It's been a little over 50 days since Novotel Chennai Sipcot opened its doors. A mid-scale brand that belongs to the Accor group, most Novotel hotels around the world are situated in business districts or near tourist havens. In Chennai, the hotel is located  opposite the SIPCOT IT Park entrance, on the Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR), home to several IT companies and gated residential communities. A short driveway leads to the entrance of the hotel and once in, one forgets the bustle of the world outside. It's a contemporary space with fuss free interiors and a sense of quiet luxury envelops the visitor as he or she steps in.

A group of us bloggers were invited by Executive Chef Jaideep Kanungoe to the Chef's table for Bloggers at The Square, the all day restaurant. A lift whisks us up to the Upper Ground Floor where the restaurant is situated. The first thing that strikes me as I enter is the aroma of some good cooking.

The F&B Manager takes some of us early birds on a tour of the bar and restaurant and adjoining it, the gym, pool and an alfresco dining area. It's a pleasant space and parts of the roof are open to the elements. He tells us the hotel's focus is on Family, Food, Fitness and Fun. All four are definitely obvious.

Back at the Square, the restaurant is slowly filling up with diners. It is a large room with enough space between the tables for people to navigate and reach the buffet counters without bumping into other people or furniture.

All along one length is an open kitchen. At one end is a wood fired oven from which deliciously thin crust pizzas emerge. Beside it, the Continental, Pan Asian, Indian sections and then the grill and tandoor area. Take a turn to the left and there's the bread, salad and cold cut counters; in front, on an island is a table full of desserts.

The cheese platter

Cold cuts and salads

Marinated meats and the tandoor

We are lead to our seats in the cosy private dining room and served a selection of dishes from each of the sections.

The first dish itself had us floored. A stone oven baked focaccia sandwiched with pesto, caramelised onions, semi dried tomatoes and chevre, it was utterly delicious. And yes, you can thank me anytime for recommending it!!

Katafi prawns; grilled prawns;wonton wrapped prawn rolls

Delicious also were the prawns. Again, I would recommend the katafi wrapped prawns with the hint of basil and the wonton wrapped prawn rolls which had a lovely citrusy burst from finely chopped kaffir lime leaves.

Mushroom & asparagus hargao, chicken & ginger dumplings

The Genovese pizza topped with pesto, mozzarella, green beans and potato. Beautiful colours and flavours.

Cold mezze platter

Among the main courses was a dish of mushroom pasta and a luscious spaghetti with smoked chicken in a creamy pesto sauce.

Classic caprese salad, chicken & peas in creamy pesto sauce, assorted mushroom pasta

There was also lamb shank curry which went well with the Nargisi  pulao and the selection of Indian breads.

From the Asian kitchen, there was aromatic Thai fried rice, minced chicken with basil and bird's eye chillies, and a dish of stir fried broccoli, kailan, and asparagus. I love simple Asian flavours and this one hit the right spots. My only grouse was with the steamed fish as the slices were too thick and perhaps a more delicate fish would have conveyed the flavours better.

Asian kitchen specials

For the vegetarians, starters included tandoori aloo chatpate, delicious cheese stuffed mushrooms and chutney paneer from the Indian kitchen.

Indian starters- chutney paneer tikka, mustard fish tikka, murgh malai kebab, tandoori aloo chatpate

 And these -

Stuffed mushrooms

Dal makhani; lasooni malai palak; naan 

The dessert table was bountiful, jars of pastel coloured meringues were laid out and around them, a selection of prettily plated tiny portions of desserts that included apple strudel, fruit trifle, mud cake and mousse.

My favourites were French white chocolate cake, espresso coffee tart and beetroot almond cake.

The buffet at Novotel is without a doubt, one of the best in Chennai. At 950/++ per head, it's bang for the buck. Those lucky ducks who live along the OMR - how I envy them!!

Grilling at Barbeque Nation with Pat Chapman


Pat Chapman is in India grilling up a storm.  At the food festival titled "Pat Chapman Grills the World", he is showcasing 14 of his new marinades at various Barbeque Nation restaurants across the country. The effervescent chef was at the Vadapalani branch of the restaurant chain on Thursday night, doing what he loves best - spicing up food. The new marinades are named after various countries and the particular ingredients they are known for - horseradish from the British Isles, poblano chilli from Mexico, jerk marinade from Jamaica etc.

I was invited to review the demo and the dinner, the highlight for me was meeting the chef. After all, who hasn't heard of the Curry King of the UK who "baltified" Britain? Walk into the cookery section any bookshop and you will find on the shelves books written by him on... what else but curry!

Thanks to the rain and the horrible traffic, we almost missed the show. The entrance to the restaurant was through a slightly seedy corridor but the restaurant itself was warm and welcoming. On the walls hung small flags of the countries the special ingredients represented and that lent a festive air to the whole space. On a large table in the middle of the restaurant, components for the marinades were laid out and behind it stood Pat Chapman and his assistants. Just about all the diners and the staff at the restaurant stood around, cameras in hand. The emcee made the necessary introductions and the show got underway.

Pat Chapman all set for the demo

Three marinades were to be demonstrated at this session so the ingredients for the jerk chicken marinade - chopped onions, muscovado sugar, apple cider vinegar and other spices and condiments were  measured into a mixing bowl. Chicken drumsticks were coated with this marinade, pushed onto skewers and then taken off to be cooked.

The second marinade was Mighty Hot Mai Tai fish. Basa fish slices were marinated in a paste of green chillies, lemongrass, basil, fish sauce and oil. No rum in it though! Threaded onto skewers, they too were dispatched to the kitchen.

The third marinade was Arabian inspired with powdered black and white sesame seeds, tahini paste, pepper and olive oil. Bright green broccoli florets were coated with this interesting mix and the chef told us how to blanch the florets without losing that beautiful colour. He also emphasised that it was best to use extra virgin olive oil.

Being a live show, the presenter went around the tables asking questions about the restaurant and their signature dishes and even the countries whose flags hung on the walls. Those with the right answers were rewarded with gift vouchers.

Then it was time to taste. A portable grill was embedded into our table, skewers with different marinated meats and vegetables were laid over it, some of the starters were served on the plates. Nine vegetarian and 6 non vegetarian new flavours are listed on the menu.

Persian veg patty; Sichuan cottage cheese

Albuquerque  atomic chicken; Jamaican jerk chicken drumstick

Yorkshire lamb kebabs with horseradish marinade

More skewers

We loved most of the new marinades. My favourites were Spanish Valencia prawns, atomic chicken (it came with a heat warning but I didn't find it that spicy), Outback emu (not emu meat but chicken) and jerk chicken drumstick. The Persian veg patties were melt-in-the-mouth soft and the mushrooms were delightful. I particularly liked the broccoli coated with the Arabian Lebanese marinade and while I like my vegetables just done, I would have loved them more if those broccoli were a little more tender. What can I say about Barbeque Nation's signature Cajun spiced potatoes other than that they are utterly delicious.

Without a doubt, the new marinades are a welcome change, but I felt that some of them tasted too subtle. Thai basil and fish sauce are strong flavours, I could not taste either on the grilled fish.

As for the main course, the Texan chicken drumsticks had a lovely colour on them but they were too tangy. The Indonesian bumbu kachang too failed to deliver - the peanut flavour was merely hinted at while it needed to be the star of the dish. The Mangalore prawn curry was another delicious dish. It was the perfect accompaniment to both white rice and the selection of Indian breads.

A selection of desserts

The new menu

Chatting with Pat and his wife, he told us his interest in culinary matters was influenced by his grandmother. We also learnt that he had once been a pilot and that this is his 44th trip to India!

There was a 2 man band playing live music and when he was asked to sing, Pat sportively got up to the stage and belted out Glen Campbell's 'Rhinestone Cowboy'.

Needless to say, the crowd adored him. Now here's a chef who wears many hats.

Getting an internationally renowned chef of Pat Chapman's calibre to enhance its diners' culinary experience, Barbeque Nation is indeed onto a good thing. Do catch the festival that is on till October 31st.

Celebrations and High Tea at Park Hyatt


Who doesn't like being invited to a birthday? A time to celebrate with friends, food and cake. At this party, there was plenty of all three.

It was the 1st of October and Park Hyatt has turned 2. A group of us had been invited to celebrate the occasion at the Dining Room. I love this space which overlooks the Terrace Deck and a tranquil pool of water. It has comfortable seating and is a good place to meet someone over coffee and snacks.

It was also an occasion to launch the hotel's "High Tea Affair". The chefs have rolled out an interesting menu that has a mix of Indian and English high tea elements. The menu changes every day and vegetarians will not be disappointed.

We were welcomed by 2 lovely ladies, PR Manager, Gargi Guha and PR Executive Parijat Gupta. Most of us invitees knew each other and conversation flowed as easily as the South Indian filter coffee served in dabaras... seriously... in a five star setting...?? How delightful!

So what did we have that day?

Along with the coffee, or tea (assorted flavours) that some preferred, there were lovely little biscuits - one was crunchy with pistachio bits and another was a chocolate chip. Deliciously addictive.

Authentic South Indian filter coffee served in a dabara

Pistachio biscuits; chocolate chip biscuits

Healthy granola bars in case you feel virtuous

Deliciously moist salmon sandwiches, colourful cheese and tomato sandwiches for the vegetarians

Crisp and hot sabudana vadas paired with mint chutney. We kept asking for refills

Glazed fig teacake (we loved this), brownie with chocolate mousse, fresh fruit and even chocolates

At the chaat counter, all 4 were scrumptious.

When was the last time you saw one of these?

Yes, it's a kettle. What a treasure!

The filter coffee percolator

Coffee making in progress

Needless to say, the high tea was a hit with the group; and we couldn't leave until we had met pastry chef Selva. Of course he wouldn't part with the recipe of that absolutely delicious brownie mousse slice but we did manage to get him to agree to organise a baking workshop very soon.

The High Tea Affair is on every day from 4-6pm @ 600/- per head (includes taxes). 

Oktoberfest at Hyatt Regency's 365 AS


Oktoberfest. The 16 day Bavarian celebration was finally here. And it wasn't only about sausages, pretzels and beer.

Five kinds of wurst (sausages), Schweinshaxe (pork leg)spatzle (handmade dumplings), sauekraut (fermented cabbage), pretzels and plenty more. The beer came in pilsner glasses not in litre mugs, we sat at trestle tables on cushioned benches under striped blue and white tents (sort of), cutlery and condiments on each table. What was missing were waitresses in dirndl dresses. But never mind, the serving guys were doing a good job, it would have been nicer if they had dressed up to "suit" the occasion.

Another day, another invite to review the ongoing Oktoberfest at Hyatt Regency Chennai. It was held in the alfresco area  adjoining their lounge bar, 365 AS. There was pre-recorded German music playing and the whole place was awash with a purple glow - good for the ambiance but a challenge for photographs.

Being a Monday, there were not too many people about.  But as the evening progressed, more guests trickled in.

But first, like all good beer festivals, we were offered a selection. My friend chose SNJ beer on tap, a local brew, I opted for the wheat beer Schneider Weisse as my favourite, Erdinger, was not available. Both beers were mild. And just right for the warm September evening. Oh bliss!

We chatted with executive sous chef Manvinder Singh who had lived in Germany for 4 years, and chef-de-partie Roberto Zorzoli. They told us that cuisine-wise, the lines blur between German, Austrian and Bavarian food during the festival. We also learnt that while Hyatt Regency Chennai was celebrating its third Oktoberfest this year, the menu had more dishes than what was served at the previous two.

Pumpkin pumpernickel, pretzels, sourdough, kaiser rolls

The food was laid out across 2 counters. We stopped to admire the rolls - pumpkin pumpernickel (what a tongue twister!) which looked like smooth lava stones under the purple light, kaiser, pretzels and sourdough. The best were the kaiser rolls. I do wish the rolls had been kept warm under a napkin.

Green bean almondine, potato salad, beetroot and orange salad

Sharing table space was a great big bowl of German potato salad. And a platter of green bean almondine. We loved the potato salad with its delicious dressing, also the beet and orange salad. Some of the beans in the bean salad were a little too mature.

At the carving station, there was a whole honey roast pork leg. It had been marinated in honey and mustard and roasted to a beautiful dark gold. Slices were sent to the table. While the meat was well done and moist, the marinade had not penetrated the meat.

The other offerings included this crusted potato and sundried tomato mash. There was an unfamiliar aroma when we opened the cloche, the chef revealed it had been cooked with wine. The mash was served as quenelles along with slices of pork. What a great idea.

Vegetable medley

Chicken schnitzel with sauerkraut

The schnitzel was tough and dry. However the sauerkraut, made with red cabbage, was delicious.

Beer battered fish

Corn on the cob

The spaetzel was another delicious dish, tangy with the flavour of tomatoes.

Smoked pork & chicken frankfurters, pork bratwurst, chicken & parsley frankfurter 

And of course, the sausages. Along with bratwurst and frankfurters, there were also ones made of lamb. The mouth-watering sausages, lightly grilled and served with squiggles of tomato and mustard sauce, had been flown in for the festival.

The chefs plated the food and sent it on to us. Sitting under the striped canopy, sipping beer and munching on the festival food, it was wonderful start to the week. Overall, we loved the variety on the menu and the fact that the food was light.

And when we finished, plates of desserts appeared. Could we really eat all this?

There was a tasty pumpkin cheesecake, a slice of apfelstrudel with a delicious filling, a shot of absolutely decadent chocolate mousse and a choux bun with orange flavoured cream. I did wish the strudel pastry was crisp and that it had been served warm.

The chefs

It was an enjoyable evening, what with our glasses filled regularly, good music, really good food and great service by Ronald and the crew.

Hyatt Regency's Oktoberfest will be on till October 5th (Sunday) and costs 1444/++. And it's unlimited. If you miss this one, remember it will be 365 days to the next Oktoberfest!!

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