Dinner buffet at Symphony, Ramada Egmore Chennai


Can anyone do full justice to a buffet spread?  Which was my dilemma when I was invited to review Symphony's multi cuisine dinner buffet. Like me, there were other diners in the restaurant who lifted the lids of the cloches, looked in and either helped themselves to the contents or moved on to the next.

Seventy seven dishes on the menu!! The problem gets a little more complicated when the dessert section comes into view. Now you realise the folly of piling your plate high with various salads and main courses. Then you compromise - you tell yourself you'll do an extra 15 minutes on the treadmill and possibly even skip breakfast the next day.

Ramada Egmore Chennai has a wonderful location. It is close to the railway stations, the business district, government offices and of course, the Marina beach.  At the entrance of Symphony is a group of figurines with musical instruments and a screen painted with more figures - a pretty musical welcome.

The restaurant is a fairly large one. Buffet counters run all along one length of the room and in the centre, large displays of salads, appetisers and main courses. Occupying pride of place is the biryani and salna pots, definitely a must try. Soothing music plays over the sound system, reinforcing the name of the restaurant.

Dining chairs with orange and cream upholstery and dark brown tables give the place a very contemporary look. My son and I were led into one of the private dining rooms and we were joined for a short while by Group President Jaya Shankar Gupta who told us a bit about the hotel.

We ordered our drinks - a particularly nice fresh orange juice for the young man and a musk melon for me. Soups came next - vegetable jade soup which was a little spicy and chicken mulligatawny which had a delicate flavour. I would have liked it more if the lentil base was smoother. Bits of coconut garnished the soup.

Chicken mulligatawny soup; fresh musk melon juice

Our starter was going to be fried fish but we decided to skip it and had murgh malai kebab. It was succulent and full of flavour.

Murgh malai kebab; kandhari tikki

We were also served an interesting almond kandhari tikki made with mashed yam and almond bits. Delicious.

Making kuzhi paniyaram

One other starter was kuzhi paniyaram made at a live counter. I normally stay miles away from anything that is oily but on this I couldn't see a drop of it. It was crisp outside, fluffy within and served with a tangy onion and tomato chutney. Yummy!

The salad display was mind boggling. Not just the salads per se but someone had got hold of a whole lot of fruits and veg and carved into them.

See what I mean?? Beautiful, right?

Spinach chicken salad; cottage cheese salad; cocktail egg salad
zucchini cups; spicy mango salad

There were cups fashioned out of zucchini and stuffed with vegetables and cheese, the mango salad evoked memories of Chennai beaches, of course it was now being served in more hygienic environs! The cottage cheese salad with its balsamic flavoured topping was interesting but the cheese was hard and dry; leaving it uncovered was not helping its cause.

Sauteed veg; polenta with herbed potato slices 

A couple of Continental dishes caught my eye - there were sauteed legumes and polenta with herbed potatoes. Both were very nice, the vegetables had retained their crunch and the polenta with its cheesy topping was mild flavoured and well done.

Plenty of choices for vegetarians as well - fragrant subzi pulao  and paneer kofta curry made a terrific combination. There were noodles too but they looked quite dry and I was right.

Lamb dum biryani, salna, egg masala

Lamb dum biryani was simply delicious. The chunks of lamb were fork tender and the rice itself, long grained and fragrant with the aroma of kewra, was perfectly spiced.  Salna and the egg masala, along with a bowl of raita were the perfect accompaniments.

Mamidikaya pulusu

There were more main courses on offer but I chose the interesting looking ones and I wasn't disappointed. The one thing I simply had to try was mamidikaya pulusu -  a spicy raw mango and garlic curry. The plain rice served with it was quite dry but all was forgiven as it was a tangy, tasty combination. And spicy to boot!

 As for the desserts, there were far too many to taste so we shared a few.

Carrot slices; butterscotch pud; marbled choco pie; strawberry cheesecake; orange pastries

Indian sweets; orange rasagulla; mango parfait

Semiya payasam; chocolate pudding

The chocolate pudding and the mango parfait got top points from the both of us. The rasagulla was a close second. What didn't impress were the cheesecake and the butterscotch mousse. There was too much setting agent in them which made them rubbery. Like ice creams? They have the cold stone variety too.

Symphony has a long menu and the diner has ample choices. However, for me, it's the Indian section that was more appealing. Service was very good with plates and cutlery cleared and replaced quickly.

Ramada Egmore Chennai is at Gandhi Irwin Road.The dinner buffet is 789/ per head, all inclusive. Do call 30004777 to make a reservation.

Kashmiri Wazwan Festival at Hyatt Regency Chennai


Sucheta was from Kashmir, one of the first friends I made when I moved to Hyderabad. She was a wonderful cook and taught me some of her family's recipes. Every time she went to visit her parents in Kashmir, she would bring back tea leaves and spice powders and give me some of her precious stock. She showed me how to make qahwa - green tea flavoured with spices and almonds. I've made it innumerable times but mine never tasted as good as hers! We would sit at her dining table and between sips of qahwah, she would tell me about life in Kashmir, describe the bitterly cold winters, how the kangri - the portable firepot, kept them warm, and of course, about Kashmiri food. Mutton was the preferred choice of meat, as it was most suitable for the climate. It was from her that I heard about wazwans - the multi course traditional Kashmiri Muslim meal that was usually made for weddings.

It's been awhile since I last met Sucheta but I missed her most the day Hyatt Regency Chennai invited me to review their wazwan. Our group included food writers, journalists and bloggers and we were welcomed by Chef Subrata Debnath, Executive Chef at HRC who had curated the food for the festival and Waza Bashir Ahmad. A waza is the chef who has specialised in making a wazwan.

Waza Bashir Ahmad

The wazwan is the cultural identity of Kashmiri Muslims. Culinary skills are passed down from generation to generation; it is considered an art and only a privileged few can carry this tradition on. Naturally, one becomes a waz only after years of learning from the vasta waza or head chef. The wan is the shop which supplies meats and other delicacies. A traditional wazwan can have up to 36 courses, thank goodness just 10 were being showcased at our lunch. 

We started the meal with veg seekh kebab and chicken seekh kebab. The kebabs were soft and had a melt in the mouth quality. The chicken kebab was particularly delicious and a little spicy.There was also tabak maaz - twice cooked lamb ribs. Tender ribs had been marinated, boiled in spices and then briefly fried to a beautiful golden colour. While the outside was crunchy, the meat inside was tender. The appetisers were served with a delicious walnut chutney and an onion salad.  

Vegetarian seekh kebab

Chicken seekh kebab

Tabak maaz

Walnut chutney, onion salad, sheermal 

Mutton rista and gushtaba were served next. The food expert beside me explained that the raw meat has to be at a particular temperature before being hand pounded along with some fat, mixed with spices and then shaped into balls. Rista is cooked in a thin onion tomato gravy and gushtaba in a fenugreek and yoghurt based gravy. He told me to slice it open and when I did, the juices within flowed out. If you have bitten into a rasagulla, you will know exactly what I'm talking about. Both gravies were excellent but my favourite was definitely the gushtaba.

Mutton rista


We were served tiny sheermal, a leavened bread made of flour and baked. It had been brushed with saffron and was delicious with the gravies.

There was also chicken dhaniwal, again in a mild, yoghurt based gravy.
Fish in Kashmir is mostly the fresh water variety and we were served a fish korma. This was made of basa, not my fish of choice so I tried only the deep red gravy.

Rajma; whole eggplant; lotus root curry 

Vegetarians will not be disappointed for there's plenty on the menu. There is nadru yakhni - lotus root cooked in a yoghurt gravy, a vegetable much loved by the Kashmiris, whole eggplant in red gravy, a delicious rajma, cauliflower yakhni and an interesting spinach curry - nadre saag. The gravies were a vibrant red because of the use of Kashmiri chillies, well known for its colour and mild taste. 

Nadre saag

Most Kashmiri gravies are thin in consistency, the juices from the meat form the stock and are perfect when eaten with rice. We were served a delectable Kashmiri pulao, tinged with saffron and with plenty of cashew nuts.

Zarda pulao; kesari phirni

For dessert, there was zarda pulao. The rice had the wonderfully nutty texture, it was perfectly sweetened and had a faint taste of orange. It was studded with barberries that lent an interesting taste and texture to the rice. The other dessert was kesari phirni - coarse powdered rice cooked in milk and topped with strands of saffron and mango slices. It too was a beautiful amalgamation of flavour and texture coming together in a dish.

Lunch ended with qahwa - Kashmiri green tea flavoured  with cardamom and poured from a samovar. What a fitting end to a meal from a place called 'paradise on earth'.

A trami

This beautiful presentation of the whole meal is called a trami and is priced at 1400/ for non veg, 1100/ for the vegetarian one. The buffet is priced at 1550/++.

The Kashmiri Wazwan Festival will be on till June 20th at Spice Haat.
For reservations, do call +91 44 6100 1234.

*Trami pic courtesy Mohamed Ali M.

Mango madness at Park Hyatt Chennai


The Indian summer - the season most people dread. But then again, if we had no summer, we probably wouldn't have mangoes. Golden, juicy orbs of sweetness and lusciousness piled high in market stalls, on push carts and even on the pavements where itinerant hawkers set up temporary stands.

The mango is one of those fruits that can be eaten raw, half ripe or fully ripe. Heck, even the flowers can be eaten!

Desserts with mangoes are passe. So I discovered at Park Hyatt Chennai where I was invited to the Mango Tasting Pleasures menu - a whole meal, soup to dessert, where mango would play the starring role. Five kinds mangoes, to be precise and all of them varieties that are available in the local markets.

Food critic Ameeta Agnihotri, PHC's PR Manager Gargi Guha, PR Executive Parijat Gupta and I sat in The Dining Room that overlooks the Terrace Deck. It was indeed a beautiful setting for the meal that was to follow and to listen to mango stories that were being swapped.

Five mango based drinks are on the menu, 2 of them non alcoholic - Alphonso Fizz with lemon juice and ginger ale and Mango Tango, a blend of Banganapalli juice, orange juice and strawberry bits. The Fizz was rather tart and I preferred the Mango Tango.

The chefs at Park Hyatt Chennai have crafted an innovative menu. There are elements of molecular gastronomy, but most of it would comprise of unconventional pairing of ingredients, we were told.

For a minute, I was taken aback when this appetiser was placed in front of me. The first time I ate a runny yolk was when I was 5 years old and I hated it. I had to check out the menu again and yes, it did say mango yolk. On a layer of avocado mousse was a tartare of melon and grapefruit, resting on it were 2 shimmering yolks and a pat of creme fraiche. Blobs of lemon curd completed the plating. Slicing through the yolk, the runny centre flowed out. It was a riot of flavours and textures - the tartness of the lemon curd, sweetness of the melon, tanginess of the creme fraiche, the smooth mousse and that mango yolk itself. The surface had the feel and taste of mango jelly and the inside was a thick juice made from the malgova variety of mango.

The soup was a cold mango gazpacho with mud crab, lychee jalapeno relish and roasted almonds. The lychee slices looked like raw seafood and the gazpacho had been made with senthuram mango. It was a beautiful combination of mango and crab, both restrained in flavour and the relish adding a kick just when it was getting monotonous. The almonds added a much needed crunch to the whole.

Luscious Imam Pasand was made into a sorbet. A savoury buttermilk pannacotta formed the base, on it an asparagus salad with diced mango, toasted pine nuts and served with wafer thin pumpernickel toast. The pairing of the creamy, just set pannacotta and sorbet was exquisite.

Our salad comprised of slices of Alphonso mango, house cured duck, fennel and sugar snap peas, pistachio, pomegranate. Rocket leaves added a peppery note and the slight acidity of the raspberry jelly tied up all the flavours together. Chef Megha explained the curing process to us, it sounded simple enough but the flavours were complex.

Dessert was the personification of simplicity - sticky rice with Banganapalli mango slices and coconut creme. Toasted sesame seeds lifted the dish to sublimity, the only jarring note was the tartness of the mango slices though the rice was sweetened perfectly.

Would a whole meal made of mango be an overdose? Not at all, neither in flavour nor in terms of colour. Every one of the dishes was light, each variety of mango had been chosen with much thought so it did not overpower any of the other flavours in that particular dish. To that end, each of the dishes was distinctly different from each other. A truly innovative experience.

Mango Tasting Pleasures will be available till Sunday Brunch of June 7th at the Park Hyatt  dining outlets. A la carte prices start from 435/++

For more details, do call +91 4471771234 / +91 8939871109.                  

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