Tuk Tuk Asia at Cupcakes Amore


About 15 years ago, 4 of us went to a newly opened Chinese restaurant on the ECR. We ordered a few Asian dishes from the menu, wondering if the whole exercise was going to end in disappointment. The food came and with the very first mouthful, we were stunned into silence - that's what good food does to us!! At the end of the meal, we asked to see the chef. Out came a smiling man in his chef coat and any doubts why the food tasted very Asian vanished when he called out a cheery "hi" in an unmistakably Singaporean accent. That was how and where we first met Chef Shiva Jee.

Tuk Tuk Asia operates from within Cupcakes Amore, a charming little cafe situated in a quiet, tree-lined lane off TTK Road. As you enter the cafe, your eyes are drawn to the sight of cupcakes, lots of cupcakes in fact, sitting pretty in the display case. To one side are the bains-marie, seating is to the other side. Large windows let in plenty of sunlight, there are books on a shelf and artwork on the wall. The cafe can seat around 20 people. Chalkboards announce the day's menu for both Cupcakes Amore and Tuk Tuk Asia. And that is where we go to taste Chef Shiva Jee's Tuk Tuk Asia specials.

While the cafe serves quintessential cafe fare like cupcakes (of course), sandwiches, quiches and beverages, Tuk Tuk Asia has a Wok to Box concept that serves combo meals where the diner chooses from 1 of 3 combos on offer from the bain-marie, a different menu each day, depending on what's available in the market. Each combo comes with a serve of rice or noodles. You can have your food packed to go or sit in the small, bright space and eat it there. Apart from that, there's a la carte with daily and weekly specials. And Happy Hours every day from 3 - 7 pm where one can order an assortment of fried snacks or chowmein... phew... yes, a cafe as mentioned!! True to its name, this tuk tuk dishes out specialities from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and dim sums which are kind of universal anyway...

Stir fried veg; cabbage rolls

Potato & baby corn in salt pepper

Rock salt pepper chicken; kung pao chicken 

Green pea fried rice; ginger capsicum noodles

My friend and I were there to try Chef's curry laksa and char kway teow. Kavita Chesetty, the owner came by to help us with our selection. When you see a menu like that, you want to order everything though she did warn us it was too much but we were going to share anyway.

Lettuce in wasabi mayo dressing

By the time I finished taking pics, a complimentary starter had been served. A very simple one of iceberg lettuce tossed with wasabi mayo dressing. It had just enough wasabi to give it punch and the sesame seeds sprinkled over gave it a nice crunch along with the crispness of the leaves.

Tom yum soup

The tom yum soup was a clear one with fresh prawns. While it had finely sliced lemon grass and juliennes of galangal, I missed the kick of roasted chilli paste and zestiness that kaffir lime leaves would have given it. However, it was flavourful enough and not too spicy.

Fish Balinese

Kavita suggested fish Balinese. I don't like basa but my friend was keen on it. The fish had been fried crisp in a batter and tossed through a dark soya-garlic sauce. It was delicious though I couldn't have more than a small piece.

Curry laksa

Curry laksa is a Peranakan specialty of noodles in a curry-based coconut milk soup. Served with sambal paste on the side, this one had a lot of the flavours missing. Can't help it when getting the right ingredients is just not possible. But then again, one of the best laksa I've had in Chennai was also made by Chef Shiva Jee when his sister, herself a renowned chef, brought down ingredients from Singapore. The gravy is this one was very lemak (rich and that's good), the noodles a tad overdone. The prawns, again, were very fresh. The sambal, served on the side, was missing one integral element - belachan.

Char kway teow

The chicken and prawn char kway teow more than made up for it. Dark with soy sauce, well cooked rice noodles, crunchy bean sprouts and just done pak choy, it was quite close to what the hawker stalls dish up. So shiok!

Beef rendang

There was also beef rendang. What gives rendang its special flavour is kerisik - grated coconut that is pan fried to golden toastiness and ground along with the spice paste. A little more of the kerisik  and a little kaffir lime leaf would have accentuated the other spice flavours. The meat had been sliced in strips and was very tender.

Oatmeal raisin cookie; chewy chocolate chip cookie; brownie

Dessert was courtesy Cupcakes Amore - a couple of cookies and a brownie. Both cookies were chewy and very delish. As for brownies, if you like yours dark, chocolaty, fudgy and dense with a thin, flaky crust, well, that's the sort that Cupcakes Amore bakes.

Cupcake parade: Orange blossom; salted caramel; white choc raspberry; sweet vanilla; real red velvet; double chocolate; mango&cream; pretty strawberry

What better way to end a meal than with a cup of estate coffee and a doughnut. That doughnut was freshly made and pillow-y soft, its fine thin crust dusted with icing sugar and filled with cream, flavoured with the contents of a vanilla bean. All the bakes are done in-house and from the way they taste, it is obvious that ingredients used are of very good quality.

Vanilla cream doughnut

Our meal came to around 2000/ and that included a serving of Phad Thai as takeaway. Portions are generous, in fact we had to have leftovers packed up.

Tuk Tuk Asia/ Cupcakes Amore
16, 1st Cross Street, TTK Road
Alwarpet, Chennai.
044 24360108.

Teppan'd at The Flying Elephant


Chakk... chakk... chakk... chakk... a familiar sound at a kothu parota stall but then, we were not on any road or lane but at the Park Hyatt Chennai, at one of The Flying Elephant's open kitchens, to be more precise. And the sound was coming from behind a glass window that separated the teppan grill from the dining space.

Teppan cooking involves quite a bit of showmanship and Chef Lalit was equal to the task. He flipped his spatulas up in the air and caught them deftly, twirled them around and did a sort of a pirouette. He balanced an egg on the spatula, flung it up and...gasp... caught it effortlessly on his spatula. A second toss and this time, he let the egg fall on the edge of his spatula where the shell broke into two and landed on the teppan. He pushed the shell away, added another egg and when they were set and duly seasoned, rolled them up. Getting into position, he rhythmically shredded it into tiny bits and sent them flying to the other end of the teppan where the finely diced vegetables were sizzling. There was garlic sauteing in another section, seafood in the third and rice in the fourth. He added some sauce, seasoning and mixed up all the bits and before you could say "teppan", scooped up all that delicious rice into a bowl and sprinkled chopped spring onions over. And then the chakk... chakk... chakk... stopped...till the next order. (Video link)

Cocktail essentials at the Garden Bar

Whiskey Sour

The Flying Elephant logo embossed on an ice block; the making of...Old Fashioned

Murugan Colada, Very Berry; Flying Mary

It's Friday night and a little earlier, we had been in the bar. The tabloid menu listed some interesting cocktails. The Whiskey Sour was perfect but I found the Old Fashioned and the Flying Mary - a take on Bloody Mary - a little too strong. Other cocktails we had were Murugan Colada(!!), complete with a curry leaf and my favourite - vodka-based Very Berry. 

The dining area was abuzz with diners and foot tapping music. Our group was there to try out the new and compact teppan menu. The tempo of the music picked up and then the service crew on each of the levels stopped doing whatever they were doing and started dancing. Wow! What energy!

The music slowed down and everyone got back to work and we crowded around the teppan. It is a large flat iron plate on which food is cooked. It takes a good couple of years to learn the tricks of the trade and the teppan chef is an interesting chap to watch. Food cooked on the teppan is done fast and tastes fabulous. There's no heavy seasoning, just sauces like teriyaki, soy and mirin...and garlic and ginger as well.

Assorted Mushrooms

Peruvian Asparagus

Assorted Mushrooms has a mix of button, delicate oyster and earthy shiitake. The mushroom textures are interesting and the teriyaki sauce adds its salty sweetness to the taste. Texture comes in the form of crisp millets sprinkled over the top. Peruvian Asparagus has just tender asparagus spears, seaweed and compressed cucumber. The surprise comes from batons of crisp, sweet Granny Smith apples and the ponzu dressing which adds tang. Asian Greens has kale, pak choy, beans and broccolini. The heat of the teppan had cooked these greens just enough for them to stay crunchy and the ginger sauce was all they needed to take them from plain boring greens to an exotic dish.

Gem Lettuce

Garlic fried rice

For me, the star dish was Gem Lettuce. Lightly char grilled lettuce halves had been topped with crisp brioche croutons, a mild goat's cheese dressing drizzled all over with toasted pine nuts for crunch. The flavours were stark but in perfect sync. There was also garlic fried rice where garlic sure made an over-the-top statement and we heard it loud and clear!

Tenderloin Tataki
Sea Bass

Teriyaki Chicken

Of the meat dishes, Tenderloin Tataki was fabulous. Wafer thin slices of meat had been lightly seared and almost melted in the mouth, the ponzu added a burst of tang. The Scampi served with citrus salsa was simply delicious, lightly charred on the high heat of the teppan but still tender and juicy. Sea Bass had a miso glaze, mango bits and scallion salad that allowed the fish to come into its own - perfectly cooked, yet moist.

The mixed seafood fried rice was the one we had seen Chef Lalit make. Lots of prawn, squid and fish in it and the rice had been seasoned with teriyaki sauce. Loved the flavours and the nutty, firm texture of the rice.

Mixed seafood fried rice

There's no special dessert menu but there was a tasting platter of 5 miniature pastries. Each one was fabulous, the pistachio cake pop and the salted caramel profiterole were beyond delicious.

Miniatures - salted caramel profiterole; macaroon; mango tart; orange cake; pistachio pop 

Teppan'd at The Flying Elephant is on till May 29th. Dinner is a la carte and prior reservation is recommended.

Park Hyatt
39, Velachery Main Road (near Raj Bhavan)
Chennai 600032.
044 7177 1655.


Taiwanese Food Fest at Stix, HRC


There's a Taiwanese food festival in town and it's at Stix, Hyatt Regency Chennai's Sichuan restaurant. Partnered by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Centre in Chennai, it is also an occasion to celebrate the inauguration of Taiwan's 14th and first lady President. Chef Sung Chiung-Hung of the Grand Hyatt Taipei has curated this festival, along with HRC's new Executive Chef, Vikram Ganpule.

Chef Sung

Taiwanese cuisine has been influenced to a large extent by the southern provinces of Mainland China which include Fujian and Guangdong and also Japan. The food in Taiwan is light and fresh as the weather tends to be quite sultry and street food is extremely popular. The menu for the 5-day festival is a compact one and interestingly, the price of each dish ends with the numeral 6, considered a lucky number for it sounds like the word  for wealth!

Plenty of ingredients; wok tossed blur of prawns

Garlic, salt & pepper shrimp

Being an island, seafood is abundant in Taiwan and it was a pleasure to watch the chef toss those really big shrimp in garlic, salt and crushed Sichuan peppercorns. A delicious dish though the shrimps were a tad overdone.

Green tea mushroom dumplings

Pretty green tea mushroom dumplings came around. Beautifully pleated, the skins were thin, part green and part white. Inside, the filling consisted of finely diced veg including mushrooms, water chestnuts and plenty of celery that gave crunch and flavour. However, there wasn't much to bind the filling together to keep it intact.

Green pepper pork & seafood pie

Green pepper pork and seafood pie consisted of a thin wrapper that enclosed finely minced pork and prawn. Quite like a potsticker, the skin was crisp, indicating it had been lightly pan fried. The delicate flavours made this one very popular at our table.

Pink Lady

The main course started with a plate of Pink Lady...err...ladies as there were 3 of them - blanched tomatoes stuffed with a mix of rice and corn. They looked prettier than they tasted. Corn, apparently is a popular ingredient in Taiwanese cooking.

Mango chicken roll
Another table favourite was the mango chicken roll where thin slices of chicken had been arranged on thin slices of mango and glazed with a sweetish sauce. The combination of meat, sauce and mango was exquisite.

Bacon fish roll

Pineapple fried rice

Pumpkin pork fried rice noodles

Listed as a main course, the bacon fish roll was also delicious. Can anything wrapped in bacon taste anything but good? Accompanying it was a bowl of pineapple fried rice and pumpkin pork fried rice noodles. I loved the fat, glistening grains of sticky rice but there seemed to be more of rice than other ingredients in it. Still, you could just eat the rice by itself with the pineapple adding little bursts of sweetness to the dish.

Mango sago; sesame balls with bean paste

Dessert was mango sago, a pudding with blobs of sago in a mango sauce and sesame balls with bean paste. How I wish there was grass jelly or bubble tea to end the meal with.

The Taiwanese Food Festival is on till May 24th and is open for both lunch and dinner. A meal for 2 would be around 3000/++.

Hyatt Regency Chennai
Do call +91 44 61001234 for reservations.

Mango masterclass at Courtyard Marriott, Chennai


Mango rules! Yes, it's that time of year again.
Strangely, sweet ripe mangoes are yet to hit the markets, the ones that are available are not fully ripe or have been artificially ripened and so choices are still limited.

The ingredients

"Cook and Dine" is a series of classes conducted by the chefs at Courtyard Marriott, Chennai. Participants are taught various recipes, some of these classes are even hands-on. I do remember having attended a couple of dessert classes and one on Italian recipes. After the class, we would be served a fantastic lunch. Well, here's good news - the hotel is starting the series again and the first one this year was all about the king of fruits - what else but the mango!

Head Chef-cum-pastry specialist Jacob Justin showed us 3 classic recipes. Each of these recipes was then lifted to the sublime with the addition of mango. Sounds simple, right? Yeah, exotic too!

Mango cream catalana

The first was Mango Cream Catalana. The recipe was somewhat like that of a caramel custard but with a twist. Topped with diced mangoes and a berry compote, it was a remarkable play of textures. The slight tartness of the mango and the compote cut down the sweetness of the custard. Thank goodness they had been baked in tiny moulds, we didn't feel too guilty finishing a bowl apiece!

The making of ...mango misu 

There are more spins on a tiramisu than what a top can make; we were shown how to make a mango misu. Sponge cake discs dipped in mango puree lined the bottom of a martini glass. A mix of mango puree, mascarpone cheese and cream was piped over and topped with a spoon of berry compote and the layering was repeated. It tasted light and heavenly. We were given several ideas to amp up the flavour and I will be making mine with a bit of white chocolate... and maybe some liqueur. Can't wait!

The making of... a cold and chunky mango cheesecake

The third dessert was a cold mango cheesecake. We were taught how to make a fail-safe  biscuit crumb base. Chef Jacob's mango custard was a breeze to put together; mixed with cream cheese and chunks of mango, it was then left to set.

He brought out one he had made earlier, suitably decorated. It tasted just like a cheesecake should - worthy of seconds!

They are easy recipes and the chef was patient enough to discuss ways to jazz up each of these desserts to make mango play the hero's role. Two varieties were used - alphonso and senthuram and I think both are perfect in desserts.

Once the class was over, we were invited for a scrumptious lunch buffet at Paprika.

Soup and breads; salads; pizzas

The spread includes soups, salads and along with gravies and Indian breads, a really tasty biryani. The long queue in front of the counter was an indication as to how popular it was!

The dessert table

Courtyard Marriot Chennai will be hosting "Cook and Dine' classes every month. To know more about these sessions or to participate, do call +91 44 66764000/ 66764488. The cost of the class includes the buffet lunch at Paprika.

At Rhapsody.
Courtyard Marriott Chennai
564, Anna Salai, Teynampet
Chennai 600018.

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