Biryani Carnival at Spice Haat, HRC


Love biryani? How much?

Chennai's love affair with biryani is pretty well known. Hyatt Regency has a Biryani Carnival going on - every day till December 10th, Spice Haat's buffet counters will have 5 kinds of biryani, and plenty of accompaniments.

Biryani has a hoary past. Probably originating in Persia, the method of cooking this mix of rice, meat and spices could have been brought to north India by the Moghuls or through Calicut by Arab traders. The story of how biryani reached the shores of India is subject to a lot of discussion, that is not the intention of this post. However, our group which had been invited to review the Biryani Carnival had quite an animated discussion about the different kinds of biryani made in various parts the country.

Appetisers first - tandoori fish & chicken, paneer and green tikkas

Turkey biryani

This festival features 5 kinds of biryani on a daily basis - vegetable biryani (sic) and biryani made with 3 kinds of meat and that includes seafood. The speciality of the fifth one is that the meat is carved. On the day we went, it was turkey. The whole bird was cooked with the biryani and the chef carved us slices of meat and served it with some of the rice. Turkey biryani is quite common in homes that serve roast turkey for Thanksgiving or Christmas - leftovers are usually cooked into a biryani. The meat in this one was tender but the rice needed more seasoning. Still, if you can't wait till Christmas to eat turkey, I'd suggest you head over to Spice Haat.

Kaicurry brinji

Especially for the vegetarians, there's a really nice vegetable biryani labelled kaicurry brinji. They are generous with the mix of vegetables and with the perfectly cooked rice, it's a winning combination. Brinji is a sort of cross between a biryani and a pulav.

Ambur kozhi biryani

Tamilnadu's second representative was a delish Ambur kozhi biryani, a speciality from the town of Ambur. This one ticked all the boxes - aromatic, perfect spice levels, tender chicken and flavourful rice. Long grained rice, as opposed to the short grained seeraga samba rice is used; biryani purists and experts might scoff at this but luckily I'm neither!

Crab, lobster & squid biryani

The seafood biryani drew the most oohs and aahs - crab, lobster and squid biryani. Cooked with onions and tomatoes, the rice did not capture the essence of the seafood and the flavours of the meat were quite lost. While the meat of the lobster was succulent, the squid wasn't.

Kacche gosht ki biryani

Hyderabad-style kacche gosht ki biryani is one where raw meat is marinated in yoghurt and spices and cooked along with the rice. The skill of the chef lies in getting the meat and rice to cook perfectly. This one certainly did show skill but for me, the rose water was a tad too overpowering and that threw the dish out of balance.

Raitas and onion slices in yoghurt

The accompaniments for the biryanis were tangy bagara baigan, a thick brinjal-based gravy, spicy mirch ka salan made with bhajji chillies, 2 kinds of raita and sliced onions in curd.

Pulav with fried onions

If you find all that biryani a little too much, go for the lighter pulav with fried onions. It's flavourful and all the gravies pair with it really well.

Egg curry; yummy rara gosht
Veg accompaniments - cauliflower and fenugreek; rich & mildly spiced kaju mutter paneer; dhaba ki rajma

Rasagulla; kala jamun; elaneer payasam

There's plenty to choose from the dessert section but if Indian desserts interest you, there's yummy rasagullas and kala jamuns. The flavour of tender coconut in the elaneer payasam was far too mild and bordered on blandness but the gulab jamuns were yummy.

The Biryani Carnival is on till December 10th, from 6.30 pm-10.30 pm. and a different menu every day. The á la carte option is where you choose one out of the 5 biryanis and it costs 999/++ and includes two complimentary premium brews. The buffet costs 1550/++ and you can have all of the 5 varieties of biryani.

Do call +91 44 61001234 for more information or reservations.

Spice Haat
Hyatt Regency Chennai
365, Anna Salai, Teynampet, Chennai.

Gulab jamun

Sablés with strawberry preserve


The problem with trying to make perfect macarons is that a lot of eggs get used in the process. That's fine but when the yolks start piling up, what does one do with them? What's the point of making tubs of macaron fillings when your macs do not look like they are worthy of any filling?

That's when I came across this recipe for palets bretons, a thicker version of sablés that look like mini cupcakes. Jill Colonna's blog Mad About Macarons has a recipe that calls for 4 yolks! A sablé is a shortbread biscuit, French in origin and has a sandy texture because the butter is rubbed in. Two things got me interested in trying out the recipe - lack of butter from Brittany(!!!) and that the recipe called for fleur-de-sel or sea salt, which I have started using for all my bakes. Well, now to see how well local butter would do the job.

Jill's recipe for the biscuits asked for the butter to be creamed with sugar and salt. In fact, the recipe seemed more cake than shortbread.

Once the butter and sugar were beaten and yolks and flour added, the mixture seemed quite firm. A quick decision was made to divide them into 18 balls and press them into lined patty tins instead of shaping and chilling them as the recipe stated. My tins were larger than the size the recipe asked for, a foregone conclusion that the pretty shape in the recipe would not happen to mine.  

Right about then I decided to fill them with strawberry preserve. A friend from Coonoor had given me a bottle of organic preserve that her cooperative had made. Each of the sablés was topped with half a teaspoonful and then baked.

Freshly baked, they were soft, cakey in texture. The jam was a beautiful addition. By the second day, the biscuits became a little crumbly and had the texture of sablés. The grains of salt cut into the sweetness and that jam was the perfect finish. There was a slight smell of egg when we ate it hot out of the oven but by the next day, it had gone.

This is the original recipe as I feel it bakes into a lovely product. I'm sure if I'd used butter from Brittany or any French butter, it would have tasted spectacular. However, it's a good way to use up spare egg yolks - or leave you with egg whites to make more macs!!

Sablés with strawberry preserve (adapted from here)

180 gm soft butter, unsalted
150 gm sugar
1/2 tsp fleur-de sel or any salt
4 egg yolks
250 gm plain flour with 1 tsp baking powder
Strawberry preserve

Sieve together the flour and baking powder.
Use an electric beater to beat together butter, sugar and salt till creamy.
Mix in the egg yolks followed by the flour.
Combine the dough into a ball, divide into 18.
Fit each into a lined patty tin, make a small hole in the centre of each and fill with a half spoon of preserve.
Bake in a preheated 175°C for about 20 minutes or till the sablés are a light golden colour.
Remove from the tins and cool on a rack.

Donburi Festival at Yakiniku, HRC


Donburi is both a dish and the bowl it is served in. The contents of a donburi have fat grains of Japanese rice at the base and toppings that range from chicken to seafood to vegetables to egg. A delicious sauce that the meat is cooked in is poured over to moisten the rice. It's the equivalent of a one-dish meal, or as Chef Shohei explained to a friend, the Japanese version of biryani!!

Yakiniku at Hyatt Regency Chennai is celebrating its first ever Japanese food festival, Donburi. The kimono-clad hostess welcomed us into the tiny restaurant. Bottles of Kikoman, mirin and other sauces lined the shelves beside the food prep counter. Chef Shohei, the expat Japanese chef was clearly at ease at his work station. He's also learning Indian customs, greeting us with a namaste!

Yasai kakiage maki

This dinner was all about rice but still, how can you go to a Japanese restaurant and not order sushi? That's how a platter of yasai kakiage maki landed on the table. Sushi rice is spread over nori, the sheet flipped over and strips of vegetables fried in tempura batter are placed over it, rolled and coated in roe. Served with soy, pickled ginger and wasabi, it's light, crunchy and delish!

Seafood don

Five kinds of donburi are on the festival menu, including unagi don that has eel. We started with seafood donburi. Plump scallops, huge prawns, chunks of pink of salmon, squid, mushrooms and asparagus were beautifully arranged over the bowl of rice. All the seafood had been grilled, taken off the heat at just the right time so each of them was perfectly cooked, yet retaining succulence. The delicate seafood flavours were in contrast to the heft of the garlic-flavoured sauce, balanced beautifully with mirin and soy. Thinly shredded leeks formed the garnish.


The katsudon at Yakiniku is not pork but breaded fillets of chicken. Topped with just cooked eggs, the meat was tender but insufficient sauce made the rice a tad dry. Still, it was flavoursome.

Veg curry don

The Japanese are very fond of curry, curry don is also on the menu! The curry has a thick texture, probably a bit of roux was mixed into the curry sauce. The usual curry powder ingredients - coriander, turmeric, chilli and cumin formed the base and the vegetables comprised asparagus, mushroom and zucchini. This one certainly is an interesting vegetarian combination.


Thin slices of beef cooked with onions and served on rice is gyudon. A poached egg is served on the side, they'll place it on the meat as that is how it is served. Thank goodness as half-cooked egg is not something I can bring myself to eat. The meat was very tender, the hit of garlic was once again obvious and the sauce with mirin, dashi and soy was deep, dark and delicious.

Coffee jelly

Dessert was coffee jelly. Presentation was almost Zen-like until you dig in and the jelly reveals itself - dark, very strong, aromatic yet bitter. Both the cream and ice cream that it is served with cut through the bitterness, leaving a wonderful sweetness on the palate.

If you thought Japanese cuisine was only about sushi and sashimi, a bowl of donburi will show you that it isn't. It is definitely comfort food, wholesome and nourishing and the portion per bowl is plenty for one person.

The Donburi Festival is on till November 20th, 2016, prices for a bowl range from 800/++ to 1800/++.

Donburi at Yakiniku
Hyatt Regency Chennai
365, Anna Salai, Teynampet, Chennai.

Do call +91 44 61001234 for more information or reservations.

Barbeque Nation goes to Chettinad


Barbeque Nation has a habit of "doctoring" its menu, but not in a bad way, let me hasten to add! Every now and then, they come up with a twist and this time, they've brought in the "Flavours of Chettinad" festival.

Rangoli at the entrance

Chettinad decor

The 140-seater restaurant at Bergamo Mall was buzzing with diners on a Tuesday afternoon; it was also where a press conference was arranged. Ritam Mukherjee, Regional Manager, South told us they had recreated the flavours of the region known for hot and pungent dishes. Typical Chettinad spices were used as marinades for meat and veg starters, tangy and spicy main dishes like meen manga curry, kozhi roast and desserts like paal kozhukattai and jigarthanda were other specialties from the region. The decor of the restaurant also had touches of Chettinad - the rangoli at the entrance, terracotta wall hangings, saris woven in the area and eco friendly mud serving dishes. Even the service crew was dressed in ethnic clothes!

Dressed for service

Chef Siva

Chef Siva may look like a rookie but looks are deceptive here - he has several years of experience in cooking this cuisine. He told me that up to 22 different spices could go into a typical Chettinad dish. To standardise tastes across the 5 restaurant branches in the city, all the masalas are made at a central location and sent out everyday.

Nanari sarbath
Working the grill
Neer moru or nannari sarbath... I chose the latter and it was refreshing. Starters as always, are served at the table, the portable grill was affixed and skewers with tandoori paal katti triangles, fragrant and succulent karuveppilai melagu era and Chettinad kozhi roast were placed over it. Oh those prawns - so succulent!

Vazhaipoo vadai, bharwan khumb, lamb sheekh kebabs and mirchi masala tangdi  kebab were some of the other starters served at the table.

Karnakazhengu rawa podi; podi-tossed idli

One of Chef Siva's specialities is the karnakazhengu rawa podi - thin slices of yam coated with rawa, fried and tossed in podi. What a stunner of a dish - a beautiful blend of soft and crisp textures and mild warmth from the podi. 

Parottas & dosa

At the live counter, the chefs were making parotta which were shredded and made into delicious chicken and veg kothu parotta. Also crisp dosas and uthappams with minced mutton, mushroom, veg and even cheese as toppings.

Salad counter

Even the salads were southern specialties - sundal, raw mango and onion salsa, boiled peanuts and a pea and beetroot salad.

Chettinad chicken curry; karveppilai poondu; meen manga curry

Chettinad chicken biryani; nandu masala; ennai kathrika

Two soups are also served but everyone at my table made a beeline for the chicken biryani, Chettinad chicken curry, nandu masala and ennai kathrika. While the biryani was not too spicy, the flavours were just right and the accompaniments were perfect. Meen manga curry was so delicious - tangy, spicy and both the idyappam and the urulai kothamalli roti were great for soaking up the delicious gravies. Every dish was a celebration of Chettinad flavours.

Dal-e-dum; ghee rice

Curd rice

There was dal-e-dum, mutton roganjosh, baby corn capsicum masala and ghee rice for those who preferred North Indian flavours. And curd rice to end the meal. Why is it always possible to overeat at Barbeque Nation?

Thaen mittai cheesecake, coconut cake, brownie, kaapi tiramisu & kulfi

And then there was dessert. So difficult to choose just one! My most favourite was jigarthanda, luckily it was served in a shot glass.

Paal kozhukottai, gulab jamun

Yummy kulfi, jigarthanda with sabja seeds

Flavours of Chettinad is on at all branches of the restaurant till November 20th, 2016, both for lunch and dinner. There's live music by a 2-man band and if you like retro music, well, that's the place to be.

The price per head is given below, these rates are applicable only at Chennai:

The Nungambakkam branch of Barbeque Nation is at Bergamo Mall, 2nd Floor,
5/3 Khader Nawaz Khan Road
Chennai 600034.
Do call 044 60600000 for reservations.

Twist in the pizza @The Right Place, The Residency


*Update:  An Indian Twist to the Italian Fiesta" has been extended up to November 30th.

If there's one food that has undergone fusion in diverse ways, it must be the pizza. It's also the one most open to being reinvented. From the crust ingredients to the shape, cheese topping and everything in-between, perhaps the only thing that it hasn't been topped with is soup! Or has that too been done?

So, how do you like your pizza? Classic Italian style with marinara and mozzarella or one doused in everything including ketchup, oregano and chilli flakes?

Invited to review the ongoing "An Indian Twist to the Italian Fiesta" promotion, I was a little apprehensive. It's a known fact that pizzas in branded chains in India taste very different from their counterparts abroad. But to blatantly Indianise a pizza? How much makeover could it take is what a friend and I set out to discover at The Right Place.

The all-day restaurant at The Residency is a functional space, buzzing with activity and packed on a weekday evening. Executive Chef Ganesh came over to introduce us to the 2 page special menu - 10 starters, 5 veg pizzas and 5 non veg pizzas in 2 sizes - personal (6") and medium (12"). With names like Silli Chilli, Bombay Masala, Delhi 6 and Chicken Pizzini, it was fairly easy to guess the ingredients that go into the pizza. But that was the easy part.

Mildly flavoured  garlic bread

Spicy chicken meatballs; beer batter prawns with tartar sauce

Two starters to start the meal with - spicy chicken meatballs and beer batter prawns. The meatballs were negligibly spicy, tasty but a little hard when they cooled down to room temperature - you've got to eat them as soon as they are served. The prawns were fairly large and tasted fresh, the batter coating them was thick though the tartar sauce was too tame and needed more zing.

As for the pizzas, Chef Ganesh was kind enough to make us tasting portions. While waiting for them to arrive, we learnt that the restaurant had acquired a pizza oven recently, not a fancy one but one that makes a pizza efficiently. Hence, every order for a pizza takes about 20 minutes to complete as the process of making it starts right from kneading fresh dough.

Bombay Masala; Silli Chilli

From the vegetarian menu, we chose Silli Chilli and Bombay Masala. The pizza bases were thin but not wafer thin, had a nice texture and could easily be cut with a knife. The former had a topping of paneer, capsicum and chilli and a mild flavour of tandoori masala. I do not like to add additional seasoning to my pizza but as instructed by Chef Ganesh, oregano flakes sprinkled over it brought the layers of masala tastes to life. The latter had sliced tomatoes and cheese; chilli flakes and oregano perked up the flavour.

Chicken Pizzini; Shaan-e-Punjab

Sliced sausages cooked in makhni gravy and topped with onion, capsicum and paprika was the description for Chicken Pizzini. The makhni gravy played second fiddle to the sausages, nice sausages but they completely overwhelmed the gravy. Shaan-e-Punjab had slices of chicken cooked over charcoal and topped with cheese. The meat had a delightfully smoky flavour and was my favourite of the evening.

The pizzas look homely but come loaded with their respective toppings. Each of the sauces tastes different and the spices are used with a light touch. Interestingly, sauces and toppings are spread almost to the very edge of the crust, negating the need to leave it uneaten.  And the best part of it all must be the pricing - veg pizzas at 199/++ and 299/++ depending on the size, non veg at 249/++ and 349/++. There is a combo on offer - a personal pizza, 4 slices of garlic bread and a milkshake at 299/++. Takeaway pizzas are also available.  

Bisi belle bath with a temper

We were stuffed but when we were told that The Right Place has a very loyal clientele that comes in later in the night for the South Indian specials and especially for the bisi belle bath, we just had to try a small portion. Tempered with cashewnuts, shallots and curry leaves, it was sublime.

Live music on Thursdays & Fridays at Black and White

Black and White is the name of the restobar at The Residency. If retro Tamil music is your thing, catch MJ Shriram singing SPB's music every Thursday from 8pm. On Fridays, it's Hindi karaoke . The place is pretty popular so make sure you're on time as it gets pretty crowded as the evening progresses.

Pizza with an Indian Twist is on till November 15 November 30th, 2016, from 11 am -11 pm. Do make reservations at 044 28253434.

The Residency
49, GN Chetty Road
Chennai 600017.

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