Dastarkhwan-e-Awadh by Holiday Inn Chennai


I took a trip to Lucknow for an Awadhi meal.

No, no, I didn't sneak past state borders nor did I break the quarantine imposed in Chennai. In fact, I didn't even step out of my house.

Fine, let me rephrase that. What I had was Dastarkhwan-e-Awadh, an Awadh food festival. It came from the kitchens of Holiday Inn Chennai, a labour of love by Chef Asif Iqbal and his team. It's a festival with a difference where the food was delivered fresh to my home.

Chef Asif

Adhering to the hygienic and no contact delivery norms, the food was brought by an associate of the hotel and left outside my front door.

Everything was neatly packed in disposable containers. I opened them to take photographs before transferring the contents into my own platters, in the process, it filled my home with such tantalising aromas.

Murgh tikka Zeenat

Fresh fresh salad

So much care had been taken even in arranging the food in foil containers. Finely sliced onions and peppers, a green chilly and half a lime shared space with super tender murgh tikka Zeenat. The mint chutney was perfect. There was even a green salad, the fresh and vibrant colours of the cucumber and carrot batons, salad leaves and tomato wedges and neatly sliced onions were so inviting.

Nawabi kumbh ki galouti

Nawabi kumbh ki galouti was stand out. The dark kebab practically melted in the mouth, leaving behind its earthy, umami flavour. The saffron bread that encased it was soft and tender, almost like a thinly rolled piece of pastry.

Dal sultani breado; shahi paneer; roomali rotis

Lagan ka murgh

Awadhi cuisine is known for its rich yet subtle flavours. The predominant spices seems to be cardamom and saffron and both were noticeable but added with a delicate hand. Shahi paneer had triangular pieces of paneer in a gravy that was thick yet smooth. Dal Sultani breado, with its mellow flavours, indicated a long and slow cooking process that resulted in lentils that were creamy yet full of texture. Lagan ka murgh, slow cooked chicken in a thick red gravy, was perfect with both nawaratan pulao and soft roomali rotis. While the colour was a tantalising red, the spice level was moderate. Portions are very generous.

Perfect nawaratan pulao garnished with sultanas, caramelised onions & diced apple

Zaffrani phirni

Our dessert was zaffrani phirni. It had the perfect creamy texture and wasn't too sweet either and it was cold. Slivers of almonds and saffron strands added texture and contrast to the smooth rice paste.

Pour yourself a glass of wine, put on some mellifluous Indian classical music and savour the delights of the royal flavours of Awadh in the comfort of your home.

Dastarkhwan-e-Awadh is happening now at Holiday Inn Chennai and the full course set menu is priced at 999/ per head, inclusive of taxes and delivery.

Orders can be placed by calling 044 66046604/ 7550111044 or 7824880968

Broccoli cheddar cheese soup


These days, my most favoured piece of kitchen equipment is the immersion blender. Cooking during a lockdown is indeed challenging for whomever is in charge of the cooking me  so we have soup for dinner most nights because a) it's light and b) I need only warm it just before we sit down for dinner. So yes - I do make it whilst I'm cooking lunch and chill it till dinnertime. Of course, it's not really soup weather these days but who cares when it's a matter of convenience.

It's April and at this time of the year, I'm usually busy rummaging through recipe books to find an apt recipe to celebrate the blog's birthday. Yes, we're 8 years old today.
However, this year, with the lockdown in place, I wanted to make something that was simple and which didn't need too many shmancy ingredients. What would be simpler than a soup?

I usually start by sautéing some onion, making a roux and then throwing in a few veggies along with stock, milk or water. Once the veggies are cooked, the immersion blender does its job and that's it.

So a broccoli and cheddar cheese soup was on my mind for some time and as luck would have it, the day before the lockdown, I got the husband to pick up a broccoli for me. Of course the man finds the biggest one possible and brings it home. Looks like he had broccoli cheddar soup on his mind too so no complaints.

 I followed my usual soup formula using broccoli florets, chopped onions and garlic, a carrot, some chicken stock, a little milk and lots of water. At dinnertime, after the soup  was warmed, some grated cheddar cheese was stirred through. My my...excellent potage! And you don't really need anything to serve it with. It's pretty filling on its own.

Broccoli cheddar cheese soup

1 small onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 stalk celery, diced (optional)
500 gm cleaned broccoli florets, include the stalk too
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped

2 tbsps butter
2 tbsps oil
3 tbsps plain flour (whole wheat is also fine)
1 cup stock - chicken or veg
1 cup milk
1 cup water
Salt and pepper to season
100 gm cheddar cheese, grated

Heat butter and oil in a large pan.
Sauté the diced onions and when light golden, add in the garlic and celery.
Stir in the flour and when it no longer smells raw, pour in the stock, milk and water.
When it starts to boil, add in broccoli florets and carrots.
Turn down the heat and cook it for about 15 -20 minutes with the lid off until the veggies become tender.
Adjust seasoning, add lots of pepper if you like more spice.
Remove the pot from the heat and when it cools a little, put your immersion blender to work and blend the mix. 
It's nice if the soup is not over-processed, a few chunks here and there give it more body.
Warm the soup before serving, stir the cheese through and check seasoning once more.

Don't boil the soup after adding the cheese - it might curdle.
If you like the soup hotter, sauté a couple of green chillies along with the onions.

Stay safe y'all. 

A Welcome Hotel breakfast


*This food trip was done a few weeks ago, before the lockdowns and shutdowns due to COVID 19 happened.

Like a lot of folks, I love me a good South Indian breakfast. But unlike a lot of folks, the opportunity to have one never seems to come around. Good friend Guddu Anand has posted plenty of times about his trips across town to Welcome Hotel at Purusaiwalkam for a breakfast fit for a king. He'd talk about the softest idlis that swam in a pool of sambar that the restaurant was well known for. And the vadas, pongal, chutney...sigh... In all my years of living in Chennai, I never thought of going there even though for a time, I used to work in that area. Even friends used to rave about that sambar and all I could do was to put it on my bucket list and hope of making it there some day. In this lifetime.

And that day came just a few weeks ago when food writer Ameeta Agnihotri brought up the topic. Of course, yours truly was very interested in the plan and Gudduji was only too willing to drive us all the way there on a Sunday morning. The catch was that we had to be at the restaurant by 7 am as Gudduji warned us that not just parking but even seats would be hard to find if we were even a little late. Well, what's an hour - or two - of lost sleep on a Sunday morning for a chance to scratch something off a bucket list??  Sacrifices have to be made sometimes.  Maybe he took pity on us because late in the night, I got a message from him to say that I was to meet them at Guindy at 7.25 am!

Welcome to Welcome Hotel

Luck was definitely on our side because not only did he find a nice parking spot but we even found a table at 8 am. It is a typical South Indian restaurant with functional 4 seater tables, old fashioned chairs and packed with hungry customers. A busboy cleaned our steel topped table while servers brought out idlis and dosas from a cavernous kitchen.     

Idli & sambar 

Plates of idlis were placed in front of us, along with a small container of coconut chutney. The server seemed to know we were going to take a video so he paused a moment dramatically before pouring the sambar over. There are 2 soft idlis to a plate and they are fairly large. Cut into one and you can see that it is not the ultra-fluffy one, rather one made from a coarsely ground batter which allows all that sambar to soak in. The sambar is thin, not too spicy, just a little sweetish and so delicious.

Next was the plate of vada with its crisp outer crust and soft inside. The sambar, once again was poured all over and was the perfect accompaniment. So good.

Dosa with more sambar, vadacurry & coconut chutney

My crisp, plain dosa came with more sambar, a coconut chutney and vadacurry which was a novelty for me. Lentil flour is mixed with water and seasoning, shaped into dumplings and either fried or steamed. The dumplings are then broken and added to a spicy onion-tomato gravy that gives it the typical coarse texture.

Pongal & vada with accompaniments

And then, there was the quintessential South Indian breakfast combo comprising pongal and vada with more sambar, vadacurry and the freshest, unadulterated coconut chutney. The pongal had lots of halved cashews in it  and with every mouthful, you could smell the delightful flavour of ghee.  Such a delicious way to start the morning but of course, by this time, we were pretty full and could only nibble at it.

The perfect glass of coffee

Guddu told us that the payasam is mouthwatering but we decided to finish with coffee. I usually skip coffee because in a lot of places, it is too milky but Welcome Hotel's coffee is something else. It has the perfect ratio of decoction to milk to sugar and is served at the perfect temperature. In no time, I was looking into the bottom of an empty glass.

On our way out, we met owner, Venkata Ramana Upadya. Started by his father in 1978, the restaurant is well known for the consistent taste of its food. In the 42 years of its existence, they have had a series of 4 head chefs who have been reponsible for maintaining this taste. The sambar and chutnies are made three to four times a day, which accounts for its freshness anytime you taste it. As for the sambar, it is made according to a secret Manglorean family recipe but cooked by Tamilian chefs. Simply amazing, isn't it?

Welcome Hotel is at No. 241, Purasawalkam High Road, Purasaiwakkam, Chennai 600007.
The breakfast service starts at 6 am.

Gourmet Passport @ East Coast at Madras Square


East Coast at Madras Square was the setting of a very different kind of dinner hosted by Ameeta Agnihotri, Brand Host of #GourmetPassportExperiences. At the restaurant, our group assembled in a private dining area for an evening of low calorie cocktails to be followed by a healthy dinner.

The menu

When I saw the menu, my first instinct was to turn tail and run because the promised "healthy dinner" was going to be completely vegan. Thankfully, curiosity got the better of me so I stayed put :)

Ameeta and Chandni from Gourmet Passport

Deepali of Aakaariya

Chandni Anzar of Gourmet Passport introduced some of us to the salient points of the program. Deepali of Aakaariya then took over to talk about the importance of being environment friendly not only in the way we live but also in our food choices. She told us how she had put together the meal we were going to be served. The focus of the evening was on healthy eating and what better than a complete vegan meal to put that point across.

A cocktail of strawberry, basil and kombucha


We had a selection of 5 cocktails to choose from. All of them were fruit based and sweetened with, not sugar, but honey or even stevia. The strawberry basil kombucha cocktail with a base of vodka, was refreshing; kombucha lent tartness and zing to the drink. That it was healthy was definitely a plus point. Pencillin was a very mild version of a whisky sour and minus the froth.

Pita triangles; beetroot dip; babaganoush; smoked pepper dip; vegan cheese & crudités

The hors d'oeuvre was a platter of pita slices, dips, crudités and what looked like slices of steamed sweet potatoes. The "sweet potatoes" turned out to be smoked vegan cheese made of cashew nuts. The texture was somewhat like very soft tofu though it didn't have the "cheesy" flavour of regular cheese. But it was quite an intriguing experience to eat a cheese made out of a nut.

Vegan summer rolls

Zucchini noodles

The second course was zucchini noodles with pesto sauce. Served warm, the noodles had lots of bite and strips of sun dried tomato provided welcome tang.

Main course 1: Quinoa risotto with mashed beans; chilli pineapple; mashed peas & grilled mushroom 

Main course 2: Herbed red rice; vegan cheese sauce; spiced tofu; grilled veggies & sautéed spinach

For the main course, the choice was between quinoa risotto and herbed red rice. The vegan cheese sauce served with the rice was outstanding. It had the flavour and creaminess of a regular cheese sauce and what was remarkable was that it had been made with a vegetable - the humble cauliflower, in this case.

Date snickers bars

A marriage of dates and chocolate, called date snickers bites, was the dessert of the day. The little treats kept disappearing into our mouths almost as soon as the platters were laid on the table. The other interesting dessert was the sweet potato mousse. Smooth, velvety and chocolaty.

More desserts - oatmeal jar

Sweet potato mousse

Prithvi, the young man whose family runs the restaurant, was a gracious venue host. We marvelled at the perfectly appointed dining area and the series of black and white prints that hung on the walls. At the end of the evening, he pointed to the "roof" of the restaurant and lo and behold, it retracted, leaving us gaping at the night sky. What a spectacular end to the evening.

Sitting under the stars

Il Grande Pranzo revisited


It's about 3 years since I went for the wildly popular Italian-style Saturday brunch at Focaccia at Hyatt Regency Chennai and have seen that it's gotten so much better. The cheese and salad counters are still there, also the one with cold cuts, hot appetisers and the bake and roast section. What's different is that it's now about quality rather than quantity.

Red rice salad

Spinach and ricotta cake



Leek & prawn quiche

Sausages on cabbage

All set for the grill

Do stop by at the pasta station

At the salad counter, the salads have got healthier - more fruit and veg based ones with lighter dressings. Quinoa has been given the cold shoulder, at least on the day we went and instead, there was a really nice red rice salad. If you see the spinach and ricotta salted cake, do pick up a couple of those slices -you'll be dreaming about it for days. While you can't really mess with the cheese counter, the cold cut section features just parma and cooked ham, salami and smoked salmon. There's chicken hamburger in a rustic puttanesca sauce, sea bass in a sunshine yellow sauce and yummy pork sausages that Focaccia always manages to source.

Roast pork belly

Asparagus and ricotta stuffed casoncelli

Pizza margherita

The roast of the day was pork belly and the apple sauce served was a fitting companion. Over at the pasta live counter, we chose a plate of asparagus and ricotta casoncelli to share. It is the stuff of dreams and crafted to perfection. The thin crust pizza margherita was so light; even after it got cold, the bread was still soft. Chef Mauro says the secret is in the kneading and using very little yeast.

Mirroring our reaction at the dessert table

The dessert section too has been trimmed of the flab. In the place of shot glass desserts, there are olive oil cakes, choux pastry, a delish rum truffle cake and chocolates of course.

Macs, of course and financiers

Passion fruit choux buns

Salted caramel tart

Chef Mauro's irresistible tiramisu

More tiramisu

What takes centre-stage is Chef Mauro's tiramisu. If you have wondered where in the city you get the best one, make no mistake - it's at Focaccia.

Il Grande Pranzo is priced at 2250/ (includes taxes) with alcohol; the non alcoholic version is priced at 1850/.

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