Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Southern Spice at Taj Coromandel - Restaurant Review

I had a taste of the high life last week. Glitzy lobby, studded with the IPL Sunrisers Hyderabad team. An elaborate dinner with the works in a private dining room in the Southern Spice, Taj Coromandel. Grandiose ambiance that made me feel like we had time traveled. I am talking about the Mahavirundh at Southern Spice, literally a meal fit for Royalty, and honestly speaking, i lost track of the number of dishes after probably the 30th odd item on the menu-they just kept coming and coming! 
But at Southern Spice, i believe it is much more than just the food. Their hospitality is legendary - let me cite a small example: Towards the fag end of this elaborate saga, i was saving up on space for dessert and really couldn't handle more main course items, so i said 'no, thank you' to the rest of the dishes that were doing the rounds on the table. That's when the kind server politely insisted, and let me stress on that, insisted : "Try ma'am, little thayiru saadam". So i repeat (!!), 'no, thanks'. He suggests very earnestly ''Try ma'am, it will be very nice with pickle"!!! For a second there, i was lost. Are you really telling me to eat, like my mother would??! Then i exchanged looks with a friend sitting next to me, and he said very nonchalantly, ''Yes, they do that here''. and i burst out laughing! Brownie points for the service!

Southern Spice has been creating food centered memories since the mid nineties  but they recently underwent a renovation, and the new Southern Spice is accentuated with the old world charm of temple architecture from the Chola, Pallava and Pandava dynasties. The bronze detailing is noteworthy for an aficionado or amateur alike and care has been taken to represent the four states of South India in the décor. The finery extends to the cutlery and linen as well: with an assortment of gold plated and silver plated dinner ware flashing at us.

The cuisine is pan south Indian, and succeeds in the attempt to showcase the best of South Indian culinary scene. It is rooted in tradition, but branches out with a delightful contemporary twist to it (how else do i describe the Chocolate Puranam Mousse? It is a Belgian Chocolate mousse with a heart of molten coconut, lentil and jaggery mix and topped with a Chocloate disc and a mound of light chocolate mousse-full marks for innovation and execution!). And there are quirks: a sambar on the menu comes from the Chef's grandmother! The Elaneer Payasam is a recipe from the the kitchen of Mammens of MRF fame.

We started the mahavirundhu with a ginger juice concoction that screamed 'refreshing!'. There was a round of papads and deep fried goodies served with an arsenal of chutneys, followed by a tiny steamed apam and banana dosais made of banana and flavored with jaggery and cardamom. Injipuli koshambri, a salad of tempered lentils served atop a lettuce leaf came close on the heels.
We moved on to the hardcore stuff. Well, the hardcore appetizer stuff: Denji Rawa fry, or crispy fried semolina crusted soft shell crab left us wanting for more. But we had other things to try. Kori Kempu or shredded chicken marinated in chilies and spice and fried and tossed in yogurt was an interesting dish, the yogurt was not overpowering at all. But the star of the day for me was the Kair Katti Yerachi Kola Urundai. The name can be daunting, but rest assured, the dish is a pleasure for the senses. It is a perfectly seasoned crispy lamb dumpling flavored with fennel and wrapped in banana fibre.

The Vaigai Kari Sukka originating from Madurai was another favorite of the day: succulent lamb cooked in fragrant spices.
Special mention goes to the mysore rasam that was served between dishes. With a hint of lingering sweetness, the rasam doubled as an appetizer and digestive, and the aromatic rasam wowed all of us at the table.

Then the table was set for the heavy duty stuff, the main course. The gold plated plate in the banana leaf shape was laid out with the little bowls for the various curries and side dishes. Topping the charts was the edamame kurma, scallop pepper stew and the asparagus paruppu usili because of the twists they lent to the palate. Hot appams that were umoulded from the traditional appam chatti in front of us were devoured with the pachakari stew, which was a rendition of seasonal veggies, onions and potatoes simmered in coconut milk. Yum! Parottas paired extremely well too.
Special mention goes to the podi that was served with steamed rice, ghee and sambar. I am not a big fan of rice dishes, but this was admittedly good.

By then, i was stuffed and i had to save space for dessert. Other dishes doing the rounds were the Biryani and the Andhra speciality, the Bhejwada kodi biriyani or spiced chicken pilaf with fresh mint and of course curd rice.
Onto dessert. i couldn't wait to see how they'd improvised on desserts and i was not left disappointed. The Chocolate puranam mousse was decadent and would surprise anybody, chocoholic or otherwise.  Another dish that wowed me was the Godhi bella ice cream, made of broken wheat, jaggery and banana. The fav at the table was the chilled Elaneer payasam which was the epitome of light and refreshing.

The meal was a very elaborate affair and it does justice to a mahavirundhu. Priced at INR 5000+ tax, it is a meal emphasizing on indulgence and hospitality. A fun fact about the Southern Spice, it figured in the 'World's top 100 restaurants'!
The Thalis start at INR 2000+ tax. They also offer thalis where wines are paired with the food and that works out to 8000+ tax and upwards.
Southern Spice is in the lobby level of Taj Coromandel, on Nungambakkam High Road, Chennai.


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