Chennai's chefs serve up innovative, new menus as restaurants prepare to open their doors

Expect immunity potions, sourdough loaves and a delectable assortment of sweet treats
Mahabaleshwar Strawberry ice cream
Mahabaleshwar Strawberry ice cream

It is a brave new world out there, for restaurateurs and chefs as some of the eateries open their doors to diners this week, after nearly three months of lockdown. With stringent plans of social distancing and sanitising in place, we excitedly book our dinner dates at these restaurants and find our foodie senses 
tingling — for good reason. We find there are eclectic breads, decadent desserts and new recipes waiting to be gorged upon, across the city. 

Though we acknowledge the robust takeaway food market and demand for DIY kits born of the crisis, we also find that many at the helm of food brands and eateries have done more than waiting-and-watching through the quarantine. Chef Regi Mathew rose to the occasion with his mother’s recipe of Thalassery Biryani that was a takeaway success at his restaurant Kappa Chakka Kandhari, where the menu never had any rice items otherwise. “I had to take into consideration the need of the hour, the convenience of our patrons, procurement of produce and the limitations of the mode of delivery. Comfort food was in demand,” says the chef, who assures us that the fragrant biryani will continue to be available post-lockdown as a takeaway option, along with another homely favourite, a nostalgic, perfectly wobbly Caramel Pudding.

<em>Assorted sourdough loaves</em>
Assorted sourdough loaves

Knead based
With breads declared a rising trend and “starters” being everyone’s new pet, we found chef and restaurateur Sandesh Reddy rolling up his sleeves and setting the bar rather high. Engaging in a line of delicious, chewy sourdough bread experiments, the result saw three final variants (classic, dark cocoa chocolate chip and 100 per cent whole wheat @ INR140 per loaf) available at Sandy’s Chocolate Labora-tory on order. But Sandy is not done with his exploration of the sourdough and the chef tells us that, “I am waiting for a batch of French stone-ground flour.  It is a whole grain, coarser flour — with which I want to make my next batch of sourdough bread.”

<em>Mooligai rasam</em>
Mooligai rasam

Immunity potion
While Pricol Gourmet Private Limited’s restaurant Soy Soi has opened this week, we are fascinated by the plans afoot for Savya Rasa. The South Indian restaurant under their banner is located right next to the Asian Diner in Kotturpuram. Having formulated an immunity-boosting soup that is redolent with South Indian spices, Nikesh Lamba of Pricol Gourmet tells us that they intend to offer it to their guests as a welcome drink — a goodwill gesture promoting well-being and health of their patrons. We are told that the Mooligai Rasam is a soup that hails from Tamil tradition and that it uses herbs and spices that also act as medicines. “This delicious rasam is customarily made during a season change; we are however offering this nourishing soup to all our patrons for their well-being, keeping in mind how important immunity is in this fight against COVID-19.”​

Hey pesto
Jignesh Pujara, the owner of the food chain Lyfe by Soul Garden Bistro — a brand that promotes clean eating and healthy choices — has also amped up his menu with an eclectic range of breads and desserts. Our picks include a delightful, buttery Cruffin (a croissant baked in a muffin cup @ INR 150+) that won our votes promptly and a flavoursome pull-apart pesto pin-wheel bread that scored big on texture and taste (@ INR 200+). The decadent Lonavala-inspired chocolate fudge is rich with 55 per cent dark Indian origin organic chocolate and French butter (a generous bowl @INR 500+). Jignesh tells us, “Ever since the lockdown we were getting requests from our regular guests to start in-house breads and bakes. It was our remedy for lockdown depression and to keep ourselves occupied. We never sat idle and constantly innovated and did trials for the upgraded menus, which will be launched today at our Kilpauk location (where our brand Antari By Soul Garden Bistro will be offering the new additions).”

’Tis the season
Fresh Pressery Cafe down Rutland Gate Road has opened their doors to diners this week, and Soshna Ramanlal tells us how they are following the government order SOPs. She says that they are running at 50 per cent capacity and following all the norms of hygiene. However, what catches our attention are the exciting additions to their menu. While there are many keto-friendly creations in the list of new dishes, we picked the summery Mango Prawn Salad (INR 350) and the Ice Apple Coconut Milk Pudding (INR 250) as our favourites since they are made with fresh seasonal produce. 

Summer ready
Meanwhile, Shriram Rajendran of The Table, a brand that offers packaged desserts in jars and brownies, tells us that when he found himself in lockdown with a surplus of Alphonso mangoes sent by his mum, he did the logical thing — he made ice cream! Fortunately, he had the infrastructure required as ice creams were on the cards for a while now. Churning Alphonso Mango Ice Cream for friends and family, soon he had a surplus of these mango delights that he took online. “I sold 60 jars in 15 minutes on Instagram!” says the chef, who went ahead and began to work 12 to 13 hours a day through the lockdown and created four more flavours, that include an interesting Vegan Toasted Coconut option, a Fresh Mahabaleshwar Strawberry and an experimental Salted Pepper Caramel. Shriram further tells us that he has created sorbets in the same flavours (@INR 250 onwards). What’s more, he shares, that by the end of this month he will be launching his first ice cream parlour in the city. 

<em>Mango dessert</em>
Mango dessert

Another chef who took the seasonal king of fruits to new heights during the lockdown is Nishant Vijaykumar of Brownie Heaven. He picked his White Chocolate Brownie and topped it with some slinky Chantilly cream and fresh chopped mangoes. Soon he realised that the Mango Dessert was a hit and had repeat orders prompting him to include it in his regular menu (@INR 600 for half a kilogram).  Bitten by the bread bug, this young chef tells us that he is also coming up with a “small variety of artisanal bakery products that are freshly baked daily and in minimal quantity without any additives or shelf-life enhancers”.

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