Riyaaz Amlani's much anticipated Social is now open in Chennai and it is like nothing we've seen before!
Perched on teal-coloured chairs, set in a water-less swimming pool... the ceiling is crowded with funky glowing spheres and we are sipping on a Tiki cocktail steeped in tropical fruits. Welcome to Mount Road Social, where the grass is green and the girls are pretty. Surreal might be the word we are looking for!
Which is saying something, considering this is the 27th outlet of the brand that has had Chennai folks agog with excitement, ever since the jigsaw puzzle invitations went out last week.
A working space during the day and a high-energy thumping bar once office hours end. This much-awaited, 200-seater, café-bar is launching tonight.
We find the café section seamlessly leading into the neon-lit bar section where we slide into white-cushioned seats that smack of a poolside feel. In fact, the main seating is in a sunken area that mimics a swimming pool. The giant balls of neon lights overhanging in the space, however, spells a loud party mood.
As we listen to the astounding sound-check and feel our feet tapping irresistibly — we catch up with the man of the hour, Riyaaz Amlani, the CEO and MD of Mumbai-based Impresario Handmade Restaurants.
Charming with a delightful self-deprecating humour, Riyaaz soon impresses us with his keen knowledge of the hospitality industry, even as we sip on the cold Tiki mug filled with a tropical concoction called the Pacific Rim (is that a pun on rum?). Well paired with our entrée — the all too familiar (surprise!) Chicken Pepper Roast is cooked to perfection with well-balanced spices — and could have very well come from my mother’s kitchen!
As we pluck some serviettes from the toilet-paper-like rolls placed cheekily at each table, we notice that the metal crockery has a canteen and mess feel. “Social is the answer to my disillusionment with fine dining,” declares Riyaaz, the former president of NRAI (National Restaurant Association of India) even as he agrees that the food here is unapologetically decadent and merrily pandering to local palates. Social was started in Bengaluru by Riyaaz in 2014. Meanwhile, the platter of Momopalooza offers fiery dumplings accompanied with mint and tamarind chutney.
With themes like a chawl, single-screen cinema to art deco, Riyaaz tells us how every Social outlet is unique — much like their menus. “We don’t have standardised recipes across the chain. Besides adding a section for ‘Local Heroes’, you will find the likes of the Thalaiva breakfast or the filter coffee caramel. We also tweak the recipes of our other dishes to suit the local tastes,” says Riyaaz, adding how they found that Delhi likes their food spicy, Mumbai likes their food not-so-spicy.
Choco bars & 5 Stars
Riyaaz is no stranger to Chennai (he opened Mocha in the city in 2005) and is a self-confessed fan of Murugan Idli Shop. “I love that idli podi! In fact, I am trying to put that podi on everything I eat!” says the restaurateur, who has established 58 restaurants, and 10 brands, in 16 cities across India till date. Sure enough, the signature Italian spaghetti aglio olio comes with bacon bits and a liberal sprinkle of idli podi. I have often believed that there is no dish that cannot be further improved by adding bacon
and one big mouthful of the Social Podi AOP (Aglio Olio Pepperoncino) Spaghetti and the delightful burst of salty flavours reaffirm my belief. Next, we tuck into slices of smoky, generously topped Chicken Tikka Pizza — made in a coal-fired oven, the tandoor.
The dessert is a hunk of chocolate mousse cake stabbed with a stick of choco-bar. As we chase it down with a perfect cup of Americano that hits the spot — we promise to return for the deep-fried desserts like Ramesh & Suresh (from the ridiculously funny 5-Star advertisement) and the bacon-wrapped peanut butter and jelly sandwich that the other cities can’t stop talking about!
At Express Avenue Mall. Meal for two at INR 1,200 (not including beverages).