Sabha staples on a silver platter
As part of its Margazhi celebrations, Madras Kitchen Company, The Westin, gives a fine-dining spin to popular canteen delicacies
Kaliyuga varadan, kan kanda deivame, kakashi alippadu pazhaniyile...verses from the classical devotional song reverberated inside the Madras Kitchen Company, The Westin, on Friday evening. Just as diners were soaking in this mellifluous mood, a graceful Bharatanatyam performance to the song by a student of Navarasakendra, run by dancer Chitra Subramani, added to the stirring experience. Looks like Margazhi arrived early at the fine dining restaurant; and as a curtain-raiser to the kutcheri season, rasikas can expect more.
Besides the cultural immersions, what truly completes the festive encounter at the restaurant is Flavours of Margazhi — a specially-curated menu inspired by the staples served at sabha canteens. Just as we settle down to browse the menu, and sip on paneer soda from a small mud pot, a slideshow of deep-fried Mysore bondas, potato bajjis and medu vadais simmering in hot oil inside an iron cauldron play on loop in our heads. Only this time, we did not have to stand in serpentine queues for tokens, hustle for a chair and table, or gobble down the food in the fear of missing out on our favourite artiste’s performance.
The memories were interrupted by vazhaipoo vadais neatly placed on a piece of vazhai ilai. The tawa-tossed appetisers came with ample portions of coconut, tomato, and peanut chutneys. Making the best out of the leisurely meal without having to get anxious about anything, we generously doused bite-sized portions of the savoury in all three chutneys at once and let the individual flavours tickle different corners of our palate. Subsequent orders including ragi uttapam and curd vadai were brought to our table to ensure our plate was never empty. The uttapam also arrived with the trio of chutneys, and sambar. Garnished with traditional tempering and vegetables, it sure makes for a tasty tiffin option for the elderly and health-conscious.
A mouthful of memories
Despite such tempting varieties, there’s always room for the humble thayir vadai. Soaked in creamy curd and seasoned with mustard and grated carrot, the fluffy vadais left us wanting for more. Meanwhile, Biju Philiph, the executive chef and creative mind behind the menu, joined us with some back-end kitchen stories. “My idea of Margazhi menu is shaped by stories heard from the locals. It’s been only two years since I moved to Chennai and I haven’t been able to get my hands on sabha food because of the pandemic. I hope to go this year. The 13 delicacies you see on the menu came to life through conversations with seasoned caterers and first-hand experiences of people,” he says. The chef has conceptualised the menu with a fine balance of small and large plates.
Depending on your appetite, you can either take it easy with multiple servings of the munchies or go for a full-fledged meal with a large plate. Of the four options under large plates — ven pongal, poha bisi bele bhaat, coconut rice and milagu podi rice — the fragrant and flavourful coconut rice was our favourite. It was served with accompaniments like puli kuzhambu, veg salna, potato masala, gongura pickle, appalam, and aval payasam. The versatile variety rice went well with every side element on the plate. Needless to say, we wiped our plates clean! “While the experiences are entirely different at a canteen, we try to keep it as authentic as possible with the taste. This is the first time we’re attempting a Margazhi menu and our patrons have been receiving it so well,” shares Biju. As much as we appreciate the effort that has gone into making the annual affair fulfilling, we believe nothing comes close to hopping from one sabha canteen to another and gorging on their signature dishes — that are light on our pockets — while having spirited discussions with fellow concert-goers.