Dining by the sea made intimate
Secret Bay offers you the freshest of seafood with the indulgence of a great view, right on the shores of Mahabalipuram
In the sprawling Fisherman Colony of Mahabalipuram, a little off the busy Othavadai Street that plays host to some of the town’s busiest eateries, tucked into a quiet little lane is a secret (well, not any more). Two floors up and the humble building opens up into an intimate dining experience — one with the sea, with food from within its folds. If an hour into the meal, you are caught between wanting to stare out into the expanse of blue (and all the different shades of it) and pick the tawa-fried fish clean off the bone, you would be happy to know that we’ve been there and done that. And Levlin Joel, the man behind this new piece of haven that is Secret Bay, wouldn’t want it any other way.
A terrace with a view
“I keep inviting people to come here and take in this view; especially during sunsets or on full moon nights. You don’t even have to eat! I want people to relax here. There is so much stress, particularly since the pandemic; I come from the same stress too. There’s amma, appa, kozhandhai, work, promotion, pressure, travel, savings, wedding; if we are to get past all this and try to relax, it is the place that matters ” he elaborates.
Secret Bay goes to great trouble to ensure that this space it offers you is as ideal as it can get. The sprawling terrace only holds 9-10 tables. There is a mix of your typical table-chair arrangement and diwans with blankets and cushions. And this was by design, says Levlin. “Anyone else would have put up 20 tables here, good to seat 100 people. But 40 is as much as I do. When people travel 40 kilometres to experience this place, they need to have some privacy to relax and eat. If someone is constantly looking at the food on my table, I would feel awkward. I might as well do that in the city,” he reasons.
While the place looks as inviting as it gets, it has been a long winding road of loss along the way. Levlin set this up in early 2021. But, the pandemic had other plans. With lockdowns right off the bat, the restaurant had to wait quite a few months to tide it out. Then came a wind-heavy monsoon last November; the terrace that was open to the elements in its angriest form could only take so much. “The roof (sheets) crumbled; I had to build it back twice. All the lights were out. At last, we were able to reopen in December last year. But there was rain even the day before the opening. Even the slightest drizzle affects the place,” he points out.
Bringing the place back to life has helped Levlin deliver on his dream idea — everyone has a secret life, details too intimate to escape the confines of our headspace. Secret Bay offers you a place good enough to access such intimacy — with company or otherwise — in the presence of the sea, some calm and good comfort food.
Priorities in place
And the food is certainly a comfort. Local chefs, Nirmal and Sarathy, offer a taste of the sea town’s flavours with the fresh catch of the day. The menu, one that Levlin claims is arbitrary for the chefs to flesh it out based on what’s available and the mood of the person asking, is still in its early stages. Seafood, naturally, is the star. The tawa fish made from fresh koduva was all it promised to be and more. The golden fried calamari was battered and fried to perfection; the sweet chilli sauce that came with it hit all the right spots. And of course, an abundance of prawns. Lobster and crab will be made on request. The street-style fried rice just about tied it all together.
There are limited but good chicken and vegetarian options too. There is pasta on offer and Levlin promises that continental food is Sarathy’s speciality. Soon, they plan to offer more on the meat side of things for the sought-after surf and turf experience. Perhaps, a few months down the line, a full breakfast spread (sausages, sautéed mushrooms and beans included) will be available too. “My motto is that the first spoon of food and the last matters the most. It’s the first food that will have someone ordering more. And the last spoon will have him coming back. My chefs have the liberty to do anything in between to make this happen. And so far, we’ve had such positive feedback on the food we serve,” says Levlin.
To cap it all off, Secret Bay has modest accommodation on offer too. Despite the pandemic and scarcity of Mahabalipuram’s usual foreign tourists, the place has managed to host many a traveller. Weekend packages have been of particular interest it seems. Now, there’s a terrace with a view, food on order and — if necessary — lodging attached. What more says weekend at Mahabalipuram than that?
For more details, visit Instagram page: @secretbay21
On the cards
Soon, they plan to offer more on the meat side of things for the surf and turf experience. Perhaps, a few months down the line, a full breakfast spread (sausages, sautéed mushrooms and beans included) will be available too.