Avartana in Chennai serves candles made of ghee & rasam martinis! 

Why we can't get enough of Avartana at the ITC Grand Chola in Chennai
Slow roasted pork belly
Slow roasted pork belly

This meal was one of the highlights of my year. And I urge anyone who has tried chilled rasam in a martini glass  —  delicately flavoured over 48 hours and distilled to pristine clarity to raise a toast with me. 

<strong>Infused tomato rasam</strong>
Infused tomato rasam

Avartana is one of those restaurants to put on your bucket list. Although, the way people gush about it, could well have oversold it, I thought to myself. 

But here’s the thing: ‘expectation’ is not an ample metric for this South Indian restaurant. Since no plate looks as one would expect it to. 

We sample white polka dots of Buttermilk mousse alongside stir-fried chicken. A miniature ghee candle with an edible lotus stem wick drips into podi paired with slow roasted pork belly. Later, we spot a suspicious looking toffee beside our Malabar parotta — and unravel it to find — Uthukuli butter.

Outside the box
Senior executive chef Ajit Bangera, the mastermind behind it all shares, “To keep pushing the envelope, you will find that the person who heads the kitchen is not, in fact, South Indian.” Although, the flavours clearly are. “You need to be able to think outside the box here and you can’t do that if you think you know what a dish is supposed to look like,” he says sagely. 

After five menus since its opening — this degustation offering named Kimaya (Divine) brings together the best of them all in one truly exceptional masterpiece that was made available six months ago. Although, this is not common knowledge as it has not been put up on the wall at the restaurant’s entrance like the other menus, and is only available on request.

<em>Fennel <g class=
panna cotta" />

Over 13 courses, we ooh, we aah, we eat. The asparagus and idiyappam with a turmeric and coconut cream stew is so tasty we want to swim in it. And the Fennel panna cotta for dessert resembles one of those majestic dragon eggs from Game of Thrones, enrobed with golden strands of spun caramel. 

Rasam reverie
• Avartana’s magical rasam  blend is made over two days and in keeping with a strict following of steps:

First bruised tomatoes are hung from a muslin cloth for a slow drip of flavour into the rasam below for several hours.

• Next, the rasam is frozen for the flavours to come together and a smooth distillation of sediment. It is manually distilled twice the next day, before being frozen again. 

• Chef Ajit Bangera tells us, “At any given point, we have a 100 litres in the kitchen. You can’t afford 
to run out of rasam!”

Pop goes the payasam
We urge chef Bangera to give us a teaser of what he is currently working on. Each menu takes as long as six months to refine, and no less than 20 tasting trials to master. After a moment’s thought, he hints at mini-fried jangiris, bathed in custard mousse. “Imagine a contrast of hot and cold,” he leaves our taste buds tingling for next time. 

<em>Trail of <g class=
Trail of
payasams" />

“It isn’t over. There’s more... ” we’re told, post-dessert. A dish of what appears to be balls of white chocolate (it is cocoa butter in fact) arrives at our table. We pop one: and our palate is engulfed in the sweet surprise of elaneer payasam

This 13-course menu ranges between Rs 3,500 and Rs 4,500 plus taxes per person. Dinner only.

sonali@newindianexpress.com | @brightasunshine

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