Get a selfie in an Ottoman hat and feast on Turkish street staples at Donerji in Besant Nagar, Chennai
There is a lone Ottoman hat that sits at every table. It is red, same as the table. And it beckons you to try it on, and go on an anticipated selfie spree, as you wait for your order. We are not alone in this, we observe, looking around. The Doner Kebab might be the signature dish on the menu at Donerji, a new Turkish spot in Besant Nagar. But it’s the fez hat, complete with tassels et al, that serves up the fun. That and the jolly looking moustached ambassador of the place, whose name also happens to be Donerji.
Nishant Vijayakumar (29) who co-owns the 470 sq ft space along with partner Siddharth Manoharan (28), tells us that this is one among a handful of QSR projects they are working on in association with Lakshmi Mohan and husband Vikram Mohan, chairman of Pricol Gourmet. The latter is the company behind brands like Savya Rasa, Soy Soi and Bharat Bistro. After a visit to Turkey recently, gorging on the local street cuisine, Nishant shares, “We realised that most of it was meat only. So we decided to focus on flavours inspired from Turkish and Levantine cuisines but with a local twist.” But there is no time to tsk-tsk about authenticity or fusion or the like, because one bite into their Doner Kebab (`199), and we are sold. The bread is soft and spongy, the veggies are fresh and the meat is succulent with an elaborate marinade recipe of over 30 ingredients. This includes spices like Sumac and Ottoman spice, sourced from narrow alleyways in Istanbul. All of this is scooped on to a bed of hummus and topped off with a hint of Muhammara. And we chomp away, at a hungry pace, minus the grace — getting messy might well contribute to contentment levels for some...
Incidentally, the classic Ayran or traditional drink served alongside kebabs in Turkey, tastes a lot like South Indian-style buttermilk (minus the floating curry leaves and mustard) — and this pairing makes for a refreshing change. Other fast movers on the menu include falafels and shawarmas, but we are more curious to try the Iskendar kebab. Expect a play of textures on your tastebuds with toasted pieces of bread topped with a makhni gravy on one end, and pepper sauce paired with grilled chicken and a dollop of tzatziki on the other.
Look out for!
• Eco-friendly sugarcane board serving plates.
• An interactive counter to pick your fillings of veggies & dips.
• A customiseable gym box with Turkish flavours consisting of a fresh salad made with veggies and dressing of your choice, served along with a big bowl of hummus and soft/toasted homemade bread. Available from next week. INR 229.
We wrap up with Beyti kebab, a platter of mini tortilla-like rolls filled with stringy mozzarella, carrots, onions, tomatoes, olives and chicken. These resemble mini roulades and make for delightful little appetisers to pop and go. It is no surprise that dessert is a trio of brownies, given that Nishant is also the man behind Brownie Heaven. We sample Pistachio, Peppermint (with Polo-infused for that minty aftertaste) and Orange Peel — and all three are delicious, although admittedly, we have a soft spot for orange and chocolate.
Sadly, the traditional dessert, Sutlac (a Turkish rice pudding) isn’t available today. But with bellies full and satisfied, perhaps it is just as well.
Meal for two INR 350. On 4th Main Road, Besant Nagar, with a second outlet in Nungambakkam to open by next Friday. Open on all days, 11.30 am to 11.30 pm.