Southern comfort: All-veg Padmanabham at Janpath, Delhi offers a deftly woven tapestry of south Indian cuisines
New Delhi, January 25: The thing about regional restaurants is that they’re either like a Jackson Pollock painting or an exquisite tapestry.
These Pollock-like establishments are characterised by individual dots (read dishes) of rare excellence and clarity standing out amid a meaningless pastiche; the most unfortunate regional eateries serve cuisine.
Happily then, the food at the all-vegetarian Padmanabham is a deftly woven tapestry of south Indian cuisines from the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu, with the dishes merging seamlessly together, even as the flavours retain their distinct identity.
The restaurant, newly opened in Delhi’s Janpath and helmed by Chef Bakshish Dean, is a large 200-seater space, located smack next to what one could consider its closest (and most formidable) competition, Sarvana Bhavan.
Given that The Bhavan has been a Delhi institution for decades, one might expect a David vs Goliath situation, but upon reaching their adjacent doors, it’s hard to tell where the waiting line outside for one begins and the other ends (the restaurant is seriously packed all the time with management unable to even make reservations because of the constant rush, so plan accordingly).
Vending our way through the packed tables, we arrive at our own, to be greeted with piping hot rasam, peppery from the start, fierce to the finish, just the way we like it.
The following duet of idli-vada is the best we’ve had this side of the Satpuras.
The idli, whether wantonly dusted with gunpowder or pristinely plain, is as soft and pliant as the heroine of an old-timey movie, even while the vada is a revelation.
Hot and crisp on the outside, light as air on the inside.
We’re also lucky enough to make acquaintance with both the Stew-Appam and the Idiappam-Kadala Curry.
The former is smugly genteel with the stew a subtle but gloriously creamy medley of curry-leaf perfumed vegetables, while the latter is more robust, consisting a boldly spiced gravy of black grams.
The appam and idiappam are also rather distinct, coming in a traditional rice noodle hopper/pancake style as well as thick slabs slivered off a Swiss roll-like medley of red and white rice.
Finally, we come to the pièce de résistance, the Bhojanam thali.
Since we’re special snowflakes, we’re lucky enough to get the authentic banana leaf presentation, which is set to go public from the second week of February.
And after experiencing the intricacies of service, we get why the restaurant is taking their time to roll it out for literal mass consumption.
Comprising pappadam, banana (chips and fruit) pickles, curd rice, four kinds of vegetables, red or white rice, a separate flavoured rice, dal, sambar, pullisery, rasam, buttermilk and a dessert, the thali is just as exhaustive as typing that litany out was.
The thali itself comes from one of the a-four-mentioned regions each day, with Andhra, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, making it twice.
Having come on a Wednesday, we get the distinction of tasting the thali a la Karnataka, which is only served once a week. Told you we're special.
In the interests of brevity, we shall keep this short and, just like the Hesaru Bele (moong dal) Payasam at the end of our meal, sweet.
Much like the rest of our meal, the tastes and textures cascade beautifully together even as we make rather a mess on our verdant banana leaf platter.
Particular favourites include the pineapple gojju (a sweet, spicy, smoky curry of the fruit), and, of course, the payasam.
Speaking of the mess we’ve left, move over Pollock.
- Shantanu David
Meal for two: INR 600 (including taxes). At 52, Janpath, Connaught Place, New Delhi.