Watch how The Park hotels changed this 150-year-old Chettinad mansion into a cafe with modern aesthetics
WHEN we heard that The Park was starting a heritage hotel in Kanadukathan in Tamil Nadu, we had to dig out a Google Maps to see where this location was. Kanadukathan, where Apeejay Surendra Park Hotels have renovated a 150-year-old Chettinad palatial mansion, was owned previously by the Nattukottai Chettiyar community. Today, this 71-seater is The Vaadhyar’s House, a quaint cafe serving local specialities with new-age aesthetics.
A race with time
Curious, we decide to take a trip down to Karaikudi, and after a two hour ride from Madurai airport we reach The Vaadhyar’s House, a orange roofed house with a covered verandah, that seemed perfect for scorching hot Chettinad summers. The house, over the last 70-80 years have been rented out to teachers, giving it the moniker, The Vaadhyar’s House.
As we walk in, we see windows with colourful stained glass and the quintessential Chettinad flooring with blue and white athungudi tiles, reminiscent of an architecture style from another time. After exchanging pleasantries, drinking some panakkam slush (with orange juice and lime) and gorging on fluffy kuzhi paniyarams, we sit down with The Park Chennai’s Executive Chef Ashutosh Nerlekar who has reached before us to set things up. “It took us about a year and a half to restore this place, and now we are in the process of revamping the mansion opposite this house. That majestic mansion has been proposed as The Park’s new 21-room, heritage hotel. But there’s still a long way for that because the mansion is pretty much in a dilapidated state.”
The Vaadhyar’s wife
As we listen to stories about refurbishing and renovating, we wait to see what Ashutosh has in store for us from his kitchen. In tow with him is Chef N Selvi, a third generation chef and Chettinad cuisine expert, who has always only cooked in her own kitchen. We’ve heard a lot about the region’s explosive spice palate and intense flavours, so they’ve given us neer mor for anything that’s coming our way. As promised, Ashutosh brings out a specially curated menu called The Vaadhyar’s Wife’s thali — a menu that had all the offerings leading you to an afternoon siesta. “So what you have on your thali is Chettinad kozhi curry, eral perattai (chettinad spiced sauteed baby shrimps), padalankai kootuu, kathirikai sambar, thakali rasam and Madurai-styled peppered mutton,” says Ashutosh.
The shrimps, chicken and mutton all score high on the Scoville scale, with the shrimp being the spiciest! But, pair that with some rice and sambhar, and you instantly see the difference in flavour. The mutton is cooked to its tender best, and the kozhi curry is packed with Chettinad flavours, perhaps the most renowned flavour profile in Tamil Nadu. “If you’re interested, we also have house favourites like Spaghetti Aglio e Olio and Penne Alfredo,” says Ashutosh, who understands that there is a possibility of foreigners visiting the area. Before we can stumble out of the dining area, Ashutosh stops us with some Kavunarisi halwa, which is a unique native black rice pudding and some homemade filter coffee ice cream, which completely cools you down. Both flavours are opposites, and so while one is light the other is ghee-laden and heavy. Together, they make the perfect combination.
After a lunch fit for the royalty, we headed out to the mansion on the opposite side, walking on worn down wood panels, while being in complete awe of how detailed Chettinad architecture was. Everything was done by hand, and even carved by hand we hear. There are a whopping 106 houses around the same township, all built in different styles, while still keeping core Chettinad aesthetics in mind. We walk up to the terrace, the noon sun blazing down on us as we get a bird’s eye view of Vaadhyar’s house across the road. We then progress to the athungudi tile factory and the Athungudi palace. From the dusty depths of the factory to the almost kaleidoscopic interiors of the palace, it is a fascinating to watch the process right from the setting of the tile, to the final tesselation on the floor. A whirlwind of a trip comes to an end, and as we pull into a cacophonous Trichy airport we realise how quiet Kanadukathan really was. Enough reason for you to take a trip here — some peace, tranquillity and siesta-inducing feasts!