Local favourites like nenju elembu rasam and nei choru, from the belt around Tirunelveli, take the spotlight at this new address on RK Salai
Cutting chai in hand, I observe the guests who appear to be thoroughly enjoying the tasting session I’ve come to attend at Nellai Express. Laughing friends and relatives of the owners, a few camera-weilding food bloggers (who are clearly taking things too seriously) and even a few expats bobbing their heads as they put away a preparation they can barely pronounce. This was formerly the New Tandoori Tadakka on RK Salai, and save for the large fish tank that divides the duplex into two halves, not much else looks the same. Given that this restaurant is named after the train that connects Chennai with Tirunelveli (where the owners hail from), the large railway lantern and the railway coach-like seat near the entrance don’t seem out of place.
This is the first F&B venture by the Tirunelveli-based Syed Group, and they hope to provide Chennai with the choicest of flavours from their region. The tasting begins with a nannari sarbath and to my delight, the flavour of the root is not overpowering. Post this comes an oily kaikari rasam with more cabbage than any other vegetable, and it is forgotten as soon as the tender, masala-coated kari varuval arrives. The mutton starter keeps me occupied throughout the meal and gets two thumbs up for that. Giving the mutton biryani a miss, I choose a local favourite, nei choru with parupu kathirikai and kalari aanam (aka ghee rice with mutton curry and brinjal dal). Not as heavy as I expect, this is a wining combination of mild but well-rounded flavours. The staff insist I try a small portion of the biryani and with mutton so tender that it actually slides off the bone, I’m glad I obliged.
Back for more
Finishing up my meal with bread halwa that has generous amounts of cashew nut and ghee in it, I convince myself to return soon. After all, Nellai Express is one of the few places in the city that promises delicacies like nenju elembu rasam (mutton rib soup) and naatu kozhi (country chicken) in every avatar possible. The menu, we’re told, will also feature specials like lamb brain fried with egg, for the hard core non vegetarians and the milky, coconut-based vegetable gravy, sodhi, for vegetarians.
Nellai Express is open for lunch and dinner. Meal for two at approximately Rs 800. Details: 30925953