The newest restaurant from serial entrepreneur Sam Paul and Chef Willi Wilson gives seafood the attention it deserves.
CHEF Willi Wilson is not new to Chennai. So when I meet him at his new food venture, he starts off with a well-rehearsed appraisal of the city’s foodscape. “It’s never been easy here, the food business,” he says, but the expat lives here anyway and persists in his trysts with some of the city’s newest eateries.
His latest culinary adventure is for Jonah’s—the restaurant chain by city-based entrepreneur Sam Paul. Its story began just over a year ago with a bistro and patisserie in Besant Nagar, and now has three other chapters across the city. At the chef’s first rendezvous with the bistro—Jonah’s Bistro Meets Chef Willi, at Alwarpet—a large section of the menu leaned towards the West and the Mediterranean. But now, with chef Willi taking Jonah’s out fishing to Palavakkam on the ECR, one hardly knows what to expect.
As I sit down to a surprise selection from the menu, my anticipation is keen. First out are a selection of noodles—spicy prawns on udon (thick Japanese wheat noodles) which is mildly sweet to the taste, as is the Japanese way, and Singapore seafood noodles with a real whack of smokiness from the wok and a hit of chilli.
Chef Willi has travelled widely through the Orient and across Europe, and brings that scope to his menu here, which swings wildly from Pan-Asia to the Mediterranean and beyond. Next up are a Greek-style baked seer fish in a tomato sauce (tangy and rich) and a grilled fillet of fish, served with lightly poached potatoes, which come topped with freshly chopped herbs in a sharp, citrusy emulsion that cuts cleanly across the palate. The fillets, he shares, are from a locally-caught fish, Mai-Mai, that he is keen to do more with.
The selection of seafood-topped pizzas looks largely Mediterranean-inspired. I try the smoked salmon pizza, which comes with a fresh cream cheese base, and capers to round off the strong flavour of the fish. The zing from thinly-sliced onion rings add a welcome crunch.
There is a taste of home, too, on the menu. As the chef has lived in Kolkata and Chennai, mains like curry leaf calamari curry (served with steamed rice) and Bengal curried fish (served with quinoa) do not seem out of place. Serious heat comes with the sambal baked fish served on a banana leaf — the tamarind, palm sugar and coriander all surrendering meekly to the chilli in this Sri Lankan recipe that keeps you wanting more.
To soothe my tongue, I reach for dessert and dig into a delicious chocolate pot and a Nutella panna cotta, a vegetarian version, no less.
Opens this weekend at Palavakkam. Meal for two at Rs 1,500++. Details: 30205571
— Niren Saldanha