It’s about 15 minutes into our conversation and I am completely distracted. As Yogender Pal earnestly explains why it’s vital to be in control of food production costs, I find myself trying hard not to stare at the tattoo peeping out from under the executive chef’s sleeve. He raises his hand to signal to a barman, but in Q Bar’s dim Saturday night lighting, a quick glance isn’t enough, so we’re forced to ask. “Oh! It says ‘live to cook’,” Pal smiles, pulling back his sleeve and revealing a top hat and knife inked above the text on his forearm. “Me and five of my friends — all chefs — have the same tattoo,” he adds, telling us about college days in New Delhi, where he hails from.
Having taken charge of Hilton last November, Pal, who comes with two decades of experience at groups like The Claridges and InterContinental Hotels Group, has been busy adding his touches to Hilton’s F&B outlets. “Ayna has its signatures like the lamb shanks and the black chicken tikka marinated with squid ink, but it needed a little tweaking. I added dishes like raan and galouti kebabs and more South Indian fare too,” he says, revealing that at Vasco’s, themed nights (Asian night, seafood night, etc) have been introduced. As for Q Bar, he says, “The previous menu required you to eat with a fork and knife, and that doesn’t really go with the ambience. So we have moved to a tapas and finger food-like scenario where everything is bite-sized and just right to go with your drink,” he offers. Before leaving us to sample his handiwork at Q Bar, Pal insists that the Chennai Metro Rail construction work, happening right outside the hotel, has not affected business. “We are not far from the city, we are close to the airport and I think when the Hilton launched here, it made a name for itself and has retained its patrons,” he says.
Mains to minis
After just two empty glasses vs the five empty plates, me and my Cosmopolitan-sipping companion realise that Pal’s formula for Q Baris spot on. Each of our manchego & spinach croquets is skewered individually — so are the pieces of bhatti ka murg (char grilled chicken). These are accompanied by a clever pairing of a spicy dip (green chutney, for instance) with another that is yoghurt-based (again, good with alcohol). The paneer tikka cubes are partially hollowed out to hold the accompanying mango relish. Even our harissa-rubbed chicken breast is sliced up neatly, so the only time there’s a break in our conversation is when we’re reaching out to pop a bite. If you plan a visit anytime soon (and we suggest you do), try the tawa pepper lamb burrito. Though not as fancy as the prawns flambéed with Sambuca, the flavour of the lamb simply hits the spot.
Meal for two without alcohol at Rs. 1,600 plus tax. Details: 22255555
— Ryan Peppin