Chef Koushik’s newest restaurant, Maplai, experiments with rustic flavours
Spotting Chef Koushik’s new place on Sterling Road is the easy part. Making sure you stop your car in time and not speed past along the one-way stretch will take more skill. Managing to hail one of the valets after overshooting the brightly-lit Maplai, we walk back cautiously. After all, an evening of Madurai’s best with a chef who has ‘mad’ prefixed to his name does suggest spices on an overdrive. Honestly, we needn’t have worried. “The trick is to serve food that a person from Madurai and an expat looking for an experience can both appreciate. It’s all about customisation with the spice,” he chuckles.
We walk in and are whizzed through the low-ceiling rooms towards a comfy table, before the menus arrive and we’re joined by the resident chef in black. After constructing menus for places like Illusions, Toss Up and, most recently, Jonah’s Bistro, Koushik is kicked about rebooting some of Madurai’s meaty secrets. “People say that this place is jinxed because the last two restaurants shut down pretty fast,” he laughs, “But not this time.” Steaming cups of aatu kaal soup appear and do wonders for our throats, as the chef looks piercingly at the trotters to ascertain whether they are chewy enough. He’s satisfied, and we move on.
It’s all about fusion
But why Madurai? “My partner Vinod Rajan (aka the ‘Maplai’) intended to make this place a vegetarian restaurant. Now he’s a guy who drives down to Madurai every other week just to eat at his favourite places in town, so it made sense to bring that food here and replicate it,” he explains. Knowing his penchant for fusion, we’re not in the least surprised when Madurai staples like brain fry and a surprisingly tender mutton chukka fry share space with a plate of Chettinad Bashed Potato (if it’s mashed in Manhattan, it’s bashed in Madurai) and Chettinad Scotch Eggs. The innovations, engineered through food trials and happy mistakes, are surprisingly good, but it’s the brain fry that really hits the spot—tune out the rock ‘n’ roll playing overhead and the flavour will transport you to a mess in Madurai.
Curries, biryani and the bevy of dosa variants are fairly regular, but there’s also a little bit of Coorg, Mangalore and Guntur thrown in for variety. We pass them over as the desserts grab our attention and we reach for their Karupatti Misu, made with the darkened jaggery that is popular in Tirunelveli. Sinfully dolce, there’s a hit of orange rind that really raises the bar on fusion desserts. Even the creamy Jigarthanda played second fiddle to this one.
Located on Sterling Road, a meal for two will cost Rs.700. Details: maplai.in
— Daniel Thimmayya