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    Masters of the Grill  

    ITC Grand Chola’s Navaitha campaign underlines a lesson on food culture with a well-flavoured brain masala

    AS wannabe food historians we find the Navaitha spread that’ll be available at Madras Pavillion, ITC Grand Chola over the week, quite exciting. While mentally resolving to Wiki-research Tipu Sultan, Gingee and Navaitha Muslims, we tuck into the deceptively light (we don’t feel squelched, but we have to skip dinner) feast that chef Nikhil Merchant and his team have prepared. The latest iteration of the group’s Kitchens of India initiative under their Responsible Luxury efforts (they really wanted me to say that), the dishes travel across from Bengaluru where chef Srinevasu researched and curated the dishes. As a celebration of ‘Forgotten Treasures’, it’s an interesting reminder of how food cultures evolved. As executive chef Ajit Bangera puts it: people in new places tried to recreate their food with what was available locally. So the Navaitha cuisine bears influences of Nawabi, Mughalai and Tamil cuisine, in use of spices, meats and vegetables. The food feels vaguely familiar but not so familiar that it could be lumped among one of the others.
    We begin lunch with a lovely murmure kebab — a root vegetable base with puffed rice coating for the crunch — and bhuna bater, which is a full quail in a tangy-spicy marinade. Both are tasty and interesting, but pale in comparison to the lovely, buttery Bheja Tara masala with familiar spices that enhance the flavour of the brain without smothering it. Our main course seems quite wholesome for a ‘royal repast’ — Zimikhand ki Sabji and soya lauki are tasty, with a gentle home cooked feel but are overshadowed by the glorious, creamy Paya Khamiri served with idiyappam. Like the bheja, it’s perfection on a plate. We also tried the methi gosht with juicy, soft meat marred by being a wee too salty. Ditto the yakhni pulao.
    The festival is from today to February 28 and is available as part of the dinner buffet. Rs 2,100 plus taxes. Details: 22200000

    — Ranjitha Gunasekaran

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