The city’s first Parsi restaurant scores high on authenticity, courtesy a smart duo from Coimbatore
OME dear, I have some fresh mushrooms waiting for you!” Mehroo Belgaumwala, Chennai’s favourite Parsi aunty, would call from her Raintree-shaded old Madras bungalow on Nungambakkam High Road in the early 1980s. Mehroo would not only sell you the mushrooms and tickets to the latest Madras Players production, she would insist on serving you a strong cup of Parsi “Choi” — cardamom and mint flavoured and boiled to an ounce of its previous life with milk and sugar.
Walking up the narrow winding stairway into Batlivala and Khanabhoy, a later edition of a Madras-style house in Alwarpet, I could not help but recall the gracious hospitality of those Parsi ladies. They ruled over the city’s social and cultural scene, wielding just a string of pearls and a printed chiffon sari with a matching low-cut satin blouse that allowed them to display their lace trimmed sudrehs at the midriff.
Old is gold
Uday Balaji, the head of hospitality at Chennai’s first Parsi restaurant, has the same approach to hospitality. A scion of a well-known manufacturing family from Coimbatore, he explains that he and his cousin brother Vikram have a passion for food. They aim to combine both business and passion by creating a variety of authentic Indian specialty restaurants. Balaji has not only done a management course in Barcelona, he’s met Ferran Adria , the molecular food guru and the legendary head of El Bulli, when he lectured at his college. “Our idea of creating restaurants is at the opposite end of El Bulli,” he explains, as we plunge our forks into the round balls of pattice, kebabs and cutlets that come out of the kitchen. “We are trying to revive grandmother’s recipes and bring cuisines that have character and a history behind them and introduce them to a newer clientele.”
At Chennai the two of them have introduced a Maharashtrian specialty restaurant on the ground floor and a Parsi one at the first floor. The décor is spartan. This may be just as well. If the fish in green chutney wrapped in banana leaf is enough to make a non-Parsi weep, the “kid ghosht” or mutton is so tender it will make a Bawaji dance. All the old favourites are there, from Dhansak with all its accompaniments, and the different relishes served in dinky enamel bowls.
You may still have to go to Mumbai for the heavenly lagan nu custard but the one they serve is just fine for now.
At 40, Maharaja Surya Road, Venus Colony, Alwarpet. From 12 noon to 11 pm. Approximately Rs 1,200 for two. Details: 8220555448
— Geeta Doctor