Hilton Chennai launches the city’s only pan-Asian brunch, offering a selection to please every palate.
CHEF Achal Aggarwal is in a quandary when I meet him. One of his chefs has turned every last grain of cooked rice in the kitchen into sushi rice, leaving none to serve me at my preview of the city’s only pan-Asian Saturday Brunch (kicking off tomorrow). But 18 years of experience means the Hilton’s executive chef is unflappable. Even as he calmly sets about getting fresh batches of sticky and long-grained rice ready, he seats me at a table at Vasco’s, with an artfully arranged platter of sashimi. As I make inroads with the lightly cured (to ensure nothing spoils in our humid weather) buttery slices of tuna and salmon, Aggarwal tells me that he wants to move away from the staple weekend brunch, with its Continental bent, and introduce the flavours of our neighbours. An idea that can really take off considering the city’s sizeable Asian population
Spoilt for choice
To start off, the spread will have around 35 dishes, spanning Japanese, Korean, Burmese, Vietnamese, Thai and Singaporean. While the first two cuisines will be constants, the others will keep changing—to add options like Cambodian, Indonesian and more. “These flavours are fresh and simple, and most people will enjoy them,” says the 38-year-old, whose area of expertise is Japanese, having worked in Tokyo’s Hotel Okura for two years and helped set up two contemporary Japanese restaurants—Wasabi at the Taj Mahal and Megu at the Leela Palace, New Delhi. “For the Japanese dishes, I’m concentrating on Hokkaido cuisine, which is known for its simple, home-style cooking,” he adds, as I turn my attention to the starters: a crunchy salmon and tuna tartare pizza, a yakitori trio—chicken, tenderloin, and a prawn-scallop—and a hondo tamago (Japanese-style raw egg). While the first two pair well with the mandatory glass of sake, I wonder how the third will be received at a buffet. But Aggarwal feels people will enjoy the presentation—eggs in their shell, with soy sauce on the side—and learn to appreciate the taste, too.
Curry and cheesecake
An edamame salad with crispy salmon skin and yuzu soy dressing comes next. Crisp and light, it goes down quickly with a side of crisp prawn tempura. By now I’m craving something with a bit of bite, and the chef delivers, with a Japanese chicken curry bowl and a Thai-style prawn satay. Robust, with tonnes of umami (thanks to a base of apple and onion, and a generous sprinkling of seaweed), the curry is one of my favourites, while the satay—a more homey version with a lemongrass-basil sauce—leaves me missing the grilled version. But Aggarwal assures me there will be a live satay counter, along with “five others for sushi, sashimi, tempura, Japanese curry and laksa”. Though dessert isn’t an Asian strong suit, he says there will be the traditional red bean baos and a few contemporary twists, too, including a tofu cheesecake. And since the sake cocktails are still being perfected, I’m planning to order mine at the buffet tomorrow.
From 12.30- 3.30 pm. Rs 1,945++ (non-alcoholic) and Rs 2,345++ (with alcohol).
—Surya Praphulla Kumar