Food, apart from feeding, should always fascinate. I remember reading about Willy Wonka as a kid and then, many years later, as an adult and it still felt as fresh, inviting and deliciously desirable as it had the first time around. Sadly, very few people have, ever since, been able to capture the essence of good food with similar scrumptiousness.
Chefs, in the same way, should never forget that while they are entitled with the task of feeding us, their job profile should also include something along the lines of bringing a certain aesthetic to their execution.
So far Indian Accent (IA) in Delhi had been the only contemporary restaurant that satisfied my rather Western-cultivated penchant for fine-dining meals. There used to be La Rochelle at The Oberoi, which was simply superb (and a far cry from everything there today in its reincarnated avatar). So popular has Indian Accent’s version of Indian food been that it spawned a library of restaurants trying to copy their essence, if you catch my drift. Sadly, and expectedly, these copies fell far short of any expectations.
Then came Artusi Ristorante e Bar with great food and true Italian hospitality. Although it wasn’t as uppity fine-dining as Indian Accent, it presented a certain European charm and flavour that was novel, rare and, much sought-after in the capital.
Another restaurant that had me go gaga over it was Masque: A brave and daring venture with Prateek, a chef who didn’t hold back from going out there and working his magic without trying to conform to client expectations.
And now, with much joy, I report a new restaurant. One that doesn’t come from a smug restauranteur, the type who open a new outlet every few weeks all while devouring in totality all investment funds made available to them, but from a stalwart hospitality chain. The eatery is called Avartana at ITC Grand Chola in Chennai. It does one of the finest interpretations of South Indian flavours that I have ever seen presented in a somewhat contemporary manner. Like Masque, they are a ‘table d’hôte’ only restaurant. They have four menus, all with different numbers of courses and each with a parallel vegetarian option, except for one menu which is sea-food specific. I wasn’t there for a review, just generally dining, but being someone who works in the space, it was unlikely that I would switch off and not pay attention to every course, every mouthful, noticing even the minutest of details.
Suffice to say that it is among the finest meals I have had in India. It was reassuring to visit this space, especially one that sits in a property run by the group that gave us Bukhara and Dum Pukht, the category-defining restaurants of our era. This is their new avatar, stepping away from the classical but never-compromising the authenticity of it all. Sure, there rasam comes in a French Press and is served in a martini glass but it remains one very fine (even if gentrified) sip.
For what it’s worth, if I had an award to hand out and if it were sized by how much I enjoyed it, they would need to build a really big place to keep it. So for those who have Chennai coming up on their planners, book ahead because tables are limited and sell out quick. Get yourself a nice Pinot Noir or a rich Chardonnay and thank me once you are done with the experience.
The writer is a sommelier.