‘The buffet is dead. Long live the buffet.’ Luxury hotels’ strengths are service, ambience and lavish frills. How can that be home-delivered? Chennai’s chefs experiment with boxed brunches and weekend pop up menus
Sunday brunch used to mean live bands, sunny swimming pools and chilled flutes of champagne. Dim sum, roast chicken and festive macaroons. Friends, families, chefs, waiters, singers, guitarists, balloon artists, painters, clowns…
Now, it’s lukewarm porridge over a patchy Zoom call.
Mark 2020 as the year the buffet died. In an age of physical distancing, anxious disinfection and constant handwashing, the breezy charm of a row of warm chafing dishes has been replaced by an ever-lurking fear of contamination.
Fortunately, this has pushed the city’s hotels into finding creative ways to package luxury, from concierge services to door delivery by liveried waiters (live band not included).
The Westin Chennai Velachery
“Brunch is an experience,” says Chef Biju Philiph, of The Westin Chennai Velachery, explaining why it was such a challenge to rethink their celebratory Sunday buffet. “The whole idea is having everyone out together, in the ambience of a five star hotel. And honestly, if you had asked me six months ago to put it in a box, I would have said it is impossible.”
Yet, The Westin now offers a five and eight course brunch, launched last week, all packed in biodegradable, compostable boxes.
The first option lets guests choose five appetisers (including almond crusted cottage cheese, murgh Lahori tikka and barbeque chicken wings), two salads plus tandoori chicken or a quiche from the carving counter. Then for the main course, they can choose six dishes (with options like Goan prawn curry, Asian stir fry chicken and lasagna) with four sides (like papad, chutney, kimchi), followed by three desserts (apple crumble, brownie, moong dal halwa.) That’s 23 items in all, for two people (₹2,200). The eight-course option, which includes mezze, wraps and khau suey, is equally competitive, offering 34 items (₹3,600).
This week, in what may be his master stroke — given Chennai’s weakness for this dish — Chef Biju is offering a biryani box (₹1,800) to celebrate Independence Day. It will include three kinds of biryani: Ambur chicken biryani with ennai katrikkai, Hyderabadi mutton biryani with mirchi ka salan and Thalassery prawn biryani with ulli teeyal.
In an attempt to embrace the extravagance of a hotel buffet, it includes curry leaf chicken as a starter, as well as roasted garlic raita, beetroot pachadi, shahi tukda and moong dal halwa.
The vegetarian version (₹1,400) features an intriguing jackfruit biryani — biryani from Kerala with tapioca and the dish Awadhi style, with korma — along with yam kebab, served with raw mango chutney, as a starter. In classic hotel brunch buffet style, there is an earnest attempt to have something for everyone (clown not included.)
Order by 9 pm on Friday for Saturday brunch. Call 8939892056.
Latitude by The Park Chennai
After a decade of elegant tea parties, Latitude by The Park Chennai closed their Good Earth location in July last year. Now, it is back, but in a 2020 avatar: as a cloud kitchen. But, unlike many of the other lockdown launches, this one is helmed by a luxury hotel’s kitchen.
“Very honestly, we always wanted to revive it,” says Ashutosh Nerlekar, executive chef, explaining that the relaxed space had inspired a distinctly European café-style menu, deliberately different from 601, the hotel’s trendy coffee shop.
“There is an emphasis on sandwiches, burger and appetisers. We have retained classics from the old menu, but also introduced a ‘pukka local’ section with egg podimas, kothu parotta and podi idli,” says Chef Ashutosh.
However, given that Latitude runs out of the 601 kitchen, their edge seems to be the “classic five star breakfast,” he adds. This includes omelettes with hash browns, grilled tomatoes and sausages (₹245), as well as their popular French toast stuffed with mascarpone, topped with berry compote and Chantilly cream.” (₹225)
Meanwhile at 601, which has already been on Swiggy for a year, Chef Ashutosh has started running weekend specials, highlighting their strengths. “It is a competitive market now: everyday you have a new cloud kitchen launched,” he says, explaining why they need to stay on their toes, despite offering a menu that is priced at about 30% less than their dine-in menu.
So far the specials have featured Bento boxes, a Mediterranean trail and a burger menu. The hotel also did ‘Ribs ‘n Bellies’ from their Thai restaurant, Lotus. This week, the plan is an all-dessert menu, served in mason jars.
Of course, with the current Sunday Lockdown, you are going to have to shift all your celebratory brunch plans to Saturday for now. And maybe save some of that French toast for your Sunday porridge. (Vaccine not included. Yet.)
Call The Park on 9962288601 to order from Latitude or the weekend menu.
This weekly column tracks the city’s shifting culinary landscape. Heard of a new food venture? Tell me: firstname.lastname@example.org