ASIAN FOOD

Chennai’s new cafes are all about comfort food

After a harrowing 2020, restaurant openings in January look forward with optimism, featuring menus that pay tribute to the past

We tear apart buttery croissants, luxuriating in sunshine and nostalgia. Sandy’s cheery new Besant Nagar cafe is a rose-tinted tribute to the past with its old school sandwiches, milkshakes and décor. A bitter-sweet reminder of our pre-COVID lives.

Originally planned as the first of a new line of cafés called Sandy’s Toasteries, the Besant Nagar space evolved through the many challenges of 2020, and finally opened recently under the familiar flagship brand instead. “Now, this is a relaunch of the Sandy’s brand,” says Sandesh Reddy, the founder, adding, “We wanted to break away from what we have been doing for the past 12 years. To reinvent ourselves.”

In times of tumult, such as this, people crave familiarity, leaning on food that reminds them of simpler days. So, not surprisingly, Sandesh has chosen to stick with his core strength, continuing to offer uncomplicated comfort food, with a focus on popular flavours. However, proving that this is a grown up version of his first menu more than a decade ago, the plates are cleverly engineered, harnessing a global array of techniques, recipes and ingredients and influences to create deceptively simple meals. Like the steak sandwich, featuring buttery meat set between thick slices of grilled Texan toast, smeared with mustard and aioli. Or the light, breaded onion rings, steamy inside and crisp outside, topped with microgreens. Or a bowl of hummus, drizzled with olive oil and studded with sturdy chunks of falafel.

Chennai’s new cafes are all about comfort food

Desserts are indulgent. The ‘tiny’ shake shake comprises a thick chocolate shake, topped with a hunk of cake balanced on top of the glass. Of course, there’s one for Instagram: Milo tiramisu, designed like a pull up dessert. I’m more excited about the fact that there are cortados and Aussie lattes on the menu though: till the vaccine arrives at least we can circle the world on a cloud of caffeine.

Sandy’s Kitchen & Chocolate laboratory is at 5, 4th Main Road, Besant Nagar.

Never underestimate a sandwich. They can be wonderful things, as any midnight snacker can attest. At newly-launched Butterfly Effect on Cenotaph Road, popular Kiwi chef Willi Wilson, who was formerly executive Chef at The Park Chennai, has created a line of inventive gourmet sandwiches.

Chennai’s new cafes are all about comfort food

The space, launched by architect Junaid Ahmed, is chic and inviting, flooded with natural light. Over a plate of smoky chicken wings, freshly fried and finished with a clingy hot and sweet sauce, Willi says the menu, built around continental and Italian favourites, focuses on food that is “sustainable, quick, tasty, fresh.”

Of course ‘continental’ food in India has come a long way from the 90s, thanks to Chefs like Willi, moving from stodgy carbs smothered in white sauce and processed cheese to bright inventive takes on classics.

For the sandwiches, diners can choose between white bread, wholewheat, baguettes, ciabatta and focaccia. And while fillings include the obligatory roasted chicken, tuna-mayo and vegetable club with cheese, the cafe also offers more unusual sandwiches, including curried apple, set in creamy mayonnaise, chunky with almonds and raisins; chicken quesadilla with oozing cheese and grilled Caprese pesto with mozzarella.

Chennai’s new cafes are all about comfort food

Watch out for the just-introduced Asian menu, featuring hawker classics like a spicy Indonesian Naso Goreng, served with egg and chicken wings. Or Willi’s cheeky Daddy Wu’s chicken, a tribute to sweet and spicy pop-Chinese food. And, a steamy bowl of creamy cajun spiced butter prawns spooned over warm rice.

Restaurants are still struggling with the fallout of the pandemic, fighting hard to retain staff, follow rules of physical distancing, keep customers safe and — though all this — keep updating menus to stay relevant in a competitive market. But, despite the setbacks of 2020, the cheery burst of new openings, as well as encouraging return of diners, signal a new beginning. And what better way to do it than with comfort food that pays tribute to the past.

The Butterfly Effect Café, is at 22 Chamiers Road, Nandanam.

This weekly column tracks the city’s shifting culinary landscape. Heard of a new food venture? Tell me: shonali.m@thehindu.co.in

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