As restaurants reopen, diners who are tired of isolation, begin to eat out again. However, if you prefer takeaway, or your couch, you can still grab a fork and travel the world
Languidly nibbling on gloriously sticky baklava with the air-conditioner off and Pinterest on, is the closest I am getting to a steamy Mediterranean holiday this year.
While the country is still in the grip of an unrelenting pandemic, it seems churlish to complain about missing holidays, malls and restaurant dinners. However, these are the minutiae of relationships that keep life interesting. And for many cooped up at home, the past six months have been lonely.
As restaurants reopen, people seem eager to go out again, despite the challenges of COVID-19. Nevertheless, it is still safer — for you and the restaurant staff — to choose takeaway over dine-in and keep meals short if you eat out. Or, thanks to these city chefs, you can jet set from your couch.
Although Al Kebab company is closing, for now, there is plenty of activity on at Anush Rajasekaran’s flagship restaurant Mezze. The pandemic has forced restaurants to be lean and flexible to keep up with a constantly shifting environment. Over the past few months, this has resulted in more-focussed, confident, practical ventures pivoting on the strengths of the kitchen and space.
Popular for its shawarmas, souvlaki and lahmajoun, Mezze is enhancing its café experience, with better coffee beans and brews. Explaining how they have cut down on seating, to enable physical distancing, Anush says they will be offering Arabian and Turkish coffees, and are ultimately working towards opening a Middle Eastern bakery.
For now, as many of their customers drop in for takeaway, the counter (which should open in two weeks) will be in the restaurant, offering pistachio cookies, pita breads and, of course, a range of baklava. They will also stock dried fruits, nuts and medjool dates eventually. In the meantime, they are working with restaurateur Sandesh Reddy on a range of unusual ice creams, with flavours like roasted pistachios. And roses with pepper corns.
Call Mezze on 917604853796
COVID-19 prompted Shreya Bajaj to change her business model, with encouraging results. “We realised this is here to stay for a while, so we need to figure out how to deal with it. And we decided to be more delivery based,” she says. The one-year-old restaurant, popular for its pizzas, had to close in March. When they restarted delivery, they decided to rework the entire menu. “We needed something exciting, and we realised people really miss travelling. We make New York style Neapolitan pizzas, which have thin crusts, but are not crisp. Instead they have floppy, sourdough with char,” says Shreya, adding that they gave their new pizzas New York-inspired names, like Brooklyn and Times Square.
With inventive toppings, generous puddles of stretchy cheese and a pleasingly chewy base, the pizzas are a summer holiday in a box. In addition to classic tomato, Shreya says Nolita offers a range of sauces that include arrabiata, pesto, BBQ and the ever popular “cheesy” sauce.
They have sensibly downsized the menu, sticking to core strengths. Fortunately, they have simultaneously upsized their signature tiramisu serving: rich, creamy and fragrant with powerful espresso, it now comes in a family pack of 650 ml. (Though, to be honest, you can get through it in a weekend with no help from the family.)
Call Nolita on 918056206305
Mex It Up
In retrospect, a chicken Chettinad tamale makes perfect sense — the spongy masa dough encasing chilli-flecked shredded chicken. However Kavya Verghese says reviews have been mixed, probably because it is so unfamiliar. And that is the challenge with making Mexican food in Chennai.
Nevertheless, she is determined to make it work. The young chef, who was at the Hilton Dubai Jumeirah returned to Chennai just before the lockdown, to start a venture of her own. Given the challenges raised by COVID-19, instead of finding a new space, she launched Mex It Up from her home kitchen.
Mex It Up is a promising Cancun meets Chennai experiment. Kavya’s professional training stands her in good stead, as she finds inventive ways to use local products and infuse familiar flavours into Mexican classics.
Fusion food needs to be well thought out, focussing more on cohesiveness of flavours than showy combinations. Her jalapeno samosas prove that she is on the right track, with crisp pastry shells, which break apart to reveal a burst of molten cheese, spicy with jalapeno. Also try her Chicken 65 burrito, offering flavoured rice, beans, pickled onions, jalapeños, cilantro and mozzarella, all neatly packed into a multigrain tortilla.
This is ideal for people who like Mexican flavours, and are open to experimentation. Her taquitos, a take on pani puri, are a bit too fiddly for me. But the churros, cut a little thicker than French fries, are light, airy and addictive: eat them as soon as they arrive, still warm and tasting like a Saturday night out, pre-COVID19 of course.
Call Mex It Up on 8925444962
This weekly column tracks the city’s shifting culinary landscape. Heard of a new food venture? Tell me: firstname.lastname@example.org