By Venkatachari Jagannathan
Chennai, Aug 4 (IANS) It will not be a cliche to say that the chefs at the Raintree Hotel on St.Mary’s Road are whipping up magic at their roof top restaurant Above The Sea Level.
One can’t see liquid sambar atop the podi idli but can taste it. That is also the case with jalebis.
Perhaps the hotel’s Executive Chef, 39-year-old Deepak Dandge, who started his career selling mobile SIM cards after passing out of the Institute of Hotel Management, Kovalam (Kerala), is of the view that like the face that can’t be seen but the associated voice that can be heard, some dishes are to be tasted but not to be seen!
“We just alter the texture or the traditional form of a dish without changing its taste or flavour. We alter the texture by spherification — a process of changing liquid into spheres — or by foaming,” Dandge told IANS, serving the starter podi idli.
According to him, guests, while dining out, also expect the “WoW” factor.
The podi idli was well coated with finely-ground gunpowder topped with a brownish foam. The foam tasted like sambar without making the idli soggy, while retaining the gunpowder taste.
One can also have curd rice with mango pickle foam.
While enjoying the gentle breeze and the skyline, the Thanjavur duck empanada arrived at the table. The dish first tasted sweet, and then spicy — on the whole, good to begin with.
With sizable years of experience as a banquet chef in different star hotels in Mumbai and Pune, Dandge joined the Raintree Hotel here recently and his first major assignment was to craft a new menu.
Serving the murg-e-shauqat, Dandge said: “For any chef, experience in banqueting and the coffee shop is important. The market now expects a lot from banquets right from the presentation of the food to uniquely crafted dishes.”
The next item — spicy tandoor prawn on white pebble stones — arrived at the table and soon rolled down the gullet.
“A banquet chef understands different cuisines and learns about the cost of food. After serving large numbers of guests, it is easy for him to move into a restaurant kitchen and succeed,” he added.
“It is true that a restaurant is sold on its food and its chef’s brand equity. Banquets are the bulk revenue generators for hotels and no establishment can afford to neglect them,” Dandge said.
Explaining the rationale for the new menu, Dandge said that its predecessor was robust and rustic while the new one is more casual and progressive.
“The majority of the dishes in the old menu have been removed and the new menu is really new,” he emphasised, placing the tasty palak cream cheese kebab on the plate that vegetarians should not miss.
“The last time the menu was changed was in 2014. We not only changed the menu but also the crockery and the cutlery. The coloured crockery has a stoneware finish,” General Manager Rakesh Sethi told IANS.
The other new aspect is the unique fine plating. This was visible, for example, in the attractive kolam or rangoli pattern on the plate the chettinad lamb chops were served.
The lamb was cooked just right and was very soft and the kolam was stencilled with beetroot puree.
“Every morning I find different kolams drawn outside each house. I thought of giving that local touch to the dinner plates as well,” Dandge explained.
The other unique ways in which food is served in the restaurant are on bright white pebbles (different pebbles are used for vegetarians and non-vegetarians), on a thinly-sliced and chemically-treated tree trunk.
It was time for the main course and the pan-fried sea bass was nice, gentle and filling.
The menu also offers vegetarian and non-vegetarian pastas — including vegetable risotto, coconut foam, coriander dust, spicy parmesan cheese straw, biryani, roti, naan and parathas.
For the sweet tooth the ‘caviar’ jalebi rabdi should not be missed. The jalebi was not in its traditional form but was like a cup cake. However, one can savour the tiny balls — due to spherification of the jalebi mixture — with the jalebi taste pouring out with every bite.
What: New progressive menu at Above the Sea Level
Where: Raintree Hotel at St. Mary’s Road, Alwarpet
Timings: 7 p.m.-11.45 p.m.
Price: Average for two — Rs.2,500 without liquor
(The writer’s visit was at the invitation of Above the Sea Level. Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at email@example.com)