Many many moons ago when M, the French girl I was dating, was all set to go back, we had invited a few friends home, where we got to taste her favourite dish from France: confit de canard (courtesy google: a French dish made of duck…prepared in a centuries-old process that consists of salt curing a piece of meat and then poaching it in its own fat). Easily the classiest of all the meat preparations I have tasted in my life.
On farewell day, I made plans to match her effort but she had only two wishes: a brand new one rupee note to complete her collection and, to my surprise, a trip to Andhra Bhavan for a bowl of rasam.
Well, I thought she was dating me for my smartness and sense of humour — not to mention the tall, dark, handsome bit. As it turns out, rasam from my home state takes all the credit. Talk about misconceptions.
A good bowl of piping hot rasam has the fountain of the sun inside it: awakens your taste buds and appetite. I thought I would rate the new south Indian restaurants in town according to their rasam and sambar because usually there is not much beyond that. More misconceptions were dispelled on the way.
Now you don’t have to trace your steps to Andhra or Saravana Bhavan or Swagath and Sagar Ratna, for South Indian food. I would go back to Kaustubh, behind Select City Walk, only at gunpoint. The service is poor. The portions are stingy in what is supposed to be an executive unlimited thali at Rs 275.
My first stop, Zambar, had a menu - from the south Indian coast — that transported me back in time and geography — those 20 years spent on the sunny side of India.
Kumily pepper chicken (with fennel, garlic, onion, ginger), Nilgiri mutton (with mint, coriander, green chilly and coconut sauce) and Travancore crab thooran (with onions, pepper, curry leaves, lime) were authentic if only less spicy, probably, keeping in view the local palate. The dishes were not only delicious but could walk down any ramp and win hearts with how good they looked — absolutely camera-ready.
The rasam was nice and spicy and sambar more dal-like, which the roti-eaters might like. The vegetarian fare has not been seen in Delhi and NCR before. Brinjal Gingelly — spiced baby brinjals cooked in peanut, copra and poppy seed salan — from Andhra gets my vote. As does the cocktail, Green Valley: fresh mint, musk melon and vodka. As far as desserts go, I could go back for the Sri Lankan coconut jaggery pudding (vatalapam).
The beautiful orange interiors are mood lifting but seem like a set up for a Chinese or Thai restaurant. That wanes away as the food makes entry. The restaurant, which is just a month old, serves Andhra thalis — vegetarian, non-vegetarian and seafood. (The biryanis will make an entry soon followed by a-la-carte). You will be spoilt for choice with the sheer number of items — 26 for vegetarians (Rs 399), 28 for non-vegetarians (Rs 599) and 30 for seafood (Rs 699). My pick: the rare chutneys — beetroot, ginger and onion, tori etc — that are freshly made. The pumpkin curd curry is another surprise offering. The famous coastal Andhra fish curry also stood out among the non-vegetarian dishes.
The Poppadam thali tries a little too hard to impress but you won’t complain. The only thing that didn’t go down well with me was the sona masuri rice that didn’t get along with the dishes. But brown rice is an option as well. I always thought south Indian restaurants aren’t suitable for dates. But the rooftop of Poppadam, which has Thai High, makes for a lovely romantic setting with a view of Qutub Minar. Great place for a dessert and coffee after dinner.
On the Sheraton road near PVR Saket is Kanagam fastfood, a Tamil dhaba that serves dosas and idlis from 3pm to 10.30 pm. You can have a plain dosa for Rs 30, onion dosa for Rs 35 and masala dosa for Rs 45. Reminded me of my college days and those late night food stalls in Chennai’s Panagal park, where dosas used to bring together folks in Mercs and those like me, riding bikes.