Earlier this month, Dakshin by ITC Kakatiya introduced a new menu featuring dozens of new dishes from the Southern states of India. ITC’s F&B properties are revered for their deeply researched and carefully executed culinary experiences and Dakshin’s new menu continues this tradition. Executive Chef Praveen Anand spent several months with his team ideating and engineering the menu. India’s newest state, Telangana, has now found representation along with other four southern states (Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, and Andhra Pradesh) and Pondicherry.
Dakshin began its journey in 1989 at Sheraton Park Hotel & Towers in Chennai, which was run by the ITC group. It later spread to Sheraton New Delhi, ITC Windsor Bengaluru, ITC Kakatiya Hyderabad, ITC Maratha Mumbai, and more properties around the country. Chef Anand, who was only twenty-four years old then and was trained in continental cooking, spent months researching and putting together the initial menu. This was the beginning of a career-long exploration of the nuances of South Indian cuisine. A voracious reader and an avid traveller, Chef Anand is now one of the foremost experts of the cuisine with an encyclopaedic knowledge of not just South Indian recipes but also culture, tradition, and history.
Much has changed in Dakshin over the years. However, a few things like the ginger, coconut, and tamarind chutney have stood the test of time. Chef Anand curated a special tasting session menu for us, which began with vegetarian appetisers from Iyengar’s Trolley accompanied by six assorted chutney, including the aforementioned three. The Vazhai Shunti, a raw banana hash vada, stood out owing to its distinctive mix of spices. This dish originates from Thanjavur whose cuisine has deep Maratha influences in it. Chef Anand explained that much of what is known about Tamil cuisine is based on recipe manuscripts prepared during the time of Serfoji II, the last ruler of the Bhosle dynasty. He maintained three separate kitchens – one non-vegetarian (Maratha cuisine), one vegetarian (Tamil Brahmin cuisine), and one continental.
On the non-vegetarian side of things, we were served Aatukari Chops from the Chettiar community and Kariveppila Yera (Curry Leaf Prawns) from the coastal regions. Like almost every dish in the Dakshin menu, there’s nothing exotic about Aatukari Chops. Braised mutton chops are dipped in egg batter and fried to perfection. But, it’s this simplicity of ingredients combined with precision in execution that makes them irresistible.
New dishes in the main course include a host of curries from different parts of the peninsula. While each of the curries is very distinctive, one common thread tying them together is the boldness of the flavours.
The Chinna Vengaya Patchai Milagi Mandi is quite a mouthful to pronounce, but this homely tangy and fiery shallot and garlic curry is sensational with simple steamed rice. On the other end of the spectrum, the Ananas Mensakai presented the characteristic sweetness of pineapples tempered with coconut and byadgi chillies.
From closer home, we tried Beerakai Paal Koora and Uragai Mamsam. The former is an atypical Andhra preparation of ridge gourd simmered in coconut milk. This creamy curry can be easily passed off as something from the coastal state of Kerala, and indeed, it paired brilliantly with fluffy appams. However, unlike the Ishtew and other preparations from Kerala, this gravy used green chilli and not peppercorn for heat. Uragai Mamsam is a pickled mutton preparation from Telangana that has been one of my favourites at Simply South and I loved ITC’s rendition of this classic. It’s characterised by sharp acidity from vinegar and tomato with a touch of heat from red chilli and works well with both plain rice and parotta.
The innumerable regional nuances of South Indian cuisine make it almost impossible to capture it in its entirety in a single menu. Yet, the relatively modest-sized selection at Dakshin succeeds in showcasing the diversity of both flavours and ingredients. There are just 67 dishes (40 vegetarian and 27 non-vegetarian), among which 28 are new introductions. But each of them brings something to the table. Also among the new introductions, is a ‘Sarvottam’ Chef Special menu, which is a great way to get a taste of what Dakshin has to offer. The Sarvottam thalis offer a composite experience featuring glimpses of the food from each of the Southern states. There are five variants priced between Rs. 1550 and Rs. 2200 (taxes extra).