Madras Café is the newest restaurant to open up at Pheonix Towers, which already houses Hello Curry, Starbucks, Cibo, Baskin-Robbins, Habanero, and Firewater Kitchen. As the name suggests, Madras Café serves delicacies from the South. The restaurant defines it as Presidency cuisine, which is food from the Madras Presidency region, including Tamil Nadu, the Malabar, Coastal Andhra, Rayalaseema, South Karnataka and even Ceylon.
The restaurant has a lively and quirky design with bright colours, and big cartoons featuring icons from the South as well as depicting random parts of daily lives of people. The floors are decked with hand-made Athangudi tiles. They have their own jukebox which kept on dishing out music that was unfamiliar but not unpleasant. There’s also a post box and a selection of interesting postcards. You can fill-up and drop your letters in the postbox. Madras Café promises to dispatch them. Kids are offered complimentary hand-crafted wooden toys from Chennapatna.
We started our meal with Nannari – a very interesting and refreshing mocktail prepared with sarsaparilla roots and lemon juice. Next up was a steaming hot Nandu Saaru or spicy crab soup. I’m a big fan of crabs, and this soup blew me away. The crab was fresh and juicy, and the aroma could be felt from a distance. The veg soup, which was a pepper and tomato mixture in a bath of rasam, received lukewarm reviews. However, the next dish Mokkajonna Karuvepillai Vadai – a vada topped with a spicy mixture, succeeded in lifting the spirits of the veggies in the house. The tangy and spicy topping on the vadas were brilliant.
The biggest applause of the day was reserved for the next dish – GunPodi Royallu, a deep fried prawn with a coating of gun powder. These prawns were perfectly cooked, and this dish was the crowd favourite. My favourite preparation of the day, however, was the next dish – Spicy Mangalorean Pan Fried Salmon. The fiery and tangy masala combination was fingerlickingly delicious. The final starter, Syrian Lamb Fry, also had a great masala mix, but the meat felt rubbery.
We moved onto the main course with Malabar Parotta with Chettinad Paneer and Ankapur Chicken. I loved the parrotas, but both the gravy dishes failed to make an impression. They weren’t bad by any means, but both the dishes tasted very generic. Next up was Vangi Bath served with Buttermilk and Raita. I’m not a big fan of brinjals, but I relished the fried brinjals with the tangy Bath. The final dish in the main course was Yera Flavoured Rice, which is supposed to be baby prawns and rice served with raita. What we received, however, had big, chewy prawns that lacked flavour. The rice itself, however, was delightfully fragrant and light. We were also served a glass of Sol Kadhi, which baffled me with its taste. I was expected a kick from the sharp taste of kokum. Instead, I got a watery drink with a hint of coconut milk.
The final course of the day was a platter of three desserts – Poornam Tartlets served with some jellies, Thai Custard, and Filter Coffee Mousse. I’m not a fan of jellies, and these mundane jellies didn’t do much to change my opinion. The tarts, which was actually just poornam in a namkeen shaped like a bowl, were a nice surprise, because the taste was very different from its appearance. The Thai Custard and Filter Coffee Mousse were a revelation. The custard had a strong coconut flavour that I enjoyed, while the filter coffee flavour made the mousse uniquely Madrasi.
Madras Café’s menu is eclectic, and I believe that the South Indian fare served by it will succeed in surprising even the South Indians. If you are unsure about what to order, you can opt for the set menu titled “Great Presidency Feast”. The non-vegetarian set menu is priced at RS. 549, while the vegetarian version costs Rs. 449 (exclusive of taxes). On the whole, the food is reasonably priced, especially if you consider the prime real estate the restaurant occupies. I had to leave early yesterday, and missed out on the filter coffee, which I was told is fabulous. I’ll surely head back to sip some of that kaapi and discover more surprises.