Among the several types of idlis -- a healthy South Indian dish -- the Kanchipuram idli has a special, even divine, status. It is offered to the Lord Varadharaja Perumal in Kanchipuram.
An official of the Varadharaja Perumal temple told IANS that no other temple has the Kanchipuram idli as the main offering to the Lord.
The dish has a unique taste, texture and flavour thanks to the ingredients and not many star hotels have it on their menu.
However, S. Satyaseelan, Executive Chef at Mercure Chennai Sriperumbudur near here has the Kanchipuram idli on the menu card of Melange -- the 100-room hotel's multi-cuisine restaurant.
"While we offer global cuisine as well as local cuisine infused with foreign flavours, the inclusion of Kanchipuram idli in the menu was done to offer our guest the local specialty," Satyaseelan, son of a cook in a temple in Karnataka, told IANS.
The temple town of Kanchipuram is around 35 km from Oragadam, where the hotel is located.
By this time two Kanchipuram idlis in small tumbler shapes, along with gunpowder and gingelly oil, arrived at the table. The gunpowder mixed with gingelly oil and the Kanchipuram idli are made for each other.
"The fermentation of the idli batter has been kept bit low to suit the palate of foreigners," Satyaseelan volunteered. After the second bite, one starts enjoying the dish.
"Our target clients are French, German, Japanese, Asian as well as Indians working in plants like Renault Nissan, Daimler India, Yamaha, Eicher Motors and others," he added.
Speaking about designing the Melange's menu, Satyaseelan said it has been kept simple and not complicated.
"Menu engineering for a new property is not an easy task as one has to study the target segment, the price and the portion size apart from seeing what the competition offers," Satyaseelan said, offering the spicy rosemary olive chicken tikka that activated the taste buds on the first bite.
"We marinate the chicken in rosemary olive, giving a twist to the standard chicken tikka," Satyaseelan said.
Continuing with menu engineering, he said all the dishes had to be good as a guest may vote with his feet if he is not satisfied. That's a risk this restaurant clearly does not run.
By this time, C. Karthik, Chef de partie, brought a couple of bright red-coloured prawns -- Thai marinated tandoor prawns (prawns marinated in Thai red curry, lemongrass) that gave out the flavours infused in it.
The challenges faced by the General Manager (GM) who assumes charge at the pre-opening stage of a hotel are quite different.
"A pre-opening GM has to set up his team, get the operational supplies, engineering and other needs of the property. After inauguration, the operations have to be stabilised," GM Rahul Nama told IANS.
"We will serve the market located within 10-15 km radius -- basically auto and auto ancillaries. In the market we serve, there are around 450 rooms. There is a gap for an international brand," Nama said.
By this time the soft and tasty kung pao chicken (friend chicken with dry chilli cashew net and soya sauce) and the flavour-full dark green bay prawns with curry dust (prawns dusted in curry leaf powder and fried) were polished off the plate.
On the vegetarian side, you can have the interestingly named nanwich (vegetables and cheese wrapped in a nan and grilled).
The tandoori mushroom quesadillas (tortilla bread wrap with mushroom, onion, coriander, cheese served with salsa) and the Chettinadu vegetable burger tasted nice.
The menu card offers vegetarians and non-vegetarians choices of biriyani, Indian breads, noodles, fried rice and as well as a full meal in a bowl like the Japanese dish chukadon.
Chukadon (a melange of chicken, shrimps and squid stir-fried with vegetables and served on sticky rice) washes gentle on the palate and the tummy and would go well with Thai red curry tandoored prawn.
For dessert, Satyaseelan offered Madras filter coffee ice cream with pieces of almond. The ice cream was really divine -- a nice way to end the tasting session that began with Kanchipuram idli.
What: New restaurant Melange
Where: Mercure Hotels Chennai Sriperumbudur, Oragadam
Cost for two: Rs.1,500 plus taxes
(Venkatachari Jagannathan's visit was at the invitation of Mercure Hotels Chennai Sriperumbudur. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )