Set the food aside for a moment. The façade first. Red bricks punctuating the walls. Peacock motifs. Carved mirrors. Luxuriant wood patterns. Silver trappings. And finally, ethnically clad staff.

The menu at Ayna at The Hilton, Chennai, mimics the ambience in that it is a heady combination of objects, colours and cultures. This is a pan Indian restaurant, but with a difference. Rather than serve up the customary mix of Punjabi, North-West Frontier and Southern cuisine, Ayna attempts to feature what it regards as the best of regional cuisines from across the country. That is a tall task given the rich diversity of Indian cuisine; raising inevitable questions about why a certain dish has been left out or another included. But the end result is a menu that is both exhaustive and varied; a result of the culinary team's research, sifting, and experiments with traditional methods of preparation.

Diners may be forced to mix and match; something that is interesting and surprisingly works. For instance, the Goan fish curry — a pomfret fillet spiced up with red chilli paste, coconut and kokum — goes well with the traditional Malabar paratha or even the Zafraani naan, sprinkled with poppy seeds, almonds and saffron. Chef de Cusine Vijay Singh Rawat has attempted to replicate the many layers that make up a puff in the Zafraani naan. The Bengali Koshar Mangsho features succulent chunks of mutton thickened with customarily spicy gravy. The Peshawari Batti Derran — a charcoal roasted leg of lamb marinated in a mix of caraway seed, ginger and yoghurt paste — exudes the smokiness of a dish cooked and finished in the tandoor. The dessert menu is a platter of three small portions served as a combo. There is a paan platter as well, where you can ‘roll' your own from a range of ingredients such as ginger honey, gulkhand, supari, sweet coconut flakes and tutti-frutti.

Bottomline: Desi, in a different and ambitious way.

Where it is: Hotel Hilton, 124/1 JN Salai, Ekkaduthangal Chennai. Phone: 044-22255555

Wallet Factor: Rs. 3000 for two (without alcohol)

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