Scrumptious food and striking art are the twin highlights of Spice Market at Hyatt Regency Chennai.
Spread over 8000 feet, over-looking the gloriously verdant terrace-garden, the restaurant clearly lives up to its name, being every inch as interesting and vibrant as a, well, hip market-place. There is the cheerful bustle of diners wandering between the chat and tandoor kitchens, spooning out salad dressing from old-fashioned ceramic pickle jars, stopping off at the beverage-island for some refreshing lassi (hand-whisked to a frothy peak with a wooden whisk in a big, round, mud pot) and admiring all along the way the quirky artwork (especially the very contemporary, very Indian sculptures by George K).
Sipping a soothingly delicious sugar-cane juice, subtly laced with lemon and ginger and tucking into melt-in-the-mouth honey-glazed potatoes, I listen to Chef de cuisine Mrinmoy Pal talk about food the way his mother and grandmother made it. A great believer in keeping food simple, he enthusiastically describes – while making it all seem so effortlessly simple – the heat of the hand, the friction from the fingers imparting a unique flavour to dishes!
As a five-star restaurant specialising in, interestingly, desi comfort food, Spice Market is unpretentiously Indian and the carefully chosen menu showcases dishes from traditional Indian homes, as well as popular street-food options.
Sauntering around, between the various kitchens, I'm amazed to learn that everything from the breads and baguettes to the lusciously smooth tubs of homemade ice-creams are made in-house!
After some (justified) dithering, I opt for the creamy, golden-brown dal makhani, a satisfyingly soft and fluffy naan and a fragrant vegetable biriyani. The dal, I note, is beautifully done, the spices perfectly in sync with the pulses, while the biriyani is a sublime blend of rice, vegetables and seasoning, nothing trying to outshine the other! Better still, the food is wonderfully light on the stomach and I realise – happily – that I might even manage to do justice to the vast, very tempting dessert island!
Back at the table, I meet Hyatt Regency's Executive Chef Thomas Angerer who talks about not just the authentic Indian menu, but also the glammed-up interiors with its unpolished granite and wooden accessories (ammis, attukals and hand-painted aruvaamanais), and the interest these humble, old-fashioned kitchen implements generate among visitors! And I can't help smiling, when I overhear, moments later, the chap at the table beside us demystifying dhoklas to his overseas guest, and I wouldn't be surprised if he were to, later, take her on a tour and point out tools last seen in his grand-mother's kitchen….
Dessert island staple
By then, I'm (somewhat) ready for my just desserts. Hugely popular with diners, the dessert island, with its large selection of Indian and popular Western desserts (think wickedly rich pastries, baked yoghurts and biscotti) - not to mention the mouth-watering aroma of crispy-golden jalebis sizzling in the pan – is almost an alternative paradise for the sweet-toothed.
Quite certain that I could easily gorge myself silly, I ask for must-try options and I'm recommended hazelnut ice-cream, a chubby tub of baked yoghurt and fig, a crumbly, mildly sweet biscotti and a fresh-from-the-pan jalebi. I enjoy the ice-cream immensely – the nutty flavours complementing the smoothly textured, thick ice-cream but it is the baked yoghurt that wins me over…
It's a pleasure to bite into, the succulent fruit bursting in the mouth, and the yoghurt enveloping it completely, creamily, resulting in an exotic blend of flavours that will surely have you reaching out for more…
Spice Market serves Indian street food and European bistro-style fare. For reservations call +91 44 6100 1234