Crimson Chakra chooses to rediscover South Indian food in a contemporary way

At Crimson Chakra, there’ll always be rain. It’s an inexplicably comforting thought. After all, fine dining’s about more than just food. It’s a quick joyful high. A calming break in an otherwise regular day. An interlude that feels a little like a short refreshing holiday. That is exactly why the waterfalls work at Crimson Chakra.

On a quiet lane, opposite Gandhi Nagar Club, the restaurant is set in producer Suresh Menon’s house (he still lives upstairs). It combines the feel of a grand old colonial bungalow with a funky global accent. Suresh Menon, who’s clearly had the time of his life designing the interiors, considering how many different elements, moods and textures he’s played with, teeters at the verge of kitsch without quite going over to the bright pink side. Crimson Chakra’s far too grown up for that. But who says grown-ups need to be sensible all the time? So the spacious restaurant is broken into sections, combining traditional Indian and funky tribal art, hammocks and bamboo chairs, quaint hanging lanterns and a half-submerged funky canoe. All set within a ring of spirit-lifting, cheery rushing water. In a restaurant that delights in unexpected partnerships between seemingly disparate elements, not surprisingly the menu’s defiantly individual.

Created by Chef Jacob Aruni and his team, it chooses to rediscover South Indian food in a contemporary way, thus playing to the gallery, while simultaneously providing ample room to experiment. Chef Aruni’s brand of experimentation involves recreating ancient time-tested recipes and then tweaking them to various degrees. So there are items for both adventurous taste-thrill seekers as well as the timid fish curry and rice brigade, with plenty for everyone in-between. The spicy mutton soup is unapologetically robust. It is followed by an avalanche of starters, which include masala-fried fish, juicy prawns twanging with tamarind and spicy chicken spiked with fresh, fragrant pepper. The non-vegetarian dishes are robust, well marinated in loud flavours. Most of them are cooked on coal and have a deliciously distinct smoky undertone.

Despite the swish setting, this is South Indian food without any pretensions. Fortunately, the dishes don’t suffer from that stultifying sameness that affects food at most Chettinad restaurants. Spices may be used generously, but they’re chosen intelligently, and usually paired with restraint, barring a couple of items, which might prove too spicy for the average customer. On the flip side, there’s significantly less variety for the vegetarians. The lack-lustre yam cubes and cauliflower toss, for instance, seem like afterthoughts put in merely to increase the menu size. However, the intensely smoked brinjal curry is gorgeously satisfying. The menu design is perfect for the indecisive and people with low boredom thresholds. For a fixed price, you get starters, soups, accompaniments, rice and rotis.

This is great for experimentation, and experimentation is really what Crimson Chakra’s about. Try the rotis made with betel paste and sprinkled with fresh paan leaves, which is part of their range of healthy innovative rotis. While not being able to order a la carte can be a little frustrating, it’s refreshing to eat at a restaurant with the imagination to challenge boringly traditional dining patterns. It’s also high time we had some good independent restaurants to challenge the five stars. Though, Crimson Chakra does need to fine tune details. Such as the boxes of tissue paper on each table, which would probably be more at home in Mc Donald’s. And the fact that in some sections the tables seem uncomfortably close to each other.

However, it helps that all you really need to do to escape is head towards the waterfalls. Or Crimson Chakra’s charming verandah Café: 13, First Crescent. Both open today. While the Café works through the day, Crimson Chakra is open for lunch (Rs. 350 for vegetarians and Rs. 425 for non-vegetarians) and dinner (Rs. 450 and Rs. 550). Call 42115664 for details or check www.crimsonchakra.com.

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