Ordering dirty martinis seems appropriately edgy. Especially given our global chic surroundings. They arrive dry and strong, twanging with olive juice. An ideal foil to the luscious Iranian Joojeh kebabs recommended by our waiter, sizzling softly under dollops of heavy garlic cream.
Walking into a Fusion 9, we have a bit of an Ali Baba moment. Set amidst a clutch of old timer restaurants, the location promises a venue that's more dependable than exciting. Then, the doors open and we're in a cavernous room filled with golden light, music and the heady scent of nutmeg and oranges, courtesy huge jars of potpourri. In the centre there's a circular bar gleaming with cocktail glasses. Bartenders shake and pour, while chatting with customers perched on the surrounding high stools. An open kitchen bustling with chefs in crisp whites runs along the side of the restaurant.
Although Fusion 9 is set on one level, it has different types of seating to keep things interesting. We choose the more conventional tables since they offer the best view. After all, there's nothing like people-watching on a lazy evening out. Though, to be honest, we're so busy gossiping by the time the waiter brings us a round of margaritas, all the canoodling couples around us fade into the background. The seating allows you to participate in the general vibe, but tables still have enough space between them for privacy.
The salt-rimmed margaritas sharpened with liberal splashes of lime are delicious, if a little too syrupy. (I half expect to see the whole Boyzone crew swimming inside my glass.) Fortunately they're accompanied by Thai corn lemon grass cakes, which balance them out adroitly. Vadai-like, the ‘cakes' are less exotic than expected, but then this seems to be food that flirts with trends, without ever going over the edge. Fusion 9 wants to be popular. And to have mass-appeal you can't be too edgy. People want exotica, sure. But they don't want it to be too unfamiliar — and Fusion 9's kitchen keeps that in mind. It's less about exploring new frontiers than consolidating food trends of the past few years. Like sushi or mezze, for instance.
We're so full after the two starters we decide to share a main course. The menu, in its attempt to encompass the world offers soups and salads, pastas and pizzas, risotto and spare ribs.
We pick king prawns intensely flavoured with chermoula, a Moroccan marinade that includes herbs, pickled lemons and garlic. Glazed with brandy butter the juicy prawns are served on a bed of saffron herb rice with a chunky pepper ratatouille.
Flavours that blend
Over the past decade fusion's become a bad word in the culinary world. It represents food forced together to make a dramatic impact, resulting in ridiculous pairings. Eventually chefs realised that dishes had to be more organic, and flavours needed to blend into each other in a symphony. More Bach than Eminem. Fusion 9 works because it doesn't try too hard. Instead of pretentiously focussing on drama, the kitchen makes safe connections. Like prawn Nellore masala with gongura pulao or lobster shahi kurma and baby naans.
There are still some hiccups. The air conditioning has a mind of its own, and fizzled out half-way through the meal. Service was friendly but the billing confused, resulting in a clutch of harried customers huddled around the cash register by closing time. Our dessert, a baked cheesecake, was forgettable.
Nevertheless, Fusion 9's a significant addition to the Chennai restaurant scene. It's at Aruna Centre, 145 Sterling Road, Nungambakkam. A meal for two costs approximately Rs. 1500. Call 4266 4299 for reservations.