There are tentacles all over the place. They curl lovingly around meaty slices of mushroom, their perfectly symmetrical suckers dewy with soya sauce. We turn a little pale.
There are tentacles all over the place. They curl lovingly around meaty slices of mushroom, their perfectly symmetrical suckers dewy with soya sauce. We turn a little pale. Then observe a minute’s silence as we gaze at the octopus. And imagine the octopus gazing back at us. Meanwhile our waiter smiles benignly. As he tilts his head, his single crystal ear stud ominously glitters. And still the octopus gazes.
The spell is broken when my friend caves in. “Eeeeeeeek. Tentacles. Tentacles. Tentacles…” The quiet Korean diners at the next table look at us curiously. Kicking her viciously under the table, I mutter “be cool” under my breath. Oblivious, she continues to squeal and point. “Tentacles!” The elegant maitre d’ comes to our table, bows hello with a smile, then takes away the tentacles. Whew.
We’re at Jageumseong, the relatively new Korean restaurant on TTK Road. We spot the sign and a row of beckoning lanterns as we’re driving past. An old watchman points to the back of the building, indicating that it’s the entrance. Since the lift’s not working, we climb far too many stairs, passing through grungy passages. We’re a little nervous by the time we get to the top, but when we push open the door we enter a foyer filled with golden light and Korean pop music. An explosion of coloured lamps dominates the room, beside a dramatic staircase. The tables, loaded with pretty crockery, are set with military precision.
Then the menu arrives.
“Eeeeek,” squeaks my friend, going pale. “What?” I snap. “Look at the prices! Oh gosh, it’ll ruin us. Check how much Sujunbang costs!” Curious, I ask her what Sujunbang is. “I don’t know. But Oh-My-Gosh. It’s Rs. 16,720. Let’s crawl out from under the table and leave quietly. They won’t notice. We’ll eat Maggie tonight and pretend its Korean.” Everyone’s giving us polite, but curious glances by now. I nervously hail a passing waiter. “What’s Sujunbang?’ I ask. He shrugs apologetically, “We don’t have it.” Problem solved.
Since no one here understands much English, we mime out our orders. Sichuan pork. And fried rice with beef. The friendly waiters set out a row of complimentary kimchi. Roasted peanuts set in an ingenious mixture of salt and sugar. Pickled cucumbers with a dark viscous sauce. And chunks of onion. Our food arrives, and it’s octopus. Then the next plate arrives: prawns.
Lots more miming, with my squeaky friend giving a dramatic performance to demonstrate how allergic she is to sea food. (The maitre d’s expression when Dame Squeak-A-Lot falls mock-dead on the table alone is worth the price of dinner.) Our Sichuan pork, fortunately, is delicious. And the portions are massive. (A good thing considering its Rs. 1,200 a plate.) Juicy and tender, in a tumble of sweet green peas, stewed pineapple and fleshy mushroom. Despite the mix up, the staff are lovely — and even bring us little sugary deep-fried balls of dough for dessert.
They have a Chinese menu, which inexplicably includes items like paneer fried rice, French fries and ‘masai mara chicken’. With honey garlic cauliflower, dragon chicken and familiar noodles, it’s more accessible. (Not to mention cheaper.) The Korean food is strictly authentic, replete with abalone and shark fin and sea cucumber. No allowances for the Indian palate, so dive in only if you enjoy this style of cooking.
Later in the week, I try the new Crimson Chakra, on Khader Nawaz Khan Road. It’s replaced Casa Picola, and except for the change in name, looks like the same restaurant. The décor’s fairly basic, with a few photographs thrown in to brighten the place. The menu is divided into Indian and Continental fare, both served with that signature Crimson Chakra twist. Since we’re familiar with their Blackened Kingfish Fillets New Orleans and vegetable lasagne, we try the Indian food. (Though the Roasted Mojito marinated lamb leg Caribbean almost sways us.) Thick slices of spongy paneer tikka, followed by butter naan and a rich coconutty mutton vada curry. Satisfying if not mind-blowing. We end with a disappointingly flat whiskey chocolate mousse. And a fabulously light-as-chiffon tender coconut dessert that’s a cross between a mousse and a soufflé.
Jageumseong is at No. 406, 3rd Floor, T.T.K. Road, Alwarpet (Tel: 87545 76531) Crimson Chakra is at No 7/11, Khader Nawaz Khan Road, Nungambakkam (Tel: 64500 500, 97866 55845)