Krishnavillasam and Katti Kebab Company, the newly-opened food joints in the city, give you a taste of varied Indian cuisines
Butter pot. Shortest argument ever. We’re sprawled in a friend’s living room. I want to try the newly opened Krishnavillasam. But it’s raining. And dark. And the car won’t start. So, I sneakily work on the hostess’s Achilles heel. “Think of the butter.” Her eyes light up: “Home made butter?” Ten minutes later we’re on the road, all five of us frantically flailing our hands at passing autos like a Lady Gaga flash dance mob.
We tumble into Krishnavillasam at 10.30 p.m., just as the respectable ‘family crowd’ is packing up and placidly heading home. The restaurant, which advertises itself as ‘Home of Classics’ is unpredictably chic with soft lighting, crockery in deviant geometric designs and circles on the wall. Lots of circles. Too many perhaps. “I feel like I’m surrounded by a mob of angry soap bubbles,” whispers Ms. Butter Pot.
The food is inspired by the Reddiar community, from Tirunelveli, who migrated from the Andhra region in the 14th Century. So it’s heavily influenced by the regional home-cooking of the Tirunelveli-Thrissur belt. In an attempt to be both contemporary and accessible, they go beyond recreating old recipes. Hence you can get a home-style thayir saadam here, as well as zucchini rolls, Hunan tofu and a Mumbai chutney sandwich. I get increasingly indecisive as I flip through the massive menu. Their ‘Fusion’ section includes Kashmiri macaroni mixed with dry fruits, Nellai penne with Tirunelveli spices and Chintamani Macaroni in coconut milk with broccoli.
The thought of macaroni in coconut milk drives me right back to the conventional section of the menu. When in doubt, I order a masala dosa. Krishnavillasam’s version is evenly golden-brown, gleaming with ghee and just thin enough. Ms. Butter Pot is not happy, however. She likes her dosas so crisp that they break apart like shards of glass, and she mutters darkly about it not being ‘mura, mura enough’ as she eats her ‘Topped Dosa,’ folded with coriander leaves. The heft works for the red-chutney smeared masala dosa, however, stuffed with a mildly-spicy mix of curried potatoes. Besides the standard coriander and coconut chutneys, the restaurant offers a bowl of flavoursome roasted coconut and garlic to eat with the dosas.
One friend tries spongy masala uttapams, crisp on top with masala podi, chopped beans and coconut. Another orders their skilfully made Schezwan fried rice: long-grained, delicate and fluffy, laced with the flavour of garlic and liberally scattered with minutely chopped carrots, beans and green chillies. We end our oddly mismatched but satisfying meal with a classic: Steamed rice and darkly intense vatha kozhambu, feisty with shallots, pods of soft garlic and chillies. It’s excruciatingly tasty, and once we’re done we quell the pain with Kumkumapoo Paal, milk stained with saffron and sweetened with jaggery. Like the coffee, it’s hot and fragrant but ridiculously sweet. A Drew Barrymore of beverages. Sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you. Here. Have a pot of butter, and you’ll feel better. Yes. It’s on the menu.
This stylish, vegetarian, traditional-at-the-core standalone restaurant is a necessary addition to the city’s food scene. Perhaps I’m biased because of the butter idlis, nei Oothappams and cheese naan. There’s something so satisfying about excesses. Before you judge me, let me point out that I resisted their home style Chintamani halwa, made with wheat, pista and the ultimate badge of honour for true-blue desi restaurants: pure ghee. This time.
Talking of good ideas, if you’re driving past Egmore check out the newly opened Katti Kebab Company. Designed as a takeaway joint, it’s neatly organised, with a welcoming waiting area, equipped with seats, bubble top water and — endearingly — hand sanitizer. There are about 50 items in all, though most are variations of the basic rolls. Potato, channa, paneer and palak for the vegetarians. Egg, chicken shammi, mutton shammi and mutton liver for the non-vegetarians. You can mix and match as you please.
With cooks trained in Kolkata, they aim for an authentic, but reasonably healthy roll. So unlike Kolkata’s greasy, deliciously deep fried katti rolls, these are relatively austere. They even come in variants boasting ‘wheat rolls’ and ‘egg whites.’ Worried that the egg-white wheat roll will ruin my street cred forever, I choose a chicken shaami roll, generously stuffed and satisfying, even if it doesn’t have that street-food zing. A friend orders the paneer-wheat roll, which tastes like dinner at home. Well. Honestly, sometimes, that works too.
Krishnavillasam is at 11, Haddows Road, Nungambakkam. Call 2821 5560/ 69 for more details. A meal for two is approximately Rs. 500.
Katti Kebab Company is at Shop No. GF 6, at Wellington Estate, Ethiraj Salai, Egmore. Call 6050 1230/31/32 for more details. A meal for two is approximately Rs. 250.