Holy Smoke serves global food that is subtly Indianised to appeal to a larger catchment

Holy Smoke raises a host of images. All colourful. Sweet fumes of frankincense sizzling softly on gently glowing coals. Gods of rock in ripped jeans breaking guitars amidst puffing smoke machines. Jazz clubs draped in nicotine and husky whiskey fuelled vocals.

Unfortunately for the hipsters among us, this restaurant’s slick mall location makes quirky-chic an impossible dream. Holy Smoke, with its clean lines and subdued colours, aims more at quiet elegance than hippy-lounge. As a consolation you get the quiet luxury of open, uncluttered, demure space, which is surprisingly restful.

The menu abounds with global food that leans towards new-age American fare, such as lettuce wraps crunchy with bean sprouts, shrimp cocktails and hot dog waffles. Also the universal crowd pleasers: sizzlers and steaks.

Our mezze platter, bright with fresh, colourful ingredients, for instance gets it all right. There’s emerald green tabbouleh, creamy hummus and delicately spiced baba ghanoush. They accompany pita bread stuffed with delectably juicy grilled chicken.

Refreshingly, Holy Smoke takes its meat seriously enough to offer more than just pepper, garlic and crumb fried wannabes. If you’re planning on ordering a steak you can choose between a variety of cuts, including Chateau Briand, Mignon and Tournedos.

However, despite the quality ingredients, my steak is overdone with charred, crusty edges. Which is tasty, I admit. But the meat’s so tough and chewy that lunch turns into a WWE style feud, ending with me practically on the table, holding it down like a female (and woefully under-muscled) version of The Undertaker. The fact that it arrives sizzling grandly on Holy Smoke’s signature volcanic stone (heated to 400 degrees Centigrade) doesn’t help since the stone keeps cooking the steak, and accompanying potato wedges.

In an attempt to help people to make a connection with the food, some dishes here are subtly indianised. Hence the abundance of piquant sauces, to spice up dishes ranging from their popular tortillas smothered in salsa and puddles of mozzarella to steaks. My grilled steak has a pepper sauce on top, and an additional bowl of sauce, thoughtfully provided in case I want to use it like a curry to douse my buttered rice.

Which brings me to the flurry of accompaniments that arrive with every main — fries, vegetables, rice. It’s an attempt to appeal to a larger catchment than the Atkins-and-Armani set, revelling in rare steaks and vintages. Indians traditionally don’t eat meals that are purely protein, so this is a way to make a single steak feel like a complete desi meal.

The vegetables are appealingly pretty. The thick cut fries, fresh and fluffy in their crusty skins are addictive. My rice is cold, hard and tasteless. Right now the kitchen’s assembling food like they’re working a cafeteria instead of a fine-dining restaurant and definitely need to up their game.

Holy Smoke has the building blocks of a good restaurant, but needs to put everything together if they want to pull off memorable meals. It would help if the followed the European less-is-more school of thought instead of reading the Balti diaries. Fresh grilled fish, for instance, needs nothing more than a squeeze of lime, sea salt and a drizzle of fruity olive oil to taste remarkable. Holy Smoke’s bekti loses all character, blanketed in a heavy tomato-onion-garlic puree.

Chaos can be fun on the dance floor. But only on the dance floor.

Holy Smoke, open from 11 am to 11 pm is at Ispahani Centre, in Nungambakkam. A meal for two here costs about Rs. 1000 for two.

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