Willows at Westin is a new generation sports bar with a friendly fuss-free setting

The rain begins again. We’re at a dinner party, and our hostess is delighted. She suggests we run up to the terrace and soak it in. Literally. We look aghast. And just a little envious. If only we were that bohemian. “Nature,” we shudder. “Ugh.” It’s a good thing we weren’t around in the Sixties. Clearly, Woodstock would have killed us. Or perhaps we would have found ways to adjust. After all, all you need is love. And butler service.

Naturally, I find myself trudging along College Road, in soggy shoes and soggier hair the next day. One minute it was warm and muggy, the next minute I was doing an Ian Thorpe imitation to get through a puddle. When you’re wet and annoyed, there’s just one thing to do. Order ‘bread-omelette’ at the nearest stall. I charge toward Five Star’s sandwich shop, and get in line. It’s delicate, golden and lacy, wedged between two slices of soft white bread generously smeared with deliciously pungent, virulently green and unapologetically fiery chutney. Suddenly, the day looks a lot better. I almost dance in the rain. Almost.

We posh it up later in the week by heading to the Westin’s new bar, Willows. It’s raining again. (Noticing a theme here?) It takes two hours to drive to Velachery. Two. Hours. We stagger out of the car and dive straight into the cocktails. I have a ‘Siren.’ An unabashedly pink drink made with pomegranate, mint, lime, basil leaves and a healthy slug of vodka. My friend sticks with her standard order: A chocolate martini. After years of surfing bars with her, I’ve come to expect the same concoction: rich, thick and frightfully sweet. Basically Baileys on steroids. The Willows’ version is a refreshing change: clear and sophisticated, topped with dark Lindt shavings. The guys in the group ask for something less fiddly, more ‘macho’. They get a gigantic jug of chilly Cuba Libre, rum and Coke, liberally laced with the fresh fragrance of oranges.

In an attempt to serve some non-traditional bar snacks Willows offers bowls of fried fusilli pasta with Aglio olio seasoning. It’s tangy, crunchy and ridiculously addictive, in proud ‘bar snack’ tradition’. While this is a sports bar, thankfully it’s a new generation sports bar, and hence not stereotypically ‘masculine.’ So instead of clichéd dark couches, wood panelling and dim lighting, there’s a bar counter composed entirely of kookaburra cricket balls, a hand painted cricket wall and large community tables, with net panels to create a subtle partition between seats. This way you get the illusion of privacy, even while participating in that ‘community feel’ sports bars propagate.

The music is a touch too loud. After all, this is not one of those ‘see and be seen’ bars where customers do little besides pout prettily and check each other out. It’s more a ‘hang with your buddies’ place, which means conversation is essential. We work our way through smoky kebabs, served on dinky skewers. There are also juicy grilled jumbo prawns, saucy meat balls and the inevitable potato wedges. We try their chicken wings, which unfortunately lack character. In the spirit of Chennai they serve chilli bajji too. I enthusiastically demolish a crisp, steamy, golden-brown bajji, which is tasty but so hot that I spend the next ten minutes running around the bar with my mouth open, and then try drinking an entire jug of Cuba Libre to dull the pain.

The Willows team has come up with ‘bowl food,’ a concept that’s so cute it makes you wonder why no one thought of it before. Doing away with elaborate table settings, an artillery of cutlery and the ‘Mind Your Manners’ brigade, they offer hot meals in small bowls, so you can spoon up a no-fuss dinner. We try the Pad Thai, which is fairly standard. There’s fragrant matka biriyani, thoughtfully devoid of bones. And a comforting bowl of well-minced, flaky kothu parota. After all that Cuba Libre, I’m cautious with dessert: Ice cream sticks served in a glass of vodka and multi-coloured frozen jello shots.

Despite my restraint, I must admit I did consider spending the rest of the night singing on the corridor. And I have a vague memory of trying to convince the bar tender to dance in the rain with me. Ah well. See, I can be bohemian too.

Willows is at The Westin Hotel, 154, Velachery Main Road. Call 22553366 for more details.


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