Ashvita’s variety of platters allows you to experiment with tastes and textures

The waiter said no. And no. And no. He sounded eerily like my boarding school dormitory matron. I half expected to be chastised for chewing gum. Fortunately, he just sent me to a corner. The view was still pretty good though.

Ashvita, which has evolved from a laidback café into a stylishly blasé restaurant, is alluring in its new avatar. Especially in this wonderfully balmy weather we’re having now. The restaurant consists of three seating areas: an open courtyard, a sort of verandah and the inevitable air-conditioned indoors. Intelligent design has ensured that the space has a personality that’s all its own. Take the frosted glass doors, which surprise you by opening into the garden restaurant laced with a gushing waterfall and streams. It’s vintage Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Secret Garden really. The indoor space is as interesting, done up in graceful ivory and cream.

Unfortunately, staying true to mythology, the garden comes fully equipped with flaming dragons— the waiters. To begin with they drop customers into pre-designed tables like children doing a jigsaw puzzle. If you’re two people — they insist you sit at a table for two. Not three. And gasp — definitely — not four.

The tables in some sections are a bit too close for comfort. And since I didn’t want to spend all afternoon eavesdropping on an earnest date in progress (he brought her flowers! Aww.) I bravely disagreed with the waiter till we finally settled on a corner table. He then punished us by giving us a single menu to share and disappearing for so long I began to worry about needing botox by the time I paid the bill.

The menu’s unusual — it’s direct and no-nonsense, offering a short list of platters. The drawback is that you need to eat a entire, elaborate set meal every time, which can be frustrating when you just want to order soup, or a sandwich, or cheesecake. On the plus side, this ensures variety, allowing you to experiment instead of being stuck with just one large dish. Besides, it’s great value for money.

The best thing we try is the Asian Platter, which begins with a set of three appetisers. A sophisticated version of good old chicken lollipops, sweet, smoky and subtly laced with garlic. Succulent legs of pepper chicken rolling in a rich masala studded with whole pepper corns. And crackling pepper chicken, which is a little stringy, but tasty all the same with bursts of crisp capsicum, juicy tomatoes and fresh celery.

We also try a steamed momo platter, which is preceded with a clear noodle soup. Light and subtly flavoured, the momos come in those pretty steamer baskets and make for a deliciously healthy lunch. The chaat platter however stays true to the rule that posh joints just can’t get chaat right. It’s not bad. But, for anyone who’s grown up on pavement chaat — an intricate tumble of textures, flavours and heat — it’s a poor imitation.

The meal ends with a lack lustre dessert of honey noodles, which are part of the momo and Asian platter. There’s also another exciting search for the waiter through the shrubbery. Perhaps the Shikari Shambu workout should be added to the whole platter experience.

The dessert platters sound delicious, by the way. According to the menu, they include a Belgian chocolate platter featuring ten kinds of chocolate such as raspberry vodka truffle, passion fruit and Singapore Sling. There’s also a platter featuring Kahlua cake, cheese cake and chocolate fudge cake. Ashvin Rajagopalan, the owner, says that they plan to gradually increase the number of platters. Next in line is a sandwich platter.

The restaurant starts functioning as a café from 4 p.m., so you can get your burgers and espressos then. It’s certainly an interesting place to dine, and generally chill out.

Ashvita is at 11, Second Street, Dr. Radhakrishnan Salai, Mylapore. Call 2847 6063 for details. A meal for two costs roughly Rs. 600.

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Shonali MuthalalyMay 11, 2012