Malls are not just for shopping alone. They are a popular dining destination too. Here’s how Phoenix Market City in Velachery has shown the way

A mall as a dining destination? So what’s new? When people shop, they eat. Massive food courts with a plethora of local, national and international dining options are a standard feature in any mall. However, Phoenix Market City in Velachery is attempting to do things a little differently.

The Phoenix collection features a range of cafes (from Gloria Jean to Cha Republic), besides the expected food counters and restaurants. While the food court is hot, messy and crowded, the independent restaurants seem promising with a mix of the familiar, new entries, and a handful of cult brands such as Hard Rock Café, California Pizza Kitchen and a Pinkberry yoghurt bar.

Vijay Choraria, MD, Phoenix Market city, Chennai, says that they have designed the mall so restaurants are independent of the shops. “All malls have restaurants. But to access them you have to go through the shops. We don’t want to use one to activate the other. If you walk around this mall, you will notice that around 90 per cent of the restaurants can be accessed from outside.

One reason is to make the mall look more inviting at night, even after all the shops close down. “You don’t have to go into a dead mall in the middle of the night to eat,” says Choraria, talking about how a ‘buzz’ is so essential to the whole dining experience. This also makes life easier for parents with petulant children. “People don’t like taking kids to the mall to dine, because they have to pass all these shops filled with products that shout ‘buy me, buy me’. This way, people come to shop when they want to shop. And they come to eat when they want to eat.”

The solution was inspired by Clark Quay in Singapore, where all the restaurants are bunched together, and easily accessible so diners can choose from a range. “We see this as a Clark Quay equivalent: we have all kinds of restaurants at every price point,” says Choraria. “They’re opening slowly, which is a good thing for a mall. This way there is always something new every time you come. In about six months, we will have a 30-room boutique hotel here too. Then we will be complete.”

Nando's

The vibe is young. The waiters friendly. The décor cheeky. Nando’s (which originated in South Africa and flaunts a distinctive Portuguese/Mozambican theme) has not just built a restaurant around the famously hot peri peri sauce. It’s also spun itself a culture based on it. Created by the Portuguese in Africa, peri peri is a blend of powerfully flavoured ingredients, including crushed African bird’s eye chillies (also called peri peri), citrus peel, garlic, bay leaves, pimiento and tarragon. Nando’s own blend of sauce is, predictably enough, a “closely guarded secret.” Nevertheless, it’s just a part of what makes this such a successful global chain.

Their real secret? Intuitive service. The menu and the restaurant are designed thoughtfully, allowing for easy customisation. The chicken, for instance, comes in four versions: Lemon and herb, Medium, Hot and Extra Hot. It’s marinated overnight and basted with your chosen sauce over an open flame. Then, you can choose to add more sauce or seasonings right at the table. The salad comes with a neat packet of dressing, so you can control how much you want to put in. The French fries are lightly salted, enabling you to decide how much more you want to add.

These are small changes to the traditional restaurant format. But, combined with the fact that the food is intelligently prepped, high quality and served fresh, it makes a big difference. Even if the menu is fairly simple.

The three-level restaurant is arty without being pretentious with school room style wooden chairs, dramatic copper lamp shades and chic wood-tile-granite walls. We eat juicy chicken wings. A crunchy salad of lettuce, rocket, chunks of feta and a solitary cashew nut.

Then there’s the chicken. If you’re wary about spice, do as we did, and order the tender lemon and herb version, then add your choice of sauce at the table. Dessert’s an old-fashioned cheesecake, with a generous buttery biscuit base, and sticky, addictive caramel topping.

ID

Perhaps you could call it a tapas bar for dosas. But, admittedly, that’s not a great description. ID reinvents the ubiquitous idly-dosa-vadai joint. It’s difficult to describe because there isn’t anything like it. And it’s so successful that you wonder why. After experimenting with a small outlet at Sathyam Cinemas in Royapettah, this is ID’s first full-fledged independent restaurant.

Its slick — black and white — with lots of space and sunshine. The centre piece is an open kitchen with a counter and bars stools so customers can watch their dosas prepared. ID seems to be preparing to go national as a chain, given the fact that their menu painstakingly explains local food items, with some rather eccentric metaphors. “Vada: Plain. Shaped like a doughnut.” Okay. How about Masala Vadai? “Shaped roughly like a flying saucer.” ET would be so flattered.

The menu’s expanded. So besides the standard ID staples: Appams served with cool, cardamom-infused coconut milk, fluffy idlies and their signature ghee-laced Ven pongal, there are a range of dosas: roasted garlic, mushroom masala and Nellore special? Want more variety? They also have podi, cheese and chocolate dosas.

The service can be a little slow on crowded days, but the food is uniformly good, and their coffee is always fragrant and satisfying.

Juice Lounge

Not as slick as your regular juice chain, but an interesting addition for gym bunnies. While the paper cups and cramped interiors don’t really encourage you to linger, they offer a range of boosters, ‘power’ juices and low fat smoothies. Still not convinced? Maybe their tag line will win you over. “Eat fruit. Be Cute.”

In an attempt to be really cute we try their Lean Body Shake, a blend of apple, pineapple, water melon and a ‘fat burner’ from Optimum Nutrition. It tastes both sweet and spicy. Teamed with a couple of hours of mall walking, we’re hoping this will burn off all the restaurant hopping.

Restaurants coming up:

Hard Rock Café

California Pizza Kitchen

Pinkberry

Spaghetti Kitchen

Noodle Bar

Barbeque Grill

Copper Chimney

Kobe Sizzlers

Tuscana

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