One hundred chefs. This culinary invasion promises to be a game-changer. The Hyatt Regency, which opened in Chennai this week, takes food seriously. Seriously enough to start out full-throttle with four restaurants, a bar and a deli.

The restaurants fan out around the fifth floor lobby. Draped with what the Hyatt calls “one of the largest collection of publicly displayed art installations in the country,” the lobby's still feels like work-in-progress since its cavernous interiors currently overwhelm the art.

Executive chef Thomas Angerer, who's been with Hyatt for over a decade, has already spent a year and a half in India, preparing for this opening —visiting fish market and vegetable suppliers, hunting down recipes and perfecting masalas. He promises food that's not commercial. Food that's local, fresh and seasonal. Here's a quick guide on the restaurants.

Stix: Cheerfully, unapologetically, brazenly chaotic. Pans clang, chefs laugh, chillies sizzle. Styx is Chennai's introduction to template Chinese, no curry concessions, no spice compromise. However, they have intelligently picked the most accessible genre: Sichuan cuisine served hawker style.

China's gifted with such a range of proudly disparate cooking: Sichuan, Shandong, Cantonese, Hunan… Indian-Chinese grew from dishes which were easiest to identify with and recreate, developing into a whole new genre along the way. Stix is a refreshing journey back to the roots.

Let's overlook the irony of a hawker stall at five star rates. This style of restaurant is warm, compact and friendly, an ideal combination for a hotel that could be intimidating with its looming proportions and lustrous International interiors.

Sichuan food is Chennai's Cinderella's glass slipper: a perfect fit. It's pungent and spicy, aromatic and nuanced. It features a bevy of familiar ingredients: garlic, ginger, chilly peppers… It's also got a strong line of vegetarian dishes thanks to the Buddhists.

Charming Keerthiga, who's in charge of our table, guides us through the menu with such unnerving efficiency that we're happily digging into chilled emerald spinach leaves slathered in a delicious sweet-salty sesame paste fifteen minutes after we're seated. We eat chicken Sui mai, teamed with a chunky sauce of finely chopped spring onions and ginger. It's followed by a tumble of crunchy stir-fried Chinese greens interspersed with fleshy mushrooms; juicy slices of stir-fried pork in an earthy black bean sauce and their signature dish, Sichuan chilly chicken, hissing with red-hot chillies and the distinctive bite of prickly Sichuan peppers.

Teamed with sticky soya-stained rice, the meal's hypnotic. Our faces are flushed from obsessively eating chillies when Chef Angerer pops by. He nods in sympathetic understanding. “It's rather morish, isn't it?” Boringly stodgy custard tart dessert notwithstanding, we couldn't agree more.

Spice Market: A stark contract to Stix with its wide open spaces and luxurious interiors. Covering a whopping 8,000 sq. ft, the Spice Market is a happy meeting of art and food.

The clean, minimalist lines of the restaurant are cheekily punctuated with vibrant paintings by Alexis Kersey. There are startlingly realistic sculptures of feisty urban-village folk by George K: a woman in a gold rimmed sari and silver toe rings holding a biker's helmet; a tech-savvy pundit balancing on CPUs; a vendor balancing a fish basket piled with mobile phones. Pert reminders that this is proudly desi food, designed for contemporary India.

An all-day dining buffet, Spice Market specialises in ‘Indian comfort food' so many of the recipes are sourced from the homes of the chefs who come from across the country.

Everything from basic masalas to breads made in-house with an obsessive attention to detail. There are five live kitchens: a tandoor kitchen complete with a chappati station, a stove kitchen for gravy-based recipes, a chaat kitchen, a beverage island that prides itself on sugarcane juice and the popular dessert island.

The live kitchen underlines their ‘made to order' philosophy. And just for kicks, take a peek at their modern Indian art: a counter studded with proudly pink Rooafza bottles.

Lobby Lounge: Say goodbye to the good old 24-hour coffee shop. The Hyatt model is moving towards lounges instead, where you can get a quick meal even as you check-in. The menu offers all the coffee shop favourites. The upside: you get to watch human scenery as you eat, always a good source of entertainment. On the other hand, it feels a bit like dining at a fancy airport.

Biscotti: Oversized jars of biscotti, that addictive Italian biscuit, greet you as you enter. They come in almond, pista and chocolate. This gourmet deli's is a thoughtful blend of nostalgia and exotica. The shelves are lined with sweets so old-fashioned I've forgotten their names. The counter displays all the usual suspects: feta, provolone, camembert and a selection of meats. For those of you hankering for speciality breads, these might be worth a try: multi-grain, sourdough, corn and sunflower seed.

Coming up shortly: Focaccia, fine dining Italian with a walk-in wine closet. Right next door, there's the relaxed 365 A.S. Bar. (The hotel is at 365, Anna Salai.)

Prices are ‘competitive,' a euphemism for ‘we're no more expensive than the rest of the five star hotels.' The Hyatt Regency is in Teynampet. Call 6100 1234 for more details.


MetroplusJune 28, 2012