Hello? Yes/ Madam. Hotel Sudha? Yes Madam. Can I speak to the manager? No madam. The owner? No madam. Anyone in charge? No madam. *Disconnects*
I pause. Take a deep breath. And dial the number again. Hello? Yes Madam. It's about your restaurant. Yes Madam? Could you give me some information? No madam. But… I just have a couple of questions? Oh. Okay. Hold on, madam. *Disconnects*
So much for my attempt to unravel four decades of delicious Udupi history. But then old, traditional hotels like this are never simple to write about. They don't have press-savvy owners, over-enthusiastic PR agents and slick Facebook pages. And a good thing too. For one, it means their sole focus is taking care of customers. Secondly, it means I can eat vadais in the middle of the afternoon and call it research.
Poonamallee High Road is a hopeless tangle of grouchy drivers and shrieking horns. Hence, we resort to our ‘Batman and Robin' act to deal with overly-pushy motorists and masochistic bikers. I drive while my colleague yells, waving her fists angrily at road bullies. Occasionally, she stops to re-apply her make-up and/or pout, confusing everybody. Batman's lucky Robin didn't have a penchant for Mac's ‘Girl About Town fabulously fuchsia amplified creame lipstick'. When it comes to intimidating bad guys, it's a complete failure. (Perhaps Mac's ‘Black Knight' Goth lipstick would work better?)
We finally drive into a rambling old building. It's fairly unprepossessing from the outside. We charge in nevertheless, enthused by all the rave reviews we've heard over the past month.
It began with dinner at Sirocco last week. The restaurant's chirpy owner, Deepak, who's clearly a dedicated foodie, waxed eloquent about Sudha, and its fantastic food. A few days later, I asked people on Twitter to help me decide which restaurant to try next. The replies were quick and varied. Acalendra on R.K. Salai for chilli prawns. Agarwal Bhojanalaya in NSC Bose Road, Parrys. Rayar's Mess in Mylapore. One place had multiple votes. Sudha.
Inside Sudha's ‘A/C restaurant', the décor's tired kitsch. The air conditioners look like they've just lost an argument with the management. They hum discontentedly, threatening to quit any minute. There's an ambitious fresco-meets-sculpture on one wall featuring a rocky waterfall of sorts. Stained glass windows twinkle unexpectedly above our heads. I'm oblivious to any faults, however. On my way in, I spot a blackboard proudly advertising ‘panner theka' and ‘chilly cheese thosth.' Toast with a lisp. How can anyone resist that?
It helps that the customers are unexpectedly endearing. We watch a group of old men in rose-milk pink lungis seriously demolishing a large pile of hot potato bondas. A pudgy boy trying to impress his jasmine-bedecked girlfriend with his ability to wipe out a ghee roast in ten minutes. A large family ploughing through idlis. They're here for just the food. No cell phones, no stares, no attitude. “I love them,” I beam. Robin's unimpressed. “No hot men,” she sighs.
‘Menus?' we trill. The waiters look surprised. “Why?” We waver. “Only tiffin items, madam,” they shrug. We ask for the menu nevertheless. It's time for the acid test. My admittedly annoying standard order, which the waiter at the Sarvana Bhavan down the road from work grimly refuses to countenance. “Masala dosa, with masala separate. Coffee, with less sugar. Extra decoction. Extra hot.” Our waiter doesn't bat an eyelid. In seven minutes we're served. And he's followed every instruction. The dosa's crisp and golden-brown. The potato masala is neatly served in a small bowl on the side. The coffee is dark and fragrant, just sweetened enough to deepen its caramelly flavour.
Sudha's dosas are old-fashioned: Hefty and liberally laced with ghee. The vadais are fat and golden, studded with full peppercorns. We're served multiple bowls of sambar, chutney and podi. In the week that I discover Sudha, I end up returning three times. On my last visit we order podi dosas, slathered in their signature mix, which is alternatively salty and spicy. Too salty, perhaps. We drink water like camels for the rest of the day.
A meal for two comes up to less than Rs. 150. In these times of inflation, thank goodness for restaurants like this. Even Robin's convinced. Apparently good ghee dosas trump hot men.
Sudha is located on 111, Poonamallee High Road. Call 2836 4646 or 4217 2255 for details.