We walk into Nibbles ‘The Little Food Court’ taking deep appreciative breaths. The tiny restaurant is thick with the scent of caramelly deep-fried onions.
It’s a game of Chinese whispers. Started by a friend of a friend of a — deep breath — friend. Legend has it that he’s discovered a tiny Burmese restaurant just off College Road. I’m determined to remain sceptical.
My last hunt for Burmese food in Chennai ended disastrously. We were in Burma Bazaar, being jostled by creepy bootleggers who shoved hideous handbags, plastic massagers and X-rated DVDs into our faces. Undeterred, I insisted we keep walking, elbows out to deter the over-amorous. My diva friends threw hissy-fits as we waded through mud in search of ‘Athouk’. We were pushed, pulled and stamped. But we finally made it to those push carts.
There they were — glistening like the proverbial pot at the end of the rainbow. Athouk, redolent with garlic oil and spiked with chillies. Mohinga soup, tasting of plantain stems and stained with turmeric. I decided this was the perfect time to give the girls a lecture on how immigrants from Burma started serving this up in their stalls in the 1960s. Then a fat man burped into their faces. And they snapped. Collectively. The end.
We walk into Nibbles ‘The Little Food Court’ taking deep appreciative breaths. The tiny restaurant is thick with the scent of caramelly deep-fried onions. It’s comfortably shabby, but neat. Faded pink walls peeling at the edges. Six gleaming tables. A massive fridge humming contently in the corner. Basic, clean, organised. The menu, stuck on the wall, offers an enticing list of unfamiliar food: chai sibiya (boneless chicken cooked with tomato), tami-athow (noodles with spices and herbs), tami-jhow (rice with herbs and vegetables.) Most of the entries have options — vegetable, chicken, prawn and mutton.
Our meal begins with a generous bowl of Ono Khowsuey (Rs. 120). Silky egg noodles set in steaming chicken thickened with creamy coconut milk. The soup’s crunchy with bejo — think of it as a deep fried Burmese papad. It’s tasty, but there is too much, so it overwhelms the soup. I make a mental note to order it ‘on the side’ next time. The delicate long-grained coconut rice is moist but fluffy. Rich enough to be satisfying on its own, served as it is with crisp onions and a shower of fresh coriander. It’s served with a boiled egg stuffed with deep fried, deep brown onions and garlic. And mutton curry, disappointingly spongy with fat. (It’s a combo-meal for Rs. 175.)
Explaining how this restaurant was born as Mongia Man, its present owner Manoj Kurian tells us how he retained the kitchen staff when he took over. The cooks, whose homes are near the Burmese border, have gathered a small, but dedicated fan club. “Not many people know about us,” says Manoj, adding that ironically that’s been a boon, since the handkerchief-sized kitchen can only deal with small orders at a time. We try their version of chilli chicken, tiny slices of chicken stir-fried with julienned vegetables, and the Burmese dry king prawns, which are fresh, fat and juicy.
High on spirit
Later at night, in the mood for some luxury, I head to the High, the Sky Bar at Raintree Hotel in Teynampet. I grumble incessantly, climbing the stairs in ridiculously high heels. My gym-toned date for the evening clambers up like an annoyingly cheerful mountain goat, shouting encouragement all the way. When we reach the top, I shudder like a spoilt socialite when I realise there’s no air conditioning. However, we walk in and my rancour vanishes. There’s a cool breeze and a great vibe. The city stretches out around us in rows of shimmering lights. I’m even happier when a sweet German man stands up and offers me his chair at the bar, glancing sympathetically at my stilettos. The crowd is an interesting mix of locals and expatriates, and the mood laidback.
Above a quietly gushing pool, a band plays classic rock covers reminiscent of college rock concerts. They’re talented but loud — making conversation impossible. We drink cool Kafir Lime martinis, vodka flavoured with the freshness of kafir lime leaves and a splash of lime. The bar food includes blistering kebabs, plump and juicy. An ideal foil for the extensive cocktail menu. And I mean extensive. Fortunately, we find the lift on our way out.
Nibbles is at 28, College Lane, opposite Anderson Road, Nungambakkam. Open from noon to 11 p.m. everyday, except Sunday when it opens at 6 p.m. Call 95661 01253 for details.
High is at Raintree Hotel 636, Anna Salai, Teynampet. Call 2830 9999 for reservations.