Gambling with food can net you a winner, sometimes.

Let’s call it comfort gourmet. This food is born of slow cooking, self-indulgence and good intentions. Yet, it doesn’t get stodgy, even if it does occasionally over-reach. Stylish and cheeky, it embraces trends while resisting being subjugated by them.

‘Sandy’s Chocolate Laboratory’ started life as a hip dessert bar, tinkling with glass beakers brimming with coffee, pipettes for chocolate sauce and bills delivered in test tubes. Today, in a new location, its newest avatar is ‘Gourmet Bistro.’ The current restaurant, bright with sunshine is elegant with a minimalist décor and furniture the colour of rich chocolate brownies.

Run by 20-something food and cooking enthusiast Sandesh Reddy, this has been conceived as a fluid space with a constantly changing menu fuelled by kitchen experiments. Sandy’s healthy disregard for convention sets it apart from the city’s more professional, but sometimes predictable restaurants. Proprietor and Head-Chef-Who-Isn’t, Sandesh, gambles audaciously with unexpected flavour combinations. His lack of formal schooling, he admits, has some drawbacks. But it also has advantages, since he comes to the kitchen with no preconceived notions. And it means he can create food he enjoys, without worrying about juggling costs, pandering to strait-laced palates or pleasing a mass audience.

The restaurant’s spacious kitchen, bristling with new age cooking equipment, encourages fanciful food. The emphasis is on quality produce and fun execution. Hence the ‘Everything But,’ a flash baked chocolate cake served with milk chocolate sauce. The ‘Inside Out’ – a “cold molten chocolate cake.” Or the ever-popular ‘That really tiny chocolate cake,’ which comes with a warning “Prepare to get insulted” and is, in reality, a simply enormous hunk of cake.

Desserts are inspired by Mom And Pop Cafés, but interpreted with a style reminiscent of contemporary designer chefs, like iconic David Chang of Momofuku, New York. They have proved so popular that Sandy’s now runs ‘Master Classes’ for people teaching everything from cupcake techniques to how to create a molten chocolate cake.

Sandy’s progressively changing menu lists favourites besides daily specials. There’s Gnocchi, lasagne and steaks. Grilled fish and roast chicken. Of course, they’re all cheekily tinkered and tuned: steaks come with a chocolate, mushroom and red wine reduction. Add imaginative emulsions and vinaigrettes. Sous vide cooking and traces of molecular gastronomy. Sandy’s step-by-step dish construction of slow braised pork ribs in beer caramel sauce is an example of how the dishes here come together. After trials with insipid mashed potatoes, they’re now paired with chicken liver mash. The final touch: a green apple salad with caramel vinaigrette to cut through the richness of the steak and potatoes.

We recommend: Spare Ribs, Nutella Tiramisu

Cost: Rs 600 per head

Address: 16/1, 2nd street Wallace Garden, Nungambakkam, Chennai – 6. Ph: 044 42134000, 42144000

Bottom line: Not just desserts.

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