Like the ingredient, Salt, the new restaurant at Forum Vijaya Mall, Vadapalani, is simple yet flavourful

There’s so much you want to ask the owner of a restaurant that’s named after an ingredient as commonplace as salt. And after an hour-long battle with the traffic to get to Forum Vijaya Mall in Vadapalani, Salt comes as a respite from the madding crowd. Comfortingly yellow, spacious and old-worldly but with a contemporary twist, a crazy mix of cultures… the restaurant serves Indian fare with an international touch.

“Salt adds flavour to any dish. We wanted to be simple and flavourful. Hence, the name,” says Balaji Balachander, director, Salt. “We want to preserve traditional Indian cooking methods; so we add international flavours to suit modern tastes.”

African masks, Kerala boats, Chennai Central station, the ambience at Salt has a bit of everything. And it doesn’t just end with the décor. The menu is rich with vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. We order a Salt version of Dhaba Salad, Khubani Ki Tikki and a Subz Bhaar platter for starters.

People begin trickling in as the evening progresses. The lighting is subtle and the music isn’t too loud. Even as the tables fill up, the restaurant is big enough to keep it from getting too noisy.

Meanwhile, the starters begin to arrive, and they look stunning. The Dhaba Salad has feta cheese with ‘magic powder’ sprinkled on top, carved carrots, onion rings, cherry tomatoes, pieces of guava, olives and lettuce glistening with olive oil. There are some pieces of papad on the side for a Dhaba twist. The salad is fresh and the flavours mix well.

Khubani ki Tikki is a deliciously warm potato patty with a sweet apricot centre. The patty is the right shade of brown and the tamarind sauce (too little, we think) goes well with it. The Subz Bhaar is a vegetarian kebab platter for two and is sumptuous. The paneer tikka is soft and the mix of spices that attacks your taste buds is delicious. The stuffed mushroom tikka is good too.

Since we think we’re leaning too far on the vegetarian fare, we are relieved when a friend decides to order the Nimbhuwali Jhinga (lemon-marinated prawns) from the grill section — succulent prawns neatly laid out on a plate with a salad and some soya sauce. The prawns, he claims, are cooked to perfection and the green mint chutney adds the right zing.

Grilled to perfection

“Our kebabs are our signature dishes since we’re a grill restaurant. We would like to function as a café as well and will do so when the cinemas open in the mall,” says Balaji.

After the starters, we decide to go easy on the main course, just to leave space for dessert. As we are contemplating our order, the drinks arrive. Hot, syrupy with lemon peel, cloves and cinnamon sticks, the Hot Apple Toddy is a fragrant drink that one has to experience. The watermelon-based Ladies Beach is cool, light and perfect for the summer.

Over fluffy mint parathas and kulchas oozing cheese and garlic, we savour the flavours of the mushroom and exotic vegetable gravy. The gravies are rich, creamy and presented beautifully.

The non-vegetarian at the table orders 'Kozhi Milagu Curry' (Chicken cooked Chettinad style in black pepper gravy) with appam, one of Salt’s signature dishes. The peppery gravy is not over-the-top spicy as one would find in staple Chettinad fare. And the chicken pieces are melt-in-your-mouth soft. Our friend isn’t very impressed with the appams but reiterates that the portions are wholesome enough to be shared by two.

We order a dessert platter with Elaneer Payasam, Warm Chocolate Spread Cake and Gulab Jamun Brulee. The payasam arrives in a terracotta jar and disappears in a minute. The chocolate cake has a sprinkling of cinnamon and is light and crunchy with a chocolate sliver on top. The Gulab Jamun Brulee, on the other hand, is quite innovative, with a pudding-style Indian dessert packed with jamuns. It seems, like the ingredient, everything in Salt is balanced to near perfection.