We have an unfortunate addiction to lists. Perhaps it's inevitable in a world where options multiply endlessly. So many restaurants, so little time. So how do you pick where to go?
Ten years ago it was simple. There were probably a dozen really good restaurants in any given town — and in most cases that's an optimistic estimate. Today, in Chennai alone there seems to be a new one opening practically every week. More variety, unfortunately, doesn't always mean more great options.
There are a lot of average restaurants out there, perfectly content to churn out meal after meal, making no changes to their menu or styling for decades. However, on the other hand, this city has also seen a spurt in innovative restaurants and dynamic chefs over the past few years. We have one foot in the past, following recipes handed down for generations, as well as Macbook-fuelled kitchens inspired by the likes of Blumenthal. Which makes Chennai a very interesting place to eat.
The Miele guide certainly thinks so. Launched in 2008, it was created to recognise the best chefs and restaurants in Asia. The latest edition features 500 restaurants selected through four rounds of judging by both critics and diners.
Covering 17 countries, Singapore to Seoul, their 2011/2012 edition features a list of Asia's 20 best restaurants. Then, the book goes on to feature what they consider great restaurants in each major city. This year Bengaluru has two restaurants that make the list: Oko and Karavalli. Kolkata has six, including Zen and the ever-popular Oh Calcutta. Mumbai has a dozen, including Wasabi by Morimoto Taj, Indigo and The Zodiac Grill. About 13 of Delhi's restaurants make the list.
As for Chennai? There are 23. Yes, 23 — you read that right. In addition Chef Praveen Anand's Dakshin (Sheraton Park Hotel & Towers) has been ranked among Asia's top 20 restaurants. (The other Indian entries are Dum Pukht, ITC Maratha, in Mumbai and Bukhara, ITC Maurya, in Delhi.)
Do we have more fabulous restaurants than any other city in India? Well, to be perfectly honest that seems… (thoughtful pause to find an appropriately politically-correct, suitably-kind adjective) well, ‘over-ambitious'. Our fine dining has improved for sure. And we have always known that our dosas and filter coffee are unbeatable. But, we certainly have plenty of room for improvement if we want to be among the best in Asia.
Nevertheless this is a massive compliment. Chennai's been seen as a lesser city for entertainment for far too long. So even we've taken the city for granted, seeing it as quiet and sleepy, simply assuming that Mumbai and Delhi with their big city lights, are more stylish, edgy and luxurious. However, in a blink-and-we-missed it moment, Chennai's pulled its socks up and morphed into a glamorous metropolitan.
Sure we have a long way to go. But it looks like it's going to be an interesting — and rewarding — journey.
The Chennai List
*On The Rocks
*Kryptos By Willi
*The Great Kebab Factory
*The Pasta Bar Veneto