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Onam on a platter

IF YOU'RE a Malayali and haven't yet booked tickets to head home for Onam, you're probably dreaming of the large feast and family get-together you'll be missing. And knowing that your instant payasam can never match the standards of the one your grandma will dish out only makes you feel worse. So being the quick-thinking urbanite, you do the obvious — look up a restaurant that serves authentic Kerala fare.

Feast time

The good news is that several restaurants are queuing up to fit the bill, and one of them, in a way, is laying out a feast fit for King Mahabali, in whose honour Onam is celebrated. Le Jardin, the all-day dining multi-cuisine restaurant at The Oberoi, is celebrating Onam with Kerala buffet dinners till August 29. If you're raising your eyebrows disparagingly about eating a festival meal at a five-star restaurant, this is where the bad news comes in. The spread is not typically what you'd find on Onam, because Chef Venu Madhav has actually used the opportunity to lay out cuisine from different parts of Kerala. So you might see Moplah lamb biryani, chicken mappas, Alleppy fish curry or even roast duck on Thiruvonam (the main festival day — August 28).

But if all you're looking for is food that reminds you of Kerala, then The Oberoi is a safe bet. Equal prominence is given to both meat and vegetable dishes, so you might actually find a prawn vada sitting next to a parippu (dal) vada. The raw mango and shrimp curry offers a wonderful play of tangy, crunchy, and spicy. There is also a ginger and red chilli pickle that seems to go with just anything, whether it is boiled red rice, parota or appam.

Chef Venu has an interesting way of serving appams that reminds you of the `Meals Only' messes in Kerala. Their idea of livening up the dinner table is to pour the contents of an egg into a little iron bowl, place it on the stove just until the egg white thickens, and leave the yolk running around in the bowl. Chef Venu, for his part, breaks open a raw egg into the appam and leaves it wobbling there.

While explaining the specialities of Kerala cuisine, the chef makes several references to Nawabi food. It turns out he's from Hyderabad, but specialises in Kerala cuisine, which probably explains the willingness to experiment. To cater to the general palate, he has toned down the spice in everything, except the pickles. That means an uncharacteristically bland kaalan instead of the usual one heavy on black pepper. Moreover, pungency of the onion theeyal is reduced to a mere whiff of sautéed coconuts.

What Chef Venu excels in is the non-vegetarian fare. So if you plan to visit The Oberoi this week, pile these onto your plate along with the parotas (which are fluffy enough even without the egg in the dough) and fun-guaranteed appams with the egg yolk in them.

For reservations call 51358201/8207. It's a dinner only buffet from 7:30 to 11:30 p.m.


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