LAUNCH The Park Hyatt’s newest restaurant The Flying Elephant celebrates the performance of food in its large, intimate sections spread across seven levels
So much secrecy! The Park Hyatt’s newest restaurant has been cloaked in a clever web of rumours, conjecture and promises. Raising expectations sky high is not always the best thing for a gutsy experiment. Nevertheless, anticipation is always fun. So when we finally enter the Flying Elephant, it’s a bit of an Ali Baba moment: doors swing open. We walk into a flood of warm golden light. And are immediately enveloped by a sense of languorous luxury.
Of course, there’s a story. The folks at Park Hyatt are big on these. After all, the hotel has been built on a tale of a rich textile merchant who returns to India to settle down in his dream home. As the back story goes, the owner’s son, rebel with a cause and actor on the New York stage. When he returns, the prodigal son is given a home of his own: The Flying Elephant.
General Manager Yann Gillet walks us in, amid a chorus of hellos from brightly dressed staff. Theatrical, unconventional and dynamic, the restaurant stretches vertically, over seven levels. About 50 metres high, and blanketed in glass, it’s a total of 9000 sq ft. The idea is to “celebrate the performance of food,” says Amit Mahtaney, who conceptualised the restaurant, created by New York-based George Wong Designs. Amit is the son of Vijay Mahtaney, Managing Director of Ambattur Clothing, which owns the Chennai Park Hyatt. And surprise, surprise. He has a drama degree from New York.
You can tell Amit’s heart is in theatre, as he calls for Bollinger champagne, and coaches the waiter on how to throw his voice for maximum impact. We settle down in the library bar, cosy with books and plush sofas. There are plates of juicy satay, served with a chunky peanut sauce, airy vodka battered fish and tart plump olives.
As we raise our glasses of bubbly, Amit tells us about how they came up with the name. “So, all of us were having a drink late at night…” (Non-stop revelry seems to be the theme here.) Anyway, after one too many carrotinis (unabashedly orange carrot cocktails) they started brainstorming. Then, someone glanced at the Ambattur clothing logo — a plump elephant with massive wings and unusually pointed tusk. “The Flying Elephant. It was perfect,” says Amit, with a flourish. We agree. And drink more champagne.
Yann’s determined to walk us through the seven levels of the restaurant. In addition to the drama, the levels ensure that the space doesn’t get overwhelming, since it’s broken into both large and intimate dining sections. There are open kitchens on various levels serving Indian, Turkish, Western and Southeast Asian food. “It’s all the special restaurants you would see in a hotel — but here they’re put into one big entertainment console,” says Amit.
One level up, we spot their retro lift, lacy with iron grills. So we pile in, a mish-mash of elbows, knees and champagne glasses. As the lift rises, we watch the restaurant unfold, like a story in a children’s pop up book. “A friend compared it to Studio 54,” says Amit, looking pleased. The notorious New York nightclub of the late 70s was a landmark of the disco era. Then the lift stops with a jolt. Talk about non-stop drama. As Amit calls for help, Yann and my diva dining companions take pictures of themselves. By the time they Instagram them, we’re moving again. “Teething trouble,” says Amit. No problem at all. This is turning into quite an adventure.
Our evening gets more entertaining. No doubt the Chablis accompanying dinner plays a role. But the space undoubtedly has a cheery vibe. We investigate their private dining area, The Bedroom, encased in glass in true Hip Hop star fashion. After all, what’s the point of going all MTV if there aren’t people to watch jealously? Norwegian executive Chef Stig Drageide joins us as we work our way through a bright, fresh and imaginative dinner. Ricotta with raisins, strawberry compote and rocket salad. Melt-in-the-mouth galouti kebab served on coin-sized saffron parathas. And chewy pan fried calamari presented with a tumble of chorizo, artichokes and bell peppers.
The menu’s designed to ensure you have enough choice, without having to settle for the multi-cuisine staples. So there’s three cheese risotto with dried tomatoes as well as sarson ka saag and makki ki roti. There is chestnut tagliatelle as well as Malaysian kway teow. And of course there are thin crust pizzas: from simple margarita, smeared with ruby red tomato sauce to a hefty Turkish lamb laced with mint and cumin. Our favourite dish for the evening is the unctuous smoky sous vide pork ribs, served with orange zest and mustard.
While the prices can be intimidating, the menu has been designed to try and offer something for everyone. So you can have a gourmet four-course dinner, but also settle down with a burger. Or just an adult shake. An adult shake? “Well, it does sound a bit dodgy,” grins Amit. “So we call them coupes.”
We dive into a coupe, filled with waves of soft serve vanilla ice cream, grand mariner and bright red strawberries. They also have a Bailey’s coffee version with espresso. And a Mont Blanc: vanilla and chocolate ice cream, chestnut vermicelli, meringue, cherries and kirsch.
The Flying Elephant is about drama, sure. But what they’re more excited about is the fact that it’s about joyful dining.
The Flying Elephant, which opens today, is at The Park Hyatt, 39 Velachery Road, Raj Bhavan, Guindy Chennai. Call 044 7177 1234 for more details.