Chennai’s Spice Klub: Fine dining, with a taste of the streets

Spice dominates everything at this restaurant, from the food to the line of art work along an upper wall. They look like abstract paintings, but are actually works of chiselled wood: each painted in a basic colour and centred around a spice like cinnamon or chilli. The huge, staid wooden frames set the tone for the entire restaurant: high-ceilinged, narrow-walled, and tall panels aplenty.

The dishes placed on the table, though, are a trifle more funky. A constant is the Mumbai-style rack of eight cutting-chai glasses, each filled with a brightly-hued, delicious dip.

What’s even funkier is their decision to start with the sweet stuff: popular among the beverages are coconut water with assorted caviar and mango on the rocks. While the former, served in a bubble-like container that spills foam from all sides, is as sweet and delicious as you can expect coconut water to be, the latter transcends the narrow boundaries of entrée, main course and dessert. No, really. Crunchy as ice, with some sponginess of pulp and the taste of, well, pure mango, it is one of those dishes you can spoon mouthfuls of with no regard for course, meal, or time of day. And that’s exactly what we did: mango on the rocks stayed put at the table throughout, and made it to our plates at the end of every course.

There’s much to be said for the inventiveness of Spice Klub’s head chef in Mumbai.

Take, for instance, the fruit lassi served in six flavours, solidified into a jelly-like consistency through a process called spherification, that lets you tip one serving of unpleasantly saccharine-sweet lassi right into your mouth like an oyster. Or, take the dahi vada , aka vada boondi served with dahi caviar.

If you have grown up feasting on the middle-class staple, served at every celebration and family get-together, you’ll recognise the core taste of the vada from the boondi you spoon up, and the pleasant familiarity of curd mixed with just the right spices from the bubble of ‘caviar’ that joins the former in your mouth. It’s a party — nay, a homely Indian wedding dance — in your mouth.

The gilavati kebab — unlike most others — doesn’t melt in your mouth. But then, it doesn’t need to. It’s barely softer than a regular tikki , and so rich in flavour that you don’t mind chewing on it for a while. And then there’s the vada pav : plain buns served with potato mousse, with the masala packed in little, edible, plastic-like pouches made of potato starch. Once it’s all in your mouth, it’s like chaat right off the streets.

But the pouches melt as soon as they touch your tongue, so don’t try this dish if you aren’t willing to race the different components into your mouth. In fact, if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like playing with your food, don’t come here at all.

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Printable version | Jun 25, 2022 8:25:42 pm |