These restaurants on ECR, Chennai, offer a mix of retail therapy along with dining

Chennai’s East Coast Road is bustling with day trippers again, and with a flurry of 2022 restaurant openings, you can sample a new menu with every drive. We start with the sea food, of course...

February 10, 2022 04:01 pm | Updated February 11, 2022 11:58 am IST

Hibiscus Cafe

A meal at Hibiscus Cafe feels like a quick holiday, thanks to its cabana style seating and the view of a shimmering lake. The ground floor houses an organic food store called Vaer; the traditional kitchenware brand Essential Traditions by Kayal, and Matriarch, which curates handloom saris sourced from weaving clusters across India.

Kayal Vizhi R, co-founder, explains that Hibiscus has been set up as an experience centre housing five segments “just like the vibrant petals of the hibiscus flower. While four concepts are functioning, the fifth one, a banquet hall called The Shed, will launch in a few weeks”.

Kayal has roped in Chef and consultant Willi Wilson, and true to the chef’s reputation, the pizzas stand out: seafood, chicken pesto and chicken tikka pizza.

As we step into the cafe at 7pm, the aroma of freshly made waffles welcomes us. We start with a Thai coconut soup, delicately flavoured with ginger and lemon grass. As we sip this soothing broth, grilled paneer satay and crispy calamari arrive. While the paneer lacks flavour and salt, the calamari wins hands down. Grated mozzarella cheese in its batter, deep fried to perfection, is sprinkled with paprika and served with two dips.

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For the main course, chilli spiced fish is served with red chilli paste and buttered herb rice. The taste of grilled mahi mahi fish fillet is well balanced with the mild herb rice. The hearty chicken pesto pizza pairs well with cold-brewed orange coffee, made with candied orange, cold coffee and soda. For dessert, I opt for a light and delicious caramel custard.

Hibiscus Cafe is at 235/1, East Coast Road, Opposite Prarthana drive-in theatre, Injambakkam. Call 9884507170

Kraft Retail Dining

With Kraft Retail Dining, city-based architect Anita Mohan aims to blend gastronomic experiences and creative arts. “Retail dining, the way I conceptualised it, is where one can shop for lifestyle products and also enjoy a meal alongside,” says Anita, who recently unveiled home decor products under the brand name Sthalam.

For the food here, Anitha collaborated with Mohamed Ali, whose cloud kitchen, World Cuisine 52, has been focussing on global food for the travel-deprived. “Currently, our menu focusses on Korean, Chinese, Middle Eastern and Indian food and soon Mexican is to be added,” says Mohamed.

Launched in October last year, the Kraft Cafe first got popular with cyclists and fitness enthusiasts for their fresh juices and smoothies, then began to be patronised by families living along the coastal highway.

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In a bid to build a community, residents who stay between Thiruvanmiyur and Kanathur get a 15% discount if they come as a group of four with proof of address.

Chef Gokul , who has trained at the Culinary Institute of America in the US, offers Korean rameon and as well as dan dan noodles, served in a Sichuan-laced sauce with minced chicken.

We begin our lunch with a perfectly grilled fish tikka. Though the whole pomfret fry looks tempting, it turns out to be bland, so we shift our attention to deep fried mutton, crisp on the outside but tender within, with a savoury umami flavouring.

The Chinese style lamb kebabs, drizzled with soy sauce and a hint of cumin, are just as enjoyable.

Though there is a selection of naan, breads, noodles and rice, we pick the wedding style mutton biryani, which proves to be a good decision. Precision-cooked, with masala infused into the meat beautifully, the dish is served with brinjal, raita and the chef’s special bread halwa.

Kraft Retail Dining is located in Kanathur, ECR, opposite Mayajaal. Open from noon to 10.30 pm. Call 9884771007.

Kai - From The Sea

Right before the toll gate on East Coast Road that marks the beginning of everyone’s weekend, there stands an unassuming white building with two glass entrances. One leads to a shop selling a range of fresh seafood — from snappers off the Chennai coast to prawns cultivated in Andhra — as well as regional sauces, marinades and rubs. The other door leads to the softly lit dining room of Kai - From The Sea: a mix of sturdy traditional dining tables and relaxed couches.

With a kitchen helmed by Chef Mrigank Singh, the restaurant manages to do justice to a variety of cuisines: Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai and a wide range of Indian. Mrigank gushes about the underappreciated local fish on his counter, like the silver biddy and varieties of whiting that hold pride of place next to prawns, squids and snappers.

“Introducing different fish options and familiarising diners with them helps to reduce the population pressures faced by a few popular species,” he explains, even as we eye the shelves that flaunt a range of pastes and marinades made as per the traditional recipes of Bengal, Guntur and other regions.

The first visible testament to their authenticity comes in a richly pink Sol kadhi. Made with dried kokum peel and coconut milk, it is sour, creamy, hydrating and refreshing all at once. The ceviche salad that follows is starkly different: an extremely mild, cured sea bass paired with a lively salsa and tortilla chips.

Curing and aging fish is an area of interest for the chef, but more on that later: for now, we are distracted by Chef Mrigank’s Nellore chepala pulusu: a simmering, tangy gravy of mango and tamarind whose aroma hits us even before we lean in to our plates. Served with coconut dosa, this pulusu comes piled high with the vegetables cooked in it.

Dessert is yet another surprise. fruit — The spongy mango cake is served in a pool of coconut sauce dotted with dollops of mango delights; the flavours don’t blend, but clash and dance.

Kai - From The Sea is at 2, East Coast Road, J Nagar. Call 7286882868.

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