Restaurants in Chennai are now going in for single-dish menus


Can just one food item have enough scope to take up an entire menu? Chennai restaurants like Al Kebab Company and BurgerMan seem to think so

No choice of cuisine, no starter/main course/dessert sections. And yet, these restaurants are raking in footfalls and delivery orders on the strength of a single dish. Well, different variants of a single dish. From bagels to kebabs, entire menus are being created around a single item, with a couple of sides thrown in for variety.

The two-month-old Al Kebab Company, for example, offers 23 types of kebabs — including paneer, chicken and beef — that can also be had as wraps or with rice. And yet, it is popular not only among office-goers, students and families who can be seen stopping by, but also among a host of Chennaiites ordering from home through delivery apps, observes Anush Rajasekaran. Anush is part of the four-person team that started this restaurant, with Swetha Rengasamy, Sandesh Reddy and Amit Reddy.

That there is a steady clientèle for deliveries is clear — even Ola has entered the space through its new cloud kitchen Khichdi Experiment, that sells 16 varieties of khichdi in one-person portions. Those willing to brave Chennai traffic, however, have more to choose from. For months now, both Kurtos in Besant Nagar and Mumbai-based The Budapest Bakehouse’s franchise in Kilpauk have had diners lining up for seats, waiting to taste Hungarian chimney cakes served with fillings as diverse as dark chocolate and chicken tikka.

In a city that sees restaurants opening, creating a buzz and then shutting shop within months, BurgerMan has kept its burger-centric brand going strong for over two years now. Ramesh Krishnan, who handles operations for BurgerMan, says part of their appeal lies in the distinct flavour of each burger, and their no-fry policy. “Not even air fry. We are perhaps the only burger joint in the city that does not serve French fries. Instead of frying, we grill. The meats are cooked in their own fat, and our buns are high-fibre, made of whole wheat,” he says, over a serving of his burgers at the joint’s Nungambakkam branch. This branch is less than a year old, opened after the success of their first joint in Besant Nagar, which was started in 2017.

Also eyeing second and third branches is The Bagel Pot, which had started out less as a food business and more as a community initiative. As Krishna Kumar, a member of the team, says, “The main idea was to create a prototype of an inclusive workspace and see how it would work.”

To provide employment to those with fewer opportunities, restaurant founder Renee Saradha tied up with city-based NGOs — like PeriFerry, that works with the trans community. “We chose bagels to create a space for ourselves, to stand out,” says Krishna, but their range of fresh-baked bagels, schmears and sandwiches caught eyeballs.

single out
  • Other food outlets, though not Chennai-born businesses, follow a similar concept.
  • The Bombay Fries is a Mumbai-based business with a branch in Nungambakkam, serving over 20 varieties of french fries.
  • Last year, London Bubble Company opened its maiden Chennai branch in Kilpauk, joining a slew of restaurants focusing on pancakes and waffles.

Beyond seats and tables

The Bagel Pot, for one, owes a large part of its success to events like the Great Madras Bake Sale and Covelong Point Surf, Music and Yoga Festival. “After we had set up our kitchen and restaurant, our next step was to go out and give the college audience a feel of the product. We were at SRM Institute of Science and Technology for three days, then went to Women’s Christian College. The reception was good,” says Krishna.

Soon, food and cultural events followed. Sometimes, the bagels were sold out before the end of the day. The primary target audience in Ambattur is the expatriate community and people who have lived in the US for a while and are familiar enough with bagels to seek them out.

Al Kebab Company, too, has begun taking up events, albeit private ones. “We just take our grill and basic equipment and set it up in the lawn or courtyard during weddings or parties.”

Their mainstay, however, remains the restaurant. Fast turnarounds, half-hour to hour-long dining sessions and small seatings seem to be going hand-in-hand with the specific menus: Al Kebab Company has a seating capacity of 18, and The Bagel Pot about 15. BurgerMan, on the other hand, has a two-storey establishment in Nungambakkam alone, which caters largely to the student crowd. “In Besant Nagar, because we are near the beach, the crowd is a mix of families, youngsters and students,” says Ramesh.

Some of the diners come in for a quick bite, while others linger and chat over combo meal options. Either way, it looks like the single-dish restaurant trend is here to stay.

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 1:22:30 AM |

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