Review | Food

Padmanabham on Janpath: North India’s South India

A laid-out Bhojanam at Padmanabham

A laid-out Bhojanam at Padmanabham   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

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Padmanabham isn't where you'd go to get a taste of your mum's cooking if you're from the peninsula, but parts of the menu genuinely work

Enter Padmanabham, a South Indian restaurant next door to the ever-crowded Saravana Bhavan on Janpath, and you might feel a sense of deja vu. It looks so familiar because this new opening, whose menu is curated by food consultant Bakshish Dean, has replaced The Masala Trail by Osama Jalali.

The Masala Trail had opened in early 2017, fast becoming popular for how it brought street-food from all over India into a concentrated spot in central Delhi.

Now, Padmanabham offers continuity in its menu — call it a hat-tip to the success of its predecessor here, or an acknowledgement of the establishments that played a part in opening Delhi up to flavours that it mistakenly bundled up into one homogenised entity until not too long ago. In its last few pages, Padmanabham lists the stereotypical North Indian fare, as well as a condensed menu from The Masala Trail, just in case.

The vibe: Decor-wise, Padmanabham does the usual things that’s expected of it: incense sticks, flowers, a statue of a Hindu deity, the brass utensils, and serving staff in dhoti. One part of the restaurant is inspired by the Madurai Meenakshi temple’s corridors (the roof is painted in vaguely similar murals), and another part by the Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram. The walls jump with paintings of various scenes — we sat under what might’ve been a havan, though one can’t be too sure. Would the Janpath crowd be too rushed or hungry to care about these nuances? Perhaps. Would the staff even know about these paintings to explain? No. Each of these temples and their specific towns also has a rich food culture — for a restaurant to be be inspired by decor elements, but not by their food is possibly a wasted opportunity.

Do try: Their tiffins and the south-Indian-street-inspired 65s. This is a fully vegetarian restaurant, so the 65s are the legendary south Indian gobhi 65, called the Cauliflower 65 here, as well as Mushroom, Potato, and Paneer 65.

The Caulifower and Mushroom 65s had the crisp comfort of fried batter on the outside and the zing and freshness of gently marinated vegetable on the inside. The idlis were soft and had the texture of homemade well-soaked batter. The chutneys — a regular spread of tomato, coriander, and coconut — were notable. But they were repeated with all the snacky items.

Their Paruppu Vadai, especially the masala variant, are well-done, leaving no oil on your fingertips, but a full crunch into softness in your mouth. The pineapple halwa (desserts) was a treat, with fresh chunks of pineapple that you’d ideally have at the 3 p.m. tiffin time, washed down with a hot cup of filter coffee. Bliss.

Skip: The paniyaram were a bit doughy and we couldn’t really find the pieces or the taste of the vegetable in the carrot variety. The bhojanam (the full meal on a banana leaf) will be served starting 5th February, but some red flags here. Each day of the week is dedicated to bhojanam from a different state. The intention is to stay authentic, but the generic blurb for these includes “pullisery” a name specific to Kerala. Bet no one in Andhra would know what that means.

We were served the Karnataka bhojanam, a satisfying meal if you ignore the fact that instead of the typical short sona masoori rice, the bhojanams have a long grain basmati (in addition to red rice) — never underestimate the extent to which the texture and flavour of a south Indian dish is affected by the rice with which you eat it.

The Bisi Bele Bhaath wasn’t the rich, spiced dish that it usually is — this one felt like a dilution into drumstick/moringa daal, perhaps catered to a Delhi audience.

“Each section is helmed by a chef from that particular state,” the menu promises — though confusingly, the chef who spoke to us on behalf of the Karnataka bhojanam, was from Kerala.

Go with: Friends and family for tea-time peckishness

Space bar: 200 covers over 5,000 sq ft

How much: ₹500 for two (bhojanam is ₹299 per head)

Reach: 52, Janpath; a stone’s throw from the Janpath metro

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Printable version | Jan 30, 2020 1:57:16 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/padmanabham-in-janpath-north-indias-south-india/article30574419.ece

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