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BEST of FOUR



Malgudi: for the taste of South India — Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.

YOU NO longer need to drive to four different restaurants to taste the best of the four South Indian States. At Malgudi near Marathahalli, dhoti-clad waiters preside over a spread of the entire range of peninsular India's cuisines, in a setting that exudes the laidback, Chettinad ambience. The Shyam Group, which has over 25 restaurants spread across Chennai, Karaikudi, and Bangalore, specialises in Andhra, Chettinad, and North Indian food. For the first time, the group has ventured into exclusive South Indian cuisine.

Original pillars salvaged from Chettinad edifices, solid wooden beams, and ceramic tiles make up the soothing interiors of Malgudi. Drawings, reminiscent of R.K. Laxman's sketches, depicting the sleepy South Indian village of Malgudi, the images of a Tamil Nadu community kitchen, Tanjore paintings, and a bullock cart (a real one!) placed at the entrance of the restaurant add to the effect. There's music from South Indian films of yore too. P. Vincent, the Vice-President of the group, says the idea is to give diners a complete "ethnic experience".

And the food matches the frills. Starting from the Mangalorean bandada sherbet (a mix of tender coconut, honey, and mint), khus khus milk shake, kokum sherbet, and munakkaya (drumstick) soup to the spread that makes up the main course and desserts, the meal takes you across the entire Southern terrain.

You could mix and match from various South Indian cuisines here. A sumptuous vegetarian meal — which includes rice, sambar, keere (greens) curry, tapioca chips, podis, two varieties of pickles, gongura pachchadi, and a sweet — costs Rs. 55.

Or, you can go for State specials. The Karnataka menu includes the kaane masala fry (fish fried in a traditional masala), fish pullimunchi (seer fish cooked sour and spicy), maasa sukka (which is mutton in coconut-based masala), and the famous bisibelebath. The Mangalorean neer dosa, jolada rotti, and ragi mudde are the other Karnataka delicacies on offer. Steaming hot Kerala appams are available after the sun goes down.

Particularly interesting is the kozhi stew (chicken simmered in coconut milk and onion) or the poondu kozhambu with it. There is a striking coconut flavour in the idiyappams and paya lamb trotters. You can also try kothu paratha veg and egg kal dosa, cooked over a stone. The rice pathiri, which goes well with a variety of gravies, is an unusual dish. There are also the Malabar parathas. There are, of course, a variety of fish dishes in the Kerala menu — karimeen pollichathu (fish masala steamed in banana leaf), karimeen varuthathu, kappa meen vevichathu (seafish curry steamed with tapioca), and Malabar meen curry.

Chefs from Pulathur in Tamil Nadu present he Chettinadu varutha kozhi (chicken fry in traditional spices), muttai podimas, and masala omelette. Kala urundai, kozhambu, and kheema balls get you started for a satisfying meal.

Among the Andhra specials are the mutton curry, jeedi pappu iguru (cashew nut dish), Guthi vankai (brinjal in spicy masala), and masala vada pulusu (vada cooked in tamarind gravy).

You can top a satisfying meal with desserts such as khubani ka meeta (apricot dessert made in traditional Hyderabadi style) or the Chettinadu carrot halwa. And they see you off in style — with a banana, betel leaves, and nuts.

The restaurant is open from noon till 3.30 p.m., and again, from 7 p.m. till midnight.

Ambience: Chettinad

Service: Good

Specialities: Cuisine from all four States

Wallet factor: An average meal would cost around Rs. 200

M.V. CHANDRASHEKAR

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