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Chinese to Chettinad

Rice and Spice offers some innovative dishes


WHAT'S WITH Chennai and the Chinese-Chettinad combo? The city's bubbling over with restaurants in which `chiken kozhambu' proudly stands shoulder to shoulder with `chilli chigen', and curd rice arrives on dewy banana leaves piled high with Schezwan fried noodles sprawling in tomato sauce, served with a flourish and smouldering chilli pickle.

Evidently, a substantial number of the city's foodies have decided that single cuisine meals — whether they are curry lunches, Chinese dinners or tandoori nights — are terribly passé. After all, they neither stretch the diner's imagination nor do they sufficiently challenge the city's many multi-skilled chatti-kadai-wok wielding chefs.

The `Chettinad-Tandoor-North Indian-Chinese' variety, on the other hand, has proved to be a winning combination — one that imaginatively expands the mind (and... well... the stomach). And, Rice and Spice, which opened recently on Kodambakkam High Road (ph: 28311113), is the latest flag bearer for this world, where `chicken lollypops' are the idly-dosai's best friends.

The restaurant, which serves everything from hot'n'sour chicken soup to sheek kebabs to kal dosais, seems determined to treat its customers to an `around-the-world-in-a-single-meal' experience. Besides having a menu that starts in China, touches Kashmir, lolls about in Goa and winds up in Karaikudi, it also has a jazzy Egyptian decor and a cartoon of a beaming apparently-French chef with a slick Indian moustache on the menu card.

However, the head waiter says that the Rice and Spice speciality is Chettinad food, and that they have talented chefs from Karaikudi to ensure authenticity.

Judging by their kothumalli special chicken, they've done a great job of recreating age old recipes. The chicken is generously spiced, slathered with coriander and goes perfectly with Rice and Spice's deliciously crusty garlic naan, which glistens with melted butter. Even food connoisseurs who oppose the mix-and-match restaurant routine will find this combination difficult to resist.

The biriyani is good, but unremarkable. They also serve an interesting `meal' for the confused. (Their menu is fascinatingly endless. You need both time and energy to work through it.) The meal puts together an array of curries and vegetables, and teams them with the traditional fragrant rasam-piping hot sambar-curd trio, followed by dessert — in this case a luscious rava payasam, afloat with coconut milk.

Rice and Spice has some delightfully innovative dishes on its menu, including chicken and mutton stuffed idlis! The prices are reasonable — a meal for two shouldn't cost more than Rs. 200 — and that's a rather extravagant estimate. They plan to eventually introduce Malaysian food. (The restaurant has a branch called The Banana Leaf in Singapore.) `Chettinad-Tandoor-North Indian- Chinese-Malaysian-Singaporean food: this might just be the beginning of a whole new category of fusion cooking.

Perhaps, it's time Chennai-Chinese takes a bow.

SHONALI MUTHALALY

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