Monday, August 22, 2011

Dakshin at the ITC Maratha, Mumbai adds an extensive Seafood selection to its Menu

A Traditional Urli at the door.
Golu Dolls
I finally got around to visiting Dakshin restaurant at the ITC Grand Maratha. Considering that Dakshin is in my neighbourhood, it is ironic that I have not been able to go dine there so far! But with the amount of things I have to juggle, often the choice of restaurants is decided by stories to file or places that allow children. That said I have been wanting to dine at Dakshin for a long, long time! And with Nariyal Purnima last week, (the festival after which the Koli fishermen begin fishing again) I though it appropriate that A Perfect bite get some Seafood. So I accepted the hotel's long standing invitation to come in for a tasting session of the extensive Seafood menu from the Karavali coast that they have added to their repertoire.

In keeping with the ITC tradition, Dakshin which showcases South Indian cuisine from the four states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. This restaurant is inspired by the temples of southern India and the ambience is reflective of the influence, with temple door elements all over, ceiling lights in the shape of temple bells. Traditional woodcarving adorning the walls embelished with south Indian artifacts. And I was delighted by the traditional brass lamp (Velaku) and the Urli (traditional bell metal vessel) graced with a luxurious layer of Marigolds floating on its surface (the presence of a water body in temples is a must in south India) that greeted me on arrival at the restaurant. Little figurines representative of the dolls that are used to celebrate the Golu (doll) festival in SOuth India welcoming guests in. We arrived at a table set with gleaming silver thalis lined with banana leaves and rimmed with silver kattories waiting to be filled. Brass Cruet sets holding Podis (spice powders) suggested the subtle oppulence of a bygone era.

Food is served from traditional ‘Urlis’ and the ‘Addukus’ by traditionally dressed friendly and extremely knowledgeble restaurant staff. The menu is a result of years of research and trials by the team of chefs and culinary experts that are behind the restaurant. This team travels the region and sources information and ingredients from noted and celebrated cooks. With each item on the menu is cooked in its own distinct spices and style. It is laudable that the ITC has undertaken to invest in the propogation and preservation of culinary traditions such as this in their restaurants. Just like it is in the power of large hotel chains to create new cuisines, it is also in their power to celebrate Indian regional cuisines. As a food lover I loved the restaurant and its food.

But as a proponent of the preservation of traditional Indian food culture, I was especially honored to meet the charming Chef Manu Nair who stood by my table, giving me his special attention and sharing the stories and annecdotes behind the discovery for each dish; outlining. For me food is about the stories behind it and Chef Manu is an adept story teller, weaving special nuances into every dish he served with obvious pride, of the spices used, the origins of the dish and his personal discoveries and creations. He makes an apt ambassador for the cuisine and has an eternal foodie fan in me (He is the first Chef I have photographed for a blogpost). You see, South Indian cuisine goes much, much further than just idlis and dosas, typically associated with South Indian cuisine all over India. These in actuality are just a selection of dishes that are traditionally consumed for breakfast in the Udipi region of South India. From subtly spiced vegetarian offerings to beautifully flavoured meat and fish dishes, South Indian cuisine offers a phenomenal range of dishes, flavours and textures seldom sampled outside the home.

I know I am inviting trouble, with my next statement but I do not personally like the Marathas other Indian restaurants, the Peshawari and the Dum Pukht. I find the food too heavy. However, I loved Dakshin for lightness of the food and the attention to detail to everything from the decor to the food.My only grouse was that I did not fancy the desserts. I was looking forward to a Payasam or similarly tempting offering.

Without further ado, I will take you through each bite of my meal in the subsequent images but I would like to say that a meal at Dakshin is an education in the vastness of South Indian Cuisines and a must do on the menu of anyone who loves food or Indian culture.I have every intention of going back because there is SO much I still want to try. (Including the Harissa and the Pandi Curry they do on request!)  
Spice box on display
Nataraja with a traditional rangoli of flowers.
Chef Manu Nair - charming ambassador of South Indian Cuisine
My thali - within its rim lie the vastness of Indian cuisine.
A selection of papads to start us off.
Traditional buttermilk soaked sun dried chillies to nibble on.
Flowers for the ladies - a traditional gajra - string of jasmine flowers that South Indian women adorn their hair with.
We start with a selection of chutneys.
Chutneys - clockwise from left - Bottle gourd, Curry leaf, Coconut and I forget the last. 
All lined up in a row!
And then came the best Rassam I have EVER tasted. Yep even better than the one my favourite South Indian friend who is a fabulous cook makes! I kept sipping this through the meal, it made a very good palate cleanser between dishes.
Bharleli Bombil :- A speciality of the Belgaum region of Karnataka. The dish has influence of Malvani cuisine because Belgaum was earlier part of Maharashtra. Bombil are split open, deboned, stuffed with a shrimp mixture, closed and crumb fried in semolia.
The filling was delicious! Offering textural contrast to the soft crispy crumbed Bombil flsh.
Lobster Melagu Perrattal:- A dry fresh Lobster dish in which succulent cunks of Lobster came tossed in a fiery pepper masala. A speciality dish from the Syrian Christians of Cochin.
Kara Sighadi:- Prawns tossed in a blend of ethnic Masala, a specialty of Dharwad’s Shivaji community.
Meen Porichattu:- Boneless fillet of white Pomfret, marinated in a spicy tangy red Masala and shallow fried to perfection. A specialty during the annual church festivals of Kerala and my favourite of the day. So tender and flavour.
I love how they cut that lemon for the garnish!
Patchakari Stew A Syrian Christian which vegetables are gently simmered in creamy coconut milk. Perct with accompanying Appams.
Meen Gassi:-A typical Mangalorean dish made with Bedgi chilies and coconut. A fisherman speciality. Normally cooked by fisherman’s on their Boats. They carry the masala with them and cook fresh catch in it.
Mokkacholam Keerai Kasiyal:-Tender corn kernels and fresh greens cooked with spices and lentils.
Appam up close!
Deliciously crisp edges and a spongy centre!
Nandu Puttu:- Crab meat tossed with onions, ginger, garlic and grated coconut tempered with fennel and mustard. A speciality from the Malabar coasts of Kerala.
Cheemen Manga Charu:-Prawns delicately cooked with raw mango in shallot and fresh coconut milk gravy, tempered with mustard and cumin. A speciality from Local fishermen of Kerala. My other favourite of the meal!
Urlai Roast.:-Roasted baby potatoes spicy finished with garlic, cumin and aniseed. An Iyengar specialty.
Pomfret Koshambri:- Delicate cubes of Pomfret fish cooked in a spicy coriander and chilly Masala. A dish influenced by the Konkani settlements in Karnataka.
All served up !
The meal was rounded off with Rice eaten 4 ways.
a spoonfull of rice was placed before me and Chef asked me to divide it into 4 portions.
And the cruet set was brought forward.
The Cruet set is a signature offering at Dakshin, containing a selection of podis or spice powders and pure ghee.
Each section of rice was topped with a podi - this is the Curry leaf one, and my favourite.
The garlic one
Some ghee on top of each mound.
A beutiful sight and delicious ritual!
The last moung should have had papad but I got lost in the Curry leaf Podi!
And then came Curd Rice - one of my favourite dishes!
With spicy Avakkai pikle...
Kadal pacchee:- A delicate pudding made from milk and Pistachio nuts, flavoured with rose water and seaweed. A moplah specialty. (yes I forgot to take a picture before digging in!)
Vattal Appam:- Steamed coconut custard sweetened with Jaggery and cardamom. A dish that originated in Sri Lanka which became famous in Tamil Nadu.


Clean Planet said...

Yummy pics !

Nikhil Merchant said...

Love the 4 rice concept, gotta learn all the toppings from you :)

Miri said...

This is obviously a different Dakshin from the one Delhi has! It was a very sorry meal we had including a stew which had coconut cream out of a can!!