Southern Spice at the Taj Coromandel Chennai was, in one word, ravishing! The décor, after its facelift last year turned it into a veritable temple to the enjoyment of Indian culinary delights.
As you walked through the elegant, spacious lobby of the Taj Coromandel, the entrance to Southern Spice was hidden behind the wall where statue of the Nataraja, Shiva as the Cosmic Dancer, stood. My first sight of the new Southern Spice dining room literally took my breath away. Absolutely gorgeous high ceilings held up by carved pillars, spectacularly colorful murals on the walls, modern furnishings and double-layered white linen tablecloth set with beautiful silver tableware.
The food was Indian cuisine as I’d never encountered before – delectable little morsels, expertly cooked, prettily displayed, and packing so much flavors, I didn’t know where to begin.
Well, for a start, my genial, ever-smiling waiter poured warm, steaming rasam from a teapot into an elegant bone-china tea-cup. The rasam soup was bursting with flavors.
Next came a selection of tiny papads, minute lotus root crisps & crisps, with a selection of chutneys, so beautiful, they wouldn’t look out of place on a top-notch Japanese kaiseki spread.
And the coconut chutney … you *must* come to Southern Spice just to taste its coconut chutney – it was the one to end all coconut chutneys: like the juice and creaminess of the freshest coconuts have been distilled and concentrated into that tiny little dollop. The taste of that coconut chutney had every hair on the back of my neck standing. Oh my, was this a flash in the pan? Because it it’s not, I can safely declare that Southern Spice served the BEST coconut chutney in the universe!
Next came the amuse-bouche – the teeniest steamed dumpling made of rice flour, stuffed with jiggery – it was like the “putu piring” or “kueh tutu” we have back in Singapore. But this one transcended any comparison – it was , again, delicately beautiful, not much larger than my thumbnail - like a morsel assembled by the tiniest fairy fingers.
Next came the mains, served South Indian-style – little bowls filled with different curries:
- Aleppey fish curry – one of my favorite curries in the whole wide world, where white-fleshed fish fillets were cooked with Keralan spices with green mangoes. To-die for;
- “Royalla Iguru” - plump sweet prawns cooked with coconut crème, crushed cashewnuts, spiked with Andhra-style spices;
- “Vaigai Kari Sukka” - Madurai-style curry, robust and assertive, containing succulent cubes of meltingly-soft lamb;
- “Pachakari Ishtew” – a rich vegetable-potato-onion-green chile stew, simmered in coconut milk;
- “Kozhi Malliperalan” – a Kutanad specialty of cilantro-flavored chicken stew.
Complementing the curries were:
“Kane Kempu Bezule” (slender wands of ladyfish from Mangalore, marinated and deep-fried), flaky-buttery “parota” bread, a milky-moist bowl-shaped “appam” with crisp feathery-light crisp edges – everything was carefully prepared and served a la minute.
Dessert were a scrumptious banana “dosa” and a wheat-jaggery “Godhi Bella” ice-cream.
One *must* also order the South Indian coffee – and watch your waiter pour the coffee from one little metal cup into another, stretching his arms 3 feet apart. It made Singapore/Malaysia’s “teh tarik” men, with their giant metal mugs, look positively amateurish. These Southern Spice waiters were pouring/”pulling” tea and coffee using cups no more than 2.5 inches in diameter,… on a fully-carpeted floor without spilling a drop. Only my jaw dropped.
What’s best about Southern Spice? Their genial team of waiters: efficient, polite, ever-smiling and jovial. Their sense of camaraderie seemed to affect the whole, otherwise imposing and formal dining space. It lent an air of happiness that seemed infectious. I think I just found a new candidate for best Indian restaurant in the world … right here in a sunny corner in the bustling metropolis of Chennai. I’m in love.
37, Mahatma Gandhi Rd