Monday, August 15, 2011

Dakshin - The Southern Star

Since writing this post the Dakshin has had a makeover. Have a look at the review of Dakshin Coastal. The food is still the same.

The Dakshin – ITC’s premiere South Indian restaurant is alive and well and certainly kicking.

A short back story for you. The ITC has several hotels in various categories. From what I can figure, the most prestigious of them are all named after historical empires which ruled in the city where the hotel is located. So you have the ITC Maratha in Mumbai, the ITC Maurya in Delhi, the ITC Grand Kakatia in Hyderabad, and the ITC Chola in Chennai and so on and so forth. In these hotels you get a selection of their three speciality Indian restaurants, the Peshawari, the Dum Pukth and Dakshin. These restaurants are seriously expensive. They also serve food which is simply unavailable anywhere else. After our meal at Dakshin last night, I firmly believe that, every other restaurant that makes the same kind of food as this triumvirate is a pale imitation at best.

I have eaten at Dakshin a few times in the past and have always been underwhelmed. The food seemed ordinary. The menus seemed a bit limiting and the compulsion to serve `jumbo’, `tiger’ prawns resulted in an expensive dish with prawns that were hopelessly overcooked. This had turned me off. Why should I pay those prices and get food which and Apoorva or Trishna could match at a fraction of the price was my constant refrain.

On the persistent recommendation of a senior Captain at the ITC Grand Maratha, who said that the Dakshin menu had been revamped, and having regard to the fact that the Dum Pukht has shut for renovation, we decided to give Dakshin one last shot. My God, was it a correct decision.

After a charming and warm welcome we were seated and offered a platter of fried Pappadums and crackers with four outstanding chutneys. Green (coriander), white (coconut), yellow (cabbage) and red (tomato and onion). The chutneys were really superb. Fresh, cold and each tiny bowl perfectly garnished with one fried Kadi Patta. We nibbled on this starter with much delight while we deliberated on the menu.

I thought we should plunge into the meal rather than filling up on starters. So we ordered a creamy and gentle Meen Moilee and a really spicy Endu Mirpa Eguru. To finish we had Khaima Choru. We had this with an Iddiappam [String Hoppers] and Appam [Hoppers] but they were incidental supporting actors to the main stars.

The Meen Moilee was delicious. The Moilee spooned on the absorbent Iddiappam was an example of comfort food for a Southern Man. Full of coconut flavours and perfectly mild and calming. The Meen [fish] in the Moilee was the equally calm and gentle Bassa which has taken over our restaurants. It’s the paneer of the sea. In this case it perfectly complemented the Moilee.

The Endu Mirpa Eguru was a real `Angry Ganeshan’. This was mutton with a thick gravy, red, hot, spicy with 3 types of chilly and loads of Star Anise. It was quite something. The mutton itself was really good.  

For me the real star of the evening was Khaima Choru. This is a street food, fried rice hugely popular in Tamil Nadu and parts of Sri Lanka. It’s made with a local short grained rice called `Jeera Samba or Seeranga Samba', so named as each grain is as small as `Jeera’ – Cumin. The Chef very kindly got us a sample of this grain. It’s really small. The Chef told us that this dish is also often made with shredded rotis. Khaima Choru has minced meat, egg, chilly and capsicum all cooked together. It’s partly Chinese, partly Mughlai with the Garam Masala but so Southern in its base. With this we were served a gravy made with country chicken stock and thickened with Channa dal. This dish was indeed a revelation.

I have not eaten food served so hot [as in temperature] at any restaurant as far as I can remember. The food was so hot that you had to let it cool before putting your fingers in. This temperature ensures that the spicing and the seasoning were at its optimum and the food felt alive. No doubt the food was skilfully cooked, but the temperature was a big factor in its ultimate success.

All in all, a very very satisfying meal. Dakshin is back, big time. But stay away from those damn prawns.

Green Coriander chutney, Yellow Cabbage chutney, White coconut chutney

Tomato Chutney

Papadums and mixed fried stuff

Endu Mirpa Eguru

Please see the chili in the meat

Meen Moilee


Khaima Choru

Basmati and Jeera Samba

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