With an all-new expanded menu Ayna restaurant at the Hilton Chennai will now cater to the varied Indian palate and is the first in the chain in this country to offer pan-Indian cuisine, a senior official said.
“Ayna is the first Hilton restaurant in India to offer pan-Indian cuisine catering to the varied taste buds of this city. Chennai today is the home for people from different Indian states,” Hilton Chennai general manager Amit Kumar said.
Last year, Hilton Chennai started the concept of Culinary Express. Like an express train that halts at major stations, the star hotel held a region-specific food festival. The first stop was the Kerala food festival and was followed by Kashmiri, Goan, Awadhi, Rajasthani and others.
Alternatively like a railway station, where trains from different regions come and halt, at Ayna several food specials halted where their pantry cars were decoupled and housed inside.
According to Amit Kumar, Hilton Chennai ranks highest in terms of revenue per room amongst the city’s star hotels and soon the property would offer spa services as well.
“Nearly 85 percent of the dishes in the current menu card are new. Earlier the restaurant was serving south and north Indian dishes. Now we have added Rajasthani, Bengali, Kashmiri, Goan and Awadhi cuisines in addition to our existing offering,” sous chef M.T.Pauljoe said.
By this time tasters’ portions of starters arrived at the table.
The curled king prawns – tandoori kasundi jheenga – which were very much inviting more than exceeded the expectations. Each prawn was juicy and mouthful while one felt the flavour of the kasundi mustard.
Prawn lovers can also go for the Malabar chemeen fry – a Kerala starter.
According to Pauljoe, the total number of items listed in the new menu will be around 140 and include lobster, which was added for a complete menu.
The kozhi varuval, or chicken 65 with a twist as the menu card reads, was really different. Coated with masala and deep fried, the small chicken balls were like lollypops and the spice levels were mild.
Similarly, the Goan fish recheado, with a masala coating in rich red colour, was not very hot and spicy on the tongue.
The podi idli – mini idli coated with gun powder – was also mild on the palate compared to its looks.
One can also blindly order the tasty phaldari chat – grilled seasonal fruit with spices – or the vegetable gulouti, an Awadhi dish.
The non-vegetarians can also go for the kukkad chat – small pieces of crisply fried chicken cooked in amchoor chutney and served in pappadom – or the kakori kebab Awadhi specialty.
“My idea of food is that it should be flavour full and spicy but should not be hot to burn the mouth. The guest should savour the taste and flavours. If a guest asks for items to be very hot, then we will make as per his request,” Pauljoe said.
Starting his culinary career as an entrepreneur – Pauljoe was a partner in an outdoor catering unit – he later entered star hotel kitchens on his mother’s request.
“Our business was doing well. Owing to outstation contracts I was not able to come back home daily which bothered my mother. Hence I decided to exit the partnership,” Pauljoe mused with no tinge of regret in his voice.
Queried about the reason for specialising in South Indian cuisine, he said: “During my initial days at a star hotel here, the cook threw out the partly cooked masala he was making. He thought I was secretly learning the way he made it. It was then I decided to specialise in South Indian cuisine.”
The next offerings, paneer lazzat (baby spinach, cottage cheese dumpling with button mushroom and tomato gravy), a Hyderabadi dish, or dal Ayna taste great with the accompanying tandoored paronthi naan.
The menu also offers several other unique choices like the gucchi makai ka korma made with morels and corn kernels cooked in Awadhi style.
“The mushrooms/morels used in this dish are very costly, per kg it costs around Rs.30,000,” Pauljoe said.
After stints in different star hotels, Pauljoe entered the portals of Hilton Chennai.
Soon he got the opportunity to work as an Indian chef at Hilton Colombo in Sri Lanka.
“It was a challenging and memorable stint. I can proudly say that from 60 covers a day sales of Indian buffet went up to 240 covers per day during my one year stint there,” Pauljoe said.
As to the choice of items in the new menu, he said menu cards of several hotels were poured over before finalising the items to be offered at Ayna.
“Tabak Maaz – a Kashmiri lamb delicacy- may not be offered by many restaurants in the city while we have it on our menu,” he said.
Non-vegetarians can go for nalli rogan josh – a Kashmiri lamb delicacy cooked with maval petals and saffron or dhaniwali murg korma, another Kashmiri dish, or Kerala’s Alleppey fish curry.
There is also Madras meen kozhambu, or Pondicherry duck or Chettinad style chicken curry among others.
For biryani lovers too there are varied options – vegetable, chicken or two variants of lamb biryanis.
For the sweet tooth there is sakora phirni or the rasmalai.
Where: Ayna Restaurant at Hilton Chennai at J.N.Salai, Guindy
Price: Meal for two would cost a minimum of Rs.3,000
Timings: Lunch 12 noon to 3 p.m.; Dinner 6.30 p.m. – 11 p.m.