Maha Virundhu @ Southern Spice - Taj Coromandel
Some places scream celebration - while for a select few, they might be more common places to eat out, for a vast majority, Taj is a place to celebrate! The very mention of Taj Coromandel brings back memories of my grand dad and my uncle, both of whom are no more! The Golden Dragon at Taj was a family favourite and my grand dad, being a hotelier himself, more than knew how to distinguish good food from wanna-bes. Whenever my uncle came down to visit us, he would scout for various places and then invariably narrow it down to Golden Dragon. When my uncle got married and the couple came back to India after three years, Southern Spice was born. My grand dad, being who he was, had to celebrate at this 'new Taj restaurant'. I was 14 then!
And that was my twist with Southern Spice. Every meal till the renovation took over was outstanding. There was once, when I was in my 10th standard and my uncle and me went there, we asked for just appams and a gravy. The waiter brought the wrong gravy and when we pointed it out to him, he thought for one second and said 'Compliments from us, Sir' and continued serving us the gravy. The one we ordered also came along and the standard of service there was a delight!
I am wondering where my write up about Southern Spice went as I cannot trace it, and way back in 2010, I have written about my experience at The Golden Dragon. During the renovation, the food took a beating, but as I found out by the end of the meal, normalcy has been restored. Today, we were invited by The Taj to taste the revamped menu at Southern Spice and what an evening it turned out to be. I don't remember having had a degustation menu at ANY Indian restaurant thus far, including, Ayna, where the food is excellent and the ambiance, brilliant. But getting a degustation menu for the Indian Cuisine where we have gravies and different breads (as in Naan, Chappati, Parota etc) and a cuisine which is well suited to be served and eaten on a banana leaf with everything being served at once and refills on request (or by sheer force, if you are at a wedding in a generous family)! Southern Spice had got it perfect.
A degustation menu, as I have tasted around the world, has anywhere between 10 and 20 dishes served in a particular order. At the Maha Virundhu menu here, as the name suggests (Maha Virundhu means Grand Festive Lunch), it is GRAND. 30 dishes grand! The first tiny little adai, the out of the world Mysore Rasam, the Banana dosa, the Lettuce Lentil Salad were all washed down with ease. The carnivores were waiting for their stuff to arrive and how it arrived - a soft shell crab dusted with Semolina, a mutton sukka - named the Vaigai Curry Sukka, the superb chicken fry and the kola urundai with a string tied to keep it in shape completed the rest of the starters. There was a nice ginger pineapple punch to help wash it down which made matters easier for the mouth.
And then - ok, I am not going to name the dishes anymore. Honestly, Southern Spice is not a place where you sit and order, but a place where you tell them your budget for the Thali and let them pamper you! There were 6 gravies, 6 sides and then parota, idiyappam (string hoppers), appam, and steamed rice. Oh, there was this amazing podi and ghee to go for the rice, which was an instant hit! I loved it. We were stuffed to the brim and then the Biriyani arrives - I have no idea how it tasted, my taste buds had given up. I skipped the curd rice!
And we were asked to save space for dessert - I asked around and nobody wanted to rent space for the dessert! There was a payasam - a perfect payasam, not too sweet and a home made ice cream which was nice. But then, they saved their best for the last, with no space anywhere - An Indian Chocolate Mousse, which had lentils, coconut and jaggery and was screaming INDIAN all the way.
Even writing about this experience makes me tired! They have the Thalis starting from Rs. 2000 and they go all the way up to 12000 which has wines paired and the works. The Maha Virundhu costs Rs. 5000, but if you don't have an elephant's appetite, any Thali should be enough to celebrate whatever you are celebrating. Obviously when you are at The Taj, you don't talk about value for money. It is like asking what mileage a Ferrari gives!
The ambiance was grandiose and with three private dining rooms, this place is complete. With paintings from different parts of South India and famous families having shared their recipes with the chefs at the Taj, the Southern Spice is a winner in bringing out an unlikely combination of Fine Dining and Indian Cuisine! Kudos to that!
4.5/5 and if there was simple live Indian Music and dance, I would have gone, for the first time, 5/5. It was there earlier, but now they want the focus to be entirely on food. The fact the this restaurant has been featured in the top 100 restaurants in the world, helps keep the focus on food.
Taj Coromandel is on Nungambakkam High Road and Southern Spice is at the lobby level.
*Thanks to Taj for the photographs. After a point, I decided to enjoy the food and stop worrying about shooting pictures. My flash failure also helped make the decision.
*The last two pictures were shot by Sanjay Ramachandran and have been published on the blog with the permission of Taj Group of Hotels.