Chennai should have a lot more of two types of restaurants - seafood and south Indian. It is a shame that every time someone asks me where to go for seafood, I have had to direct them to Moonrakers, about 40 km away. Marina has partially solved that problem. But for good South Indian, the options are very few and far! On top of the list is Southern Spice, an outstanding restaurant but at 5 star prices. Jakob's kitchen started well, but after Jakob, I am not sure how the restaurant is doing now. OK, Saravana Bhavan serves a very very small part of what South Indian is and is essentially a South Indian breakfast place and is not a representative of true South Indian.
Enter Maplai. The name is perfect. Maplai. Though it literal meaning is son-in-law, maplai is a word used to address anybody fondly. Anytime you have to wait for 15 minutes to get a table is a very good sign for the restaurant, I guess. It means they are doing well. Or they have very little seating. Either way, its good. But for us, those 15 minutes flew. Einstein's theory of relativity was at full force. How? The Menu. It was interesting to see forgotten South Indian specialty foods and I loved the fact that the chef declared that some of dishes were his take under the tab 'Innovation' in every page. Nice. The interiors were very modern and for me, with a menu like this at these prices, I would have preferred a more South Indian feel to the restaurant, but then I don't own it!
So, the food! Well! OK. If I have to start with.....well.....well.....you know it wasn't perfect. Why would any restaurant serve you what you order as a main course well before the starter? No idea, but the paniyaram was served well before the two starters that we ordered. We sent it back and waited for the starters. The first one, the Kair Katti Kola Urundai, was kick ass! Though spicy, it was a true south Indian flavour and though the menu claims that it might be the only place to have it in Chennai, Southern Spice has it. OK, no nitpicking. It was excellent. And then the 'Innovation'. Chettinad Scottish Eggs. My family has been making a version of Scottish egg, under the name 'Paravai Koodu' for generations, but the biggest deviation from the original was that the egg yellow was always well cooked. Maybe because nobody liked it runny or maybe my grand mom didn't know to keep it runny. So when the menu said, 'soft centred egg', I was expecting a typical Scottish Egg but with a South Indian flavour, but it was way overcooked and hard. It has the bhajji flavour and except for the description, it was a good dish, just disappointing that it was not as described. The Panagam came after the first dish and was a typical good drink to start the meal.
And then the gravy came. And we waited for well over 7-8 minutes before the fried paratha came. Needless to say, the gravy went cold. And waited for another 10 minutes for the paniyarams to come. The high tech gadget on the table to call for the waiter or bill made no difference and there was no response. The gravy was excellent and the paratha was alright and not the type of fried paratha that Jewelbox used to serve, but not bad. After the starters, the service went outright downhill.
Though the service left us frustrated, we wanted to try some dessert and when we saw Vattalappam, I knew I had to try it. What came was three different flavours of Caramel Custard. While there are similarities, Vattalappam, a Sri Lankan inspired dish has a stand out flavour and is NOT caramel custard. I don't know how it is served in Madurai, but this is not Vatalappam. We also had the Jigardhanda and wasn't great either. And then the shabby service showed its ugly head again. We had to wait for over 20 minutes to pack the remaining gravy and get the bill. This time, we didn't have the menu to keep us entertained.
Maplai is good new addition to the outside-of-hotels South Indian with the potential to be fabulous. Only time will tell. I really hope they sort out their service issues real soon!
Maplai is located near Loyola College, opposite Just Casuals on the Sterling Road.