Five States, five languages, four distinct umbrellas of cuisines is what ‘South India’ is comprised of, unlike the unsavory overgeneralization most of us indulge in – bucketing everything into one large set of languages and cuisines we don’t understand completely. Savya Rasa (southern flavors) has managed to package and repackage Dakshin Cuisine in ways I hadn’t thought were possible, before.
There is an unbelievable amount of thought that has gone into the establishment of this place (that happened in October 2015) and it is beyond evident in all the fine details of this fine dining restaurant. Everything right from the red-white combinatorial painting on the wall (reminiscent of the walls of temples in Tamil Nadu) leading up to the part-lion-part-elephant-part-horse ‘Yali’ near the steps that end near the foot of the huge Chettinad door frame, to the life-size Kalamkari art ‘Tree of life’ painting one is welcomed by once inside, to the Madras Roof tiles lining the ceiling…everything here, is quintessentially South Indian. The tastefully done interiors are complemented by the subtle tunes of the Nadaswaram and Thavil playing in the background. This beautiful property is split across multiple areas including a few private dining rooms, a mezzanine and an outdoor section where the lot of us were seated that evening.
Not sure if this is a standard practice here, but I was welcomed by an amazingly refreshing buttermilk-based welcome drink served in a delicate champagne flute while some of my friends had moved on to the cocktails already. Water here is served in all of three variants – Khus, Basil and Jeera which is interesting but I stuck to basil water; basically water with a sprig of basil kept sitting in it to lend a fresh aftertaste to it.
What was more interesting is how the staff, dressed in veshtis, were au fait with every dish in the menu and knew the backstories behind all of them, too. We had a hard time catching up with the pronunciations, the ingredients and the stories that were served with the food; thank God for their oh-so-detailed menu.
So all in all I was able to sample three different cocktails that evening –
1) Filter Kaapi Martini – my search for authentic filter kaapi decoction may just have ended at Koregaon Park, behind a Starbucks. Ironic, no? The vodka-decoction blend was beautiful and wonderfully potent, too. Don’t plan on driving if you’re going to finish a whole cocktail-glass full of this.
2) Curry Leaf Mojito – a lovely medley of fresh curry leaves, lime and good ole bacardi rum. As refreshing as it sounds, and no, the curry leaves were not as overpowering as you’d expect them to be, which is what makes this cocktail so special.
3) Betel Sour – A whiskey lovers’ delight, this. Got its punch from the cloves, its tang from the lime, and bitters from the bitters, garnished with one fresh, unblemished betel leaf. Management-recommended and rightfully so.
Savya Rasa’s menu is split across 7 geographies, all part of the four buckets I’ve referenced before (Andhra, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil cuisines) –
Kongunadu and Chettinad cuisines, both rooted in Tamil Nadu; Malabar and Nasrani cuisines from the coasts of Kerala; Mangaluru and Mysuru sister cuisines from the state of Karnataka and Nellore – Savya Rasa’s version of Andhra Cuisine.
Each cuisine is unique in its own way, influenced by the climate, the topography, etc. etc. etc.
For example, Tamil cuisine involves a variety of spices and a lot of rice, Kerala’s cuisines involve the use of a lot of coconut, Karnataka’s cuisine is mildest in terms of spices with more jaggery and palm sugar used than chili powder and Andhra’s cuisine is (famously) the spiciest of them all.
Anywho, so our gastronomical South Indian journey started with –
1) Venchina Mamsam Koora, or mutton curry – only there was no curry, but a rather dried out version of the preparation; which is understandable given that this was listed as a starter. A winner if you ask me – the fried onions, generous helping of chillies, and curry leaves in the dark brown masala were very evident. Loved every bite.
2) Koon Ularthiyathu or mushroom roast was another classic. The spiciness of the freshly ground black pepper, and the earthiness of their masalas infused in the mushrooms was delight to the senses.
3) Chemeen Podi-ittu Varuthathu, or Prawn Fry. The magic is in the red chilli+coconut based masala and the freshness lent to it by the stir fried shallots. And of course, who doesn’t LOVE prawns ?! I mean, we all called for seconds ! Dayum !
4) Cheniga Pappu/Senagapappu Vada or chanadal vada- deep fried spicy dal vadai, a ssssuper duper classic, this ! Being more of a snack item, it seemed a little overpriced, but for those looking for authenticity outside of a Telugu home, this is it !
5) Kozhi Podi Varuval or podi chicken – chili-marinated bite sized chicken pieces dry roasted and stir fried. Almost crispy and totally awesome. My second favorite after the prawns.
6) Biskuthambade – bite sized deep fried vadas of black lentil batter. Went best with the coriander chutney. Just disappeared, both from the plate and in the mouth, too. Dissolved instantaneously. For reals!
After which we moved on to –
1) Bun parotta – a super fluffy multilayered maida-based parotta that got its fluffiness from the egg and butter added to the maida. Another one that disappeared inside the mouth, literally.
2) Milagu Kozhi Chettinad, or Chettinad pepper chicken – The highlight of our evening. The star of the show. Not as spicy as you;d expect given the hubbub surrounding it, but peppery enough. The star anise and ‘stone flower’ gave it a nice non-overpowering, subtle aftertaste, too. Absolutely loved it; licked the dish clean.
3) Saiva Veral Kuzhambu – a mock fish gravy made of ground lentils in tomato and tamarind gravy. Came close enough to the real deal (fish-meat texture), about as close as a vegetarian dish can get to fish, I’ll say. Full marks for innovation.
4) Pollachi Kari Kozhambu – a thick, dark gravy with the distinct aftertaste of cinnamon and super tender mutton that melted in the mouth. If it weren’t for the Chettinad Chicken, this would’ve been my favorite that evening.
5) Kongu (Kongunadu Eratchi) Mutton Biryani – a ‘gently spiced’ biryani, with evident tones of peppercorn and coconut. Loved how the coconut milk rendered a nice freshness to the Biryani and gave it a rather unique flavor and smell. Seriously, this was awesome.
1) Obbatlu/ bobbatlu – The Andhra version of a very mildly sweet puran poli. That’s about the best description of this preparation I have for you !
2) Karuppati Halwa – I’ve always been a huge fan of halwas made in oodles of pure ghee; there’s a smell, flavor and texture to it that can’t be replicated unless you make it with oodles of ghee. You have to be unselfish with the amount of love and ghee you make it with, and I must say that the little cube of halwa served on my plate completed me that evening.
1) Sulaimani Tea – I’m not a big fan of aromatic black teas, but this one really pushed me to challenge my preconceptions about them. Served with 4 types of sugar, this tea, all 8 teaspoons of it (yes, it was served as a 1/4th cup pediatric dose) was an absolute delight. Cardamom, cloves, ginger and lemon being its key ingredients, you’d expect it to pack a punch, but instead, it was surprisingly light. I liked it that way too, given that it was served after the fingerbowl.
All in all, an unforgettably unique experience that challenged all my notions about South Indian Cuisine (to think that 2 years in Tamil Nadu and 1 month in Kerala had broadened my horizons) and I went back home Worldly wiser and zimbly beyond satisfied.
To sum it up –
food – 4.5/5
service – 4.5/5
ambience – 4/5 (I could use a bigger table)
value for money – 4/5