It’s easy to understand why South Indian food has never been sexy. Luxury hotels and fine dining restaurants have always played by the rules, rarely pushing boundaries while taking the cuisine to newer audiences. Avartana is the kind of dining experience that could have debuted in London or New York. It’s why Ajit Bangera, the executive chef at ITC Grand Chola has just one question for me – “Is Chennai ready for this?”
South Indian motifs are cleverly blended into the décor – from lights that resemble banana flowers to wall art inspired by Kerala’s ubiquitous boats. And yet, it’s easy to gloss over these elements and imagine you are in an exquisite dinner venue almost anywhere in the world. It’s the same story with the restaurant’s tasting menus. It’s a happy meeting ground for Chennai’s traditionalists and the city’s burgeoning expat population who don’t know their dosas from their uthappams.
It’s not just the space, Avartana (used interchangeably for mysticism and rhythm) is that rare example of a bold restaurant vision that is executed flawlessly. The showmanship just doesn't stop. From a rasam that’s infused with fresh flavours in a French Press to a sago rice Curd Rice served with a test tube shot and an idiappam (string hopper) served with a traditional Kerala style moilee gravy that can pass off for a khao suey, each course is bound to draw the oohs and aahs. The drinks keep up too. My favourite was a Bloody Mary infused with the Karnataka bydagi chilly.
But what after the novelty starts to wear off? That’s where Avartana triumphs. This is not a gimmicky pop-up restaurant but where authentic flavours have the last laugh. Avartana uses innovation that often borders on quirkiness and presents South Indian cuisine in a whole new context. It’s a reminder that great cuisines have always evolved even though purists would like us to believe that they are meant to be frozen in time. It’s just what South Indian cuisine needs to go global and it’s fitting that this global journey begins in Chennai.
Avartana is at the ITC Grand Chola, 63, Mount Road, Chennai 32. Phone: 2200 0000 (www.itchotels.in)
The restaurant is only open for dinner and offers tasting menus that begin at Rs 2,000/head (plus taxes) for a 7-course meal.