The last time I visited ITC Maratha in Mumbai was to try traditional South Indian fare at Dakshin. Now, the restaurant has shifted to its sister hotel ITC Grand Central in Lower Parel and is replaced by a new fine dining restaurant that specialises in contemporary South Indian cuisine. Sitting at #30 on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023, Avartana (meaning fusion in Sanskrit), from ITC Grand Chola, Chennai has made its way to Mumbai, marking its third outpost, the second being the one in Kolkata’s ITC Royal Bengal. I was looking forward to experiencing all its signatures for the first time in the elegantly designed space.
An Impactful Beginning
Avartana is known for its 5 distinct menus namely Maya (Mystical), Bela (Beautiful), Jiaa (Soulful), Anika (Graceful), Tara (Sparkle) – each ranging from 7, 10 to 13 courses – for everyone to enjoy a unique and heightened experience. I tried Kimaya, a private dining menu set by Executive Chef Nikhil Nagpal. Having heard so much about Avartana’s distilled tomato rasam, I was disappointed to not see it mentioned on the menu. It was only later I learned that it came as a precursor to the 10-course meal. Dinner began with an amuse-bouche in the form of a reimagined pain puri with a mint and pineapple sphere served atop a crispy potato patty; meant to have in one go. Needless to say, it was a flavour bomb that burst in my mouth.
My eyes lit up right after that as the server came to my table with the rasam. He french-pressed tomatoes into the clear broth made with cracked black pepper, cumin and garlic, and served it in a martini glass. One sip sent me to nirvana, forcing me to forget about my champagne. This was merely the trailer for the gastronomical experience I was about to have.
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Devouring It All
The first course began with Stir Fried Chicken paired with buttermilk mousee, a combination I could eat all day. It came in an interesting stone carved serveware inspired by the artists from Mahabalipuram. But the highlight of this dish was the curry leaf tempura that came along with it. “People tend to leave the curry leaf out,” chef Nagpal said when he was pleasantly surprised to see we all had eaten it. He happily brought an extra portion of curry leaf tempura for the table and of course, we didn’t complain.
The other dishes that followed included Shrimp & Coriander Dumpling with Chilli Coriander Jam, and Pan Seared Lobster with Spring Onion Emulsion, which came in a glass plate that was reminiscent of the ones my grandmother had. Then came the signature Asparagus and Coconut Stew which was lip-smackingly delicious. If I wasn’t in a fine dining setup, I would have licked the stew off that bowl.
The pace of service was timed perfectly, making me want to savour each dish. After relishing the Lemon Leaf Sorbet that served as the perfect palate cleanser and the Steamed Seabass with Fermented gongura, the dinner continued with Uthukuli Chicken with Malabar parotta and Butter Toffee that came wrapped in a beetroot sheet. Keeping up with the elevated experience, the way to eat this dish was by first squeezing out the butter from the toffee in your parotta and pairing it with the chicken.
The last savoury dish brought in comforting flavours via Lamb Rice with Okra Yoghurt. Though I was almost full, I couldn’t stop digging into that curd!
Desserts With Drama
When I thought the experience couldn’t get any better, the desserts raised the bar. A raw mango pudding is served with an edible ghee candle. The server comes to your table, lights it up and you can watch the ghee melt slowly on the pudding. Then, you crush some papad over it and enjoy this indulgent sweet-sour combination.
The last dessert is an egg (fennel pannacotta) resting on a nest (made with caramelised angel hair). Offering a playful take, our server used a mini hammer to crack open the pannacotta, revealing the ginger-flavoured liquid (representative of egg yolk) that oozes out. But wait, I’m not done talking about the finishing touch. A frozen winter paan came in the form of a sphere made of cardamom, fennel, caramelised rose petals, betel leaves and cream, fulfilling its purpose of an ideal digestive.
Certain fine dining restaurants believe in making beautiful-looking dishes with dry-ice-induced smoke to add a dramatic flair to your experience. While it’s fascinating for the eyes, it often tends to be a disappointment to the palate as the flavours take a backseat. At Avartana, Chef Nagpal presents gorgeous plates of food featuring meaningful elements and drama in moderate amounts while still allowing the flavours to shine through and through. ‘Nough said; it’s time for you to make your next dinner reservation at Avartana.
Address: ITC Maratha, Sahar Village, Andheri East, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400099