Chennai, India - Chettinad Lunch at the Raintree, Taj Connemara
The Raintree offered fiery Chettinad food (the cuisine of the wealthy Chettiar merchant class in Tamil Nadu) popular with Chennai’s middle-class dining crowd. The best part about the restaurant was actually the getting there: that long walk past lush greenery (tropical rainforest trees) to the beautiful glass-enclosed dining hall, with trickling water features down the middle of the restaurant, and skylight from the glassed panels on the ceiling.
Started off with Vasantha Neer – a refreshing drink made up of chilled coconut water, honey ,lime juice and mint.
Rice crackers were provided next, together with a variety of chutneys served from an impressive trolley.
Competently turned out dishes included:
Spicy chicken “rasam”, which seemed to be a ubiquitous soup to start a meal with here in Chennai;
The Thali platter was delightful: lentil-vegetable stew, grated coconut-string beans, Chettinad-style curried chicken, prawns, fish and lamb, scented rice, and a Chettinad-style fried fish. Chettinad cooking seemed spicier than the usual Tamil fare I‘d tried.
Appam, parotta, and flavored rice served were delicious.
Dessert were a coconut payasam with rice, strawberry ice-cream (Amul’s?) and a hyper-sweet halwa guaranteed to give one an insulin attack.
Quite a satisfactory meal, though certainly *nowhere* near the class of Southern Spice (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/844359) and Dakshin (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/844365). The chef at the Raintree also had quite a heavy hand with the salt.
The drink's Vasantha Neer - chilled coconut water flavored with honey, lime & chopped mint leaves.
I'd not tried the pizzas at Park Hotel - it's my home during my Chennai stay, and I normally opt to eat out since I breakfasted at 601 Cafe each morning. The service at the Park Hotel was very, very bad though, probably the worst I'd ever encountered anywhere - I attributed that to poor F&B management. Front office desk service was super-snooty - I think Park Hotel live doff its reputation of being built on the site of the old Gemini Film Studios, which chruned out Tamil movies during the golde n era of Kollywood, with stars like Sivaji Ganesan, aka Gemini Ganesan. The hotel corridors and rooms were all adorned with old movie posters produced by Gemini.
The only time I had dinner at 601 (as I got back from work very late that evening), I had a Coorg pork curry with idiyapams - it was very good.
The only meal that did not sit well with me in my tummy later in my whole 3 weeks by trains around India that was without incident - the RainTree buffet. Sorry. They did not handle their food well here - large tour groups, temperatures kept too low and perhaps casual sanitation control. This was about 5 years ago, but I expected better.