I had the privilege of being one of the first to try Avartana in its first week of opening. The concept is South Indian fine dining served European style, taking inspiration from the cooking and presentation techniques more commonly found in London or New York. It’s definitely an interesting way to introduce South Indian cuisine to the many expats that pass through the city and hotel, as well as showcase European cooking to the locals.
Located inside the luxurious ITC Grand Chola Hotel, Executive Chef Ajit Bangera spent more than two years preparing the concept. He is supported by Harish Rao, who frequented our table to personally explain the food and their story.
Having already eaten at the ITC Grand Chola’s nine other restaurants, first impressions of Avartana put it in a class of its own. The lighting and decor set an atmosphere of elegance and opulence, fitting for a place that aims to be the best restaurant in Chennai.
Choose from four different vegetarian and non-vegetarian set menus, starting with their six-course Maya to their twelve course Tara. I chose the Bela menu and particularly enjoyed watching the hesitation among my Greek friends when eating the lamb brain fritters. Other stand-out dishes are the spicy pork dumplings, pan-fried cod, succulent lamb masala chops and sal leaf-wrapped chicken rice with aubergine pachadi.
The way Chef Ajit experiments with Southern Indian flavours is indeed unique. For example, tomato rasam, a typical South Indian soup, is poured from a hot teapot into a coffee filter, where it infuses with fresh herbs before it is poured into a martini glass for sipping.
Or the sago and yoghurt, which comes with a poppadom on top and sauce inside a test tube. Crunch the poppadom inside the pot and pour over the chili sauce to eat.
But is it the best restaurant in Chennai? That’s the question I asked myself towards the end of the meal. The concept is definitely original, the food well executed, but it was more presentation over substance. In my opinion, it is only second best. For me, the top spot goes to Peshawri, also inside the ITC. Less frills, and much more flavour.