• September 28, 2020 10:24 am

The lotus effect

ByAmbica Gulati

Mar 16, 2020

Find a temple-style Bhojanam on a banana leaf at Padmanabham, the new all veg fine dining restaurant in town

“IT’S THE subtle blend of spices that differentiates their cuisine,” Chef Bakshish Dean explains the difference between dishes from the four southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Padmanabham boasts of food comprising traditional recipes reminiscing of a home-cooked meal and each section of the menu is helmed by a chef from that particular state.

On the origin and the thought behind the restaurant, Vidur Kanodia, a partner, says, “A sandhya meal served on a banana leaf in Bangalore and Thiruvananthapuram changed my experience of south Indian food. On the same trip, I visited Lord Padmanabhaswamy temple. The temple had such a profound effect that I decided to dedicate this food venture to the Lord.”

While the dishes satiate hunger pangs, the colourful interiors bring alive the feel of the southern region. The interiors are inspired by the Lord Padmanabhaswamy’s temple in Kerala and the Goddess Meenakshi’s temple in Madurai. The extensive use of lotus signifies ‘creation’, for that is what ‘padmanabham’ means—the lotus that sprung from the lord’s navel. Kalamkari paintings and mandala art adorning the interiors are also quite breathtaking.

Kalamkari, or freehand drawing, is usually seen in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. It is normally done on cotton or silk fabric with a tamarind pen. Only natural dyes are used. The recreation on the restaurant walls with acrylic and other paints shows the marriage of Lord Vishnu and goddess Lakshmi in a mandap with a priest reciting from the scriptures. Metal glasses, traditional dress, meal on a banana leaf—Padmanabham does a good job at recreating the essence of the south.

Armed with experience of over 27 years, Chef Dean, as a consultant, kept in mind the central location and the global traveller when finalising the extensive menu. While there are the popular dosas and idlis, the highlight of the menu is the ‘bhojanam’. This temple-like meal is served on a banana leaf. There are four kinds of meals—from the four states. And they are served on a rotational basis–the bhojanam of each state is served on a fixed day of the week for dinner as well as lunch. Much like the way food is served in the temples down south with unlimited servings.

I feel guilty at not being able to finish everything that comes on the leaf, but then there is so much to munch on. There is papad, pickle, poori, rice, curd-rice, rasam, sambhar, banana and more. The humble yam and an even humbler bottle gourd have never tasted more delicious. I like the jaggery with the dried banana in it so much that I carried it home to eat later. Bhojanam is nominally priced at Rs 299 plus taxes. The freshly prepared vegetables, sambhar and chutneys please the palate and make the heart happy. The chef advised me to eat with my hands but lack of practice made me use the cutlery instead.

Another interesting section on the menu is ‘tiffin’, comprising quick bites. I like the ‘Ghee Podi Idli’. The flavours reminded me of my trip to Tirupati. I also enjoyed the traditional crispy vada with fresh chutneys and rasam. But I would say you can’t come out without a bite of the melt-in-the-mouth paniyarams. A plateful seems incomplete without filter coffee which was good enough to not require the addition of sugar. The aromas and flavours are so pleasing.

The freshness of the food and the service are the USP. The à la carte choice encompasses ‘Milagai Bhajji’, ‘Masala Paniyaram’, ‘Adai’ (mixed lentil pancake) and more. The menu is large enough to make you want to try more meals here. And vegetarian delights such as ‘Kalan Chettinad Masala’ or mushroom curry, ‘Guttivankaya Koora’, a stuffed aubergine dish from Andhra Pradesh, ‘Kappa (tapioca) Biryani’ and more certainly make it worth the effort. The traditional ‘Sweet Pongal’ is available too. But I enjoy ending my meal with the yummy ‘pineapple halwa’.

Overall, it turns out to be a great experience with a happy décor, smiling staff and fresh food.

Address: 52 Janpath, New Delhi

Time: Mon-Fri 11am-11pm

Sat-Sun 7 am-11 pm