A quenelle of fine granite, each spoonful presenting the flavours of tomato, lime, tabasco and Worcestershire sauce. A crumble of dehydrated tomatoes and flat rice adds depth to the textural composition of the dish, while crystal-clear pearls pop in the mouth to reveal the gentle heat of vodka. In another course, a snowball-like globe gradually melts to reveal a molten centre that is a vibrant shock of yellow. A mouthful of this presents bright, distinct flavours of cool coconut cream – the liquid nitrogen frozen shell that forms the ball – and intensely tangy pineapple reduction laced with just the right hit of Malibu.
Beautifully plated, these exquisite morsels look and taste exactly like what one would expect from the kitchens of a modernist restaurant. The twist: These are actually the cocktail pairings at Nadodi – Kuala Lumpur’s most talked about progressive Indian restaurant serving food inspired by the South Indian and Sri Lankan diaspora.
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The granite is a Bloody Mary that serves very much as a refreshing palate teaser for the 11-course menu featuring modernist dishes rooted in the culinary culture of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Sri Lanka. And the imploding snowball: a pina colada to calm the palate after a few hits of spicy items.
These edible cocktails, just two of the nine served throughout the meal, are the work of 32-year-old Mumbai-born mixologist Akshar Chalwadi. And in our opinion, these stellar creations – though designed to punctuate the meal and complement the food by executive chef Johnson Ebenezer and Gaggan-alumnus chef de cuisine Sricharan Venkatesh – should each be considered a course on its own.
In fact, one of Chalwadi’s drinks – a concoction of cold vodka blended with rasam spices and asafoetida, topped with warm foam of egg white, lime and powdered rasam – has replaced a classic rasam item on the menu.
Like the cuisine of Nadodi, his creativity is grounded in South Indian culinary roots. “Most of the drinks are inspired by our favourite childhood food memories.” He recalls his grandmother’s adraasal, a bitesized deep-fried puff made with rice flour and palm sugar, that he missed even when he moved to Bangalore. He says: “That was when I realised that memories of food evoke strong feelings of nostalgia and familiarity.”
So he digs deep into his taste memories and creates cocktails such as a puff filled with a sphere of tamarind-infused vodka, topped with a thin layer of mango jelly and a sprinkle of black salt. Biting into the puff reveals a refreshing medley of rich, sweet and sour flavours.
Chalwadi’s unusual creations are perhaps the influence of his culinary background – he started out in 2006 as a pastry chef. “After working long hours in the kitchen, I found respite at a bar at The Marriott Goa, where I would enjoy a tipple before going home. I was fascinated by the bartenders’ flair and skills, and later decided to explore bartending as a potential career.” Since then, Chalwadi has been named India’s most promising bartender by Bacardi in 2011. Though, if you ask us, we think his work now has surpassed “promising” – it is plain aspirational for other mixologists.
Lot 183, 1st Floor, Jalan Mayang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
A Nod to Nomads
Its name translated to mean “nomad” in Tamil and Malayalam, one-year-old Nadodi is a fine dining establishment that has gained a reputation for its modern interpretation of South Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine.
Executive chef Johnson Ebenezer has honed his skills at some of the most prestigious hotels in India, including The Westin Chennai Velachery and Radisson Blu also in Chennai. His right-hand man, 27-year-old chef de cuisine Sricharan Venkatesh, has an equally glowing CV, having been through the kitchens of Indigo Restaurant in New Delhi, the Maya Restaurant at The Oberoi, Mumbai, and Gaggan. Both hailing from South India, the chefs have observed how the food of their homeland has transformed in other parts of the world.
In Kuala Lumpur, especially, they see a place where traditions meets modernity, where cultures and cuisines amalgamate, making it the perfect venue for their ambitious concept restaurant. The creativity is sophisticated, the cooking is precise, and the flavours are distinct, allowing diners to fully appreciate the complexity of the cuisine. At the same time, they are intriguingly modern in presentation: like a delicate plate of beetroot curry, beetroot sorbet and beetroot “glass” topped with a dollop of coconut and peanut espuma and served with pickled beets and a sprinkling of beetroot dust. “We’re completely changing the traditional way of looking at South Indian food,” says Venkatesh.