Murugan Idly

Murugan Idly has been a recent discovery and what a discovery. I saw one at Besant Nagar beach at Chennai during one of my earlier visits and decided to try them out. Now its been twice and time for review.

They serve on banana leaves: idly, sambar and 4 types of chutneys. Each one of them superlative! Idlys are soft and hot into your leaf. Sambar tempts you to lick off the the leaf. Each of the chutneys is good enough to demand your entire attention which of course you can’t given 3 other chutneys and sambar! The net result is to order more idlys until you realise that snacks have become a meal.

However its only the idlys that are superlative. Dosai and wada don’t measure up.

A 4.5 on 5 overall. 5 for idlys. I don’t know a better place for them!

Sarvana Bhavan

I spent cumulatively over a week in Chennai the last month. Explored some new places but could not resist visiting Sarvana Bhavan a number of times. I tried the one at Peter’s road and the one at Radhakrishna sallai.

The bhavan at peter’s road has a cake shop, one buffet hall and one ala carte hall.

The manners of the waiters at the buffet hall resemble more that of prison wardens than waiters. Still, the food is so good that I can happily ignore all that. Multiple kinds of sambar and many dishes whose names I can’t remember but amazing. kesar bath is out of the world. 5 on 5.

The service at the ala-carte is much better. Its quite noisy until the food arrives and after that all but foof fades into the background. tried Ghee idly and it was awesome. No rating yet as I have visited it only once.

The bhavan at Radhakrishna sallai came with recommendations from my boss. Its a non-A/C hall and hence I approached it with some trepidation. however, no problems on that count due to large spaces between seats (its not mumbai!) and strong fans. And like any other sarvana bhavan, once the food comes in, taste dominates all other senses. I ordered a ghee dosa and before I realised I had ordered for a second helping! Alas, I couldn’t afford to due to dinner commitments and hence cancelled. Amazing yet no ratings. Will visit it more and then rate. A definite contender for 5.

The story would not be complete without the mention of Sangeetha. Another person who enjoys South Indian food told me that he changed his loyalty from Sarvana bhavan to the Sangeetha at Adyar. Now I was hooked and waited for the day long meeting to get over. We had a dinner at Taj which promised to be an engaging affair. Still, I couldn’t stop myself from taking a slight detour to Adyar sangeetha. I ordered ghee idly. While it was great, it was still second to Sarvana bhavan. I expressed my disappointment to someone else over the dinner and was told that its the dosas that Sangeetha excels in. Now I’m waiting for my next chennai trip.

Overall, if you’re in Chennai and are open to south indian food; try Sarvana bhavan. It may well be the start of a long love affair as it has been with me. 5 out of 5.

Nandini vs Bheemas

I am a Nandini’s fan. Every time I’m in Bangalore I make it a point to visit Nandini and have their Andhra Biryani. Andhra biryani (at nandini) is very different from its more famous Hyderabadi cousin. Its dry and meat is very well done. On the whole very light compared to the Hyderabadi biryani. And of course, I tell my friends about it. Some who have had Andhra biryani told me that Bheemas is better.

So this time I gave Bheemas on Church street a try. First impressions; limited Andhra menu, quicker service (helped by the fact that its empty) and huge helping. Dig into the biryani and the difference between nandini and Bheemas is very apparent. Bheemas’ biryani is very spicy. Its as if chilli is pounded into rice. Not unexpected and actually welcome. However, the meat wasn’t cooked well and soured the experience. I asked for some chicken as well and found it better cooked.

I’d put this a 3.5 on 5. Better cooked meat would make it a 4. A must visit if you want spicy food in Bangalore.

Leela Palace

Leela in Bangalore is the most expensive hotel in the country. Sadly the prices are reflective more of the demand supply mismatch rather than the quality of the place. I attended CII’s Innovation summit at Leela a few weeks back and was sadly disaapointed with the food served for lunch. It was well cooked but lacked the “aah” factor. In other words it was clinically well done for most dishes but lacked the panache.

A definite 4 on 5.

Mumbai landmark

I have a confession to make and also want to expose the evil called landmark. I am a bibliophile. And the newly opened Landmark is to me what a pub is to a recalcitrant tippler.

For those who do not know, landmark is a book shop that started out of Chennai and is now spreading across metros. The most recent one opened at Infiniti Mall at Andheri Lokhandwala. It is small by landmark standards but already beats any other large Mumbai book store in its collection. And these people say that the collection is just starting out!

Let me paint a picture of Mumbai Book shops. There is the venerable Strand in the fort. Great books become available here ahead of any other store and that too at great prices. Its the smallest book shop amongst all the shops I keep visiting but it inspires awe with its collection and its dedication to book lovers. The only comparison I can draw is with Midlands in Delhi. But then, which other man has won a Padma Vibhushan for selling books than Mr Shanbhag! They have the best Indian collection that I have seen on fine arts and on chess. But they really are famous for creating trends. A freakonomics/world is flat etc are released at Strand simultaneously with the rest of the world while the other shops wait for market reaction and then follow. Strand knows what its readers want and goes out and gets it ahead of others.

Crossword is the large chain that everyone knows of. There are many branches and affiliates but only two are any good: kemps corner where the original Mahalaxmi one moved and the Powai one. Some are actually examples of how not to run a book store: Juhu one. This is the place where most ppl go first and caters to the mainstream. But there has been a stagnation in the Sriram recommends category and the emphasis is on the predictable few authors/books. Crossword has nice decor and allows browsing but where are the books!! The only one I’d recommend to a serious reader is the Powai one.

Granth is a new comer and they made a good start with their Juhu shop. Nice collection in a small space. Really challenged its Juhu rival: crossword. Nice ambience and very helpful people. Didn’t have a loyalty program but quickly corrected it. The goregaon one is avoidable. The juhu one would have done very well over time but for the arrival of Landmark.

In this setting came landmark. Anyone who has been to the Chennai one would attest to it being amazing. I’ve been to the usual suspects in Delhi, Mumbai, bangalore and Chennai and have had the help of bibliophiles in each city. So, trust me when I say that the best book shop in India is Chennai landmark. Where a cross word has a shelf on a topic, the Chennai landmark has a few racks and no cheap tricks of multiple copies of the same book. The variety brings me the the only word that describes it: Amazing.

The Mumbai landmark follows the same principal. Huge collection.
Strand has now no chance is the science section. Its a section it used to lead with good competition from the Juhu Granth. Landmark even has a section on Maths though its not very well stocked right now.
Literature: I once looked by Jorge Loius Borges in Mumbai. Found 2 books in Powai crossword. Others had not heard of it. landmark has many of them and two complete anthologies of fiction and non-fiction. It will be ages before anyone catches up here.
History: Crossword has nothing here. Granth led but now landmark blows them away with the sheer collection
Business & management: Huge surprise. landmark is worse than all except perhaps the Juhu crossword! Need to bring it to the level of chennai one.
Indian languages: Crossword kemps corner has a section but no one else. Its a pity that indian literature is not offered in India! Landmark had made a start with Hindi, Gujrati and marathi volumes. But the selection is not as extensive as its own other sections and lags behind the Delhi stores in the Hindi collection.

The landmark however has a huge disadvantage: no place to sit and browse. One can tolerate the narrow aisles where you have to brush against others as you pass but no place to sit and browse is a big pain. there is a small divan but its too little for the amount of traffic and frankly I like some personal space when reading.

But on the whole, landmark is the name of a increasing hole in my pocket.