"That there are barely any interesting vegetarian options in South Indian cuisine is a myth," says Neeti Goel, as she hears us complain about having to make do with paneer stew and rasam vada while our friends tuck into meaty Chettinad curries at South Indian joints. As if on cue, Murungai Keerai Idli (Rs 150) appears before us. The steaming hot, spongy disc is studded with drumstick leaves and tempered with mustard seeds and urad dal. Its fresh, crunchy bite momentarily transports us to Madurai. We relish it with not one but four different types of podis and an equal number of rasam shots! Our pick: the bottle green coriander-flavoured one.
Murungai Keerai Idli. Pics/Falguni Agarwal
This is just one of the many interesting dishes on a 27-page menu at Madras Diaries, a gourmet vegetarian South Indian restaurant co-owned by Abu Farhan Azmi and Goel, who owns Nom Nom. The 50-seater space, which opens in Bandra next week, spells calm. Strains of mellifluous Carnatic music float through the indoor and outdoor dining sections, featuring a vivid blue wall fitted with temple bells and chairs that match the vibrant hues of Meenakshi Temple.
Chef Murugan and a team of cooks picked from across Tamil Nadu have curated the extensive menu, which includes a lunch thali (Rs 450) with 15 items. We spot 10 types of idlis too. Try the Thattu (Rs 135), the Bahubali of idlis steamed in a much bigger mould and topped with zingy gunpowder.
A-dai another day
Among the equal number of dosas and uthapams, we enjoy the crisp, grease-free Pesarattu (Rs 150) served with authentic, un-sweetened sambhar, and Adai (Rs 160), a well-spiced, rustic brek-kie item speckled with whole dal and accompanied by a deliciously tangy drumstick chutney. From the traditional eats, we dig into Bisi Bele Godhi (Rs 200), a comforting, hearty dish with the perfect balance of spices soaked in by well-cooked broken wheat, which makes this version taste better than the rice variety available at city restaurants.
Malabari Parotta with Kalan Chettinad
We also enjoy Kambu Kanji (Rs 175), a mildly spiced pearl millet porridge traditionally had in South India as a coolant on a summer afternoon. "It took me two years of research and several trips across Tamil Nadu to find these lost recipes and chefs, who could helm this kitchen. I've also sourced most of the ingredients, including the millets and rice used in the idli batter, from Tamil Nadu," says Goel.
Bisi Bele Godhi
Fondue for fun
To cater to Bandra's hip foodies, the menu is peppered with new-age fusions. For instance, the quirky Cheese Chilli Jalapeno Idli in Masala Fondue (Rs 150), comprising coin-sized, fried-till-crisp idlis with spicy bits of jalapeno that we munch on with creamy, cheese fondue. We wash them down with Neer Moru (Rs 95), the refreshing South Indian-style buttermilk laced with crushed chillies, ginger and cumin.
Dig for the crumbs
If you have a high threshold for spice, we recommend Kothu Parotta (Rs 235), featuring shreds of thick, wheat paratha stir-fried with onion, tomato and a generous sprinkling of spices.
If not, then seek refuge in Kalan Chettinad (an item in the thali), a tangy-spicy tomato-based gravy with South Indian-style tempering that's best had with wafer-thin layers of Malabari Parotta (Rs 50), which come undone at just a touch, making this vegetarian trip down south worth it.
Abu Farhan Azmi
OPENS ON: October 10, 7.30 am to 11.30 pm
AT: Shop number 7, ground floor, Muzaffar Manor, 117 Waterfield Road, Bandra West.
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