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Chennai’s Avartana opens in Mumbai’s ITC Maratha

With its unique take on South Indian cuisine, the fine-dine restaurant pays homage to regional ingredients.
ITC Maratha, Avatarna

Does drinking piping hot clarified rasam in a martini glass make you raise your brow out of curiosity? It sure did when we heard it for the first time at ITC Maratha’s newest opening, straight from Chennai and Kolkata. ITC’s Avartana has opened its doors in the maximum city starting this month.

“We have had people drinking six glasses of the rasam,” we were told and thought this was just hyperbole. What exactly was clarified rasam? Just regular rasam, brewed in a French press with fresh coriander. The fact that this rasam is diluted helps ensure that it is gulped smoothly, while retaining all the authentic flavours. We had to stop ourselves from getting a fifth serving.

Avartana, pronounced as Avartan, is a Sanskrit word that refers to rhythm, mysticism and magic. When we went in for a pre-tasting dinner last week; we were aware of ITC’s Avartana being the frontrunner at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants but we were not aware of the South-Indian gastronomical experience we were about to embark on that night.

The interior of the 62-seater space of the Mumbai restaurant is an ode to the Southern region of India with a recurring theme of banana leaf motifs and a colour palette of green and gold. The experience at ITC Avartana is inspired by the authentic flavours rooted in peninsular Indian local spices, broths, infused oils, fresh coconut and curry leaves. There is something from each state of Southern India in their expertly curated dining experiences such as the seven-course Maya (₹2,500+), nine-course Bela (₹3,000+), Jia, which is an 11-course meal (₹3500+), Anika is a 13-course experience (₹3950+) and Tara is a 14-course seafood special menu (₹4750+). What we tried was Kimaya, a wholesome 10-course meal curated by picking the best dishes from each of the five options available. Chef Nikhil Nagpal, executive chef, of ITC Hotels and Chef Diptii Jadhav, senior sous-chef ITC Maratha and in-charge of Avartana Mumbai took us through the menu.

We started our meal with an amuse-bouche, a dome that’s a flavour-bomb (pun intended). At first, it seemed like we had eaten pudina pani in pani puri but we were surprised to find out that it was pineapple with mint. The meal consisted of simple, daily vegetables such as bottle gourd, jackfruit, beetroot, aubergine, and potatoes but the other ingredients were more native to the Southern region. “We wanted to ensure that the food tastes the same, be it Chennai or Mumbai,” says Chef Jadhav.

ITC Avartana

(from left to right) Drumstick dumpling with moringa broth, Tempered bottle gourd with plum chutney. Photos: ITC Avartana

Lauki turns hero

Our first course included a bright green and blue plate that arrived with a green spaghetti-looking dish made with tempered bottle gourd with a plum chutney. A bottle gourd spaghetti was a unique concept for us, and it paired with a mustard seed tadka and sweet plum chutney, it was a dish that stood out. Apart from bottle gourd, throughout this meal, we ate vegetables that we would not otherwise. The next course had a drumstick dumpling with moringa broth. Soft, melt-in-your-mouth dumplings with a well-seasoned, not-too-dry filling and a moringa broth that didn’t make us miss the usual red momo chutney at all.

Just like most multi-course dinners, this menu too, was curated to offer an optimal experience. The smooth and flavourful asparagus and coconut stew with turmeric coconut, paired with idiyappam was a plate of comfort food. “After this [course],” says Chef Jadhav, “we wanted a palette cleanser and so we added the lemon leaf sorbet, which is available easily so we thought of using the leaf. The idea is to make the diner reach a certain level in terms of experience and then prepare them for another,” she explains.

A parcel of aubergine

The course after the lemon leaf sorbet was the one we loved. A parcel made with aubergine skin carried spiced aubergine on a plate along with a Byadagi chilli emulsion and sago papad. The sago papad added crunch and took the dish to the next level and we couldn’t help but hope for another helping. But moved on to the next course.

ITC Avartana

(from left to right) Asparagus and coconut stew with turmeric coconut and idiyappam, Spiced aubergine with byadagi chili emulsion and sago. Photos: ITC Avartana

Too pretty to eat

The course following the aubergine one was the Uthukuli morel with Malabar parotta and butter toffee. “Uthukuli [a village in Tamil Nadu] is famous for butter making so we decided to have a course where the butter from that region is the hero of the dish,” says Chef Jadhav. What caught our eye, besides the butter curry and the morel was the mini Malabar parotta and the beetroot butter toffee. The mini parottas were crisp, yet soft and tender enough to taste the ghee. Chef Jadhav explained how they used the same type of flour used in Avartana Chennai because it had a sweeter note so they avoided adding sugar.

Kuch meetha ho jaye

We ended the meal with a dessert resembling a nest. The fennel panacotta was shaped like an egg and upon breaking it open, resembled a runny yolk. The dessert had fennel and mango flavours—a combination we tried for the first time and were surprised by how well they paired together. The egg-shaped dessert was surrounded by an angel hair caramel nest. Chef Jadhav personally came to our table with a small hammer to break it open for us.

ITC Avartana

(from left to right) Raw mango pudding with ghee candle, Fennel panacotta with angel hair caramel. Photos: ITC Avartana

We ended the meal with a pan-flavoured ice-bomb which we wrapped in a betel leaf and waited for the flavours and the coolness to explode in our mouth.

What we liked about the menu was the fact that everything was edible. From the parcel that was made of aubergine skin, the Uthukuli butter toffee wrapped in a beetroot wrapper to the lotus stem wick and a ghee candle in a raw mango dessert. The chefs shared that they ensured none of it was wasted and could be eaten.