Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Review: Casual Dining at its Best - New Restaurant Launch in Chennai - Annalaya, Jagannathan Street, Nungambakkam

Chennai's casual dining just got a shot in the arm.  Annalaya - tamil for 'Temple of Food' - launches today (Tuesday, April 21st, 2015) on the auspicious occasion of Akshaya Tritiya - a day that signifies plenty much cultural & spiritual significance.  It is widely believed that it is on this day that Yudhishtir (in Mahabharata) received the 'Akshaya Patram' (the serving bowl that will never run out of foodgrains and food).  As such, any good cultivated today is believed to abound in multitudes.

Here is a sneak preview and review of Annalaya, for the readers of this blog:

Annalaya is, to begin with, comfortably located right in the heart of the city, in Nungambakkam, Jagannathan Street, right next to Vijay TV's office.  Easy approach from Village road and Nungambakkam High road as well.

Owned by Mrs. Jayashree A Thilak & Mr. Thilak, Annalaya has both air-conditioned as well as 'on the go' non-air-conditioned dining areas. Jayashree thoughtfully added when I conversed with her, "for those in a hurry, they could just quickly pick up their choice from the non-air-conditioned area".

The Thilaks started out with restaurants over ten years ago, as a natural progression from their pulses & spices processing business in Gummidipoondi, near Chennai in Tamil Nadu.  They first set up a small coffee shop in Gummidipoondi, near the Siruvapur Murugan Temple, on their factory's frontage.  They lay emphasis and concentrated on quality on three fronts - food, service & hygiene.

They already run six restaurants and have now embarked on 'Annalaya' as a brand to build.  "This is a fresh thought on the menu & we did extensive research, including gourmet tours", informs Jayashree.  Born out of these gourmet tours was their meeting with experienced homemakers in their forties & fifties, some trademark recipes and sourcing ingredients from the original belt.  For example, they serve a rasam called "Thangachi Rasam" (translation: "Sister Rasam") which is a special rasam prepared by sisters fondly for brothers visiting them, in southern parts of Tamil Nadu (I understood it has extra servings of tomato & spices which renders it a special taste).

Annalaya predominantly showcases good food covering the four southern states - Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh & of course, throws in some global influences as well.

The motto clearly is - "Authenticity over twist or fusion".  Kudos to that, I thought, after my experience - they truly lived up to it.  For example, Jayashree informed me Annalaya's house speciality 'masal' is red not yellow.

Some of the highlights:

The mocktails are a complete delight and set the tone for the experience.  Served predominantly in large flute glasses, the mocktails are so aptly named.  My favorites are the "After 9" & the "Cleopatra Marvel" (grape based mocktail).

Blossom Delight:

Pina Colada, Cleopatra Marvel & After 9:

Rose Orchid (along with, of course, Pina Colada):

Balanced "Elai (Banana Leaf) Sapadu (meals)", also called "Vazhai Elai Virundhu Sapadu" (Banana Leaf Hospitality Meals) from 11.30 am to 3.30 pm.  While Annalaya opens at 7.30 am & closes at 11 pm, lunch service begins at 11.30 am.  The meals are sumptuous, home food material.

I particularly loved the keerai masiyal (spinach preparation) & the 'pachchadis'.  The 'sweet poli' was soft & a dessert lover's delight.

The Elai Sapadu (banana leaf meals) serves 23 items with choice between Rice & Millet.  I say, please try the Millet Biriyani.

The Millet Biriyani is one dish I have never tasted before and it was delicious (neither too spicy nor mild, just right & very delectable). Not to be missed.

Kambu (Pearl Millet) Curd Rice, Thinai (Foxtail Millet) Sadham & Millet Biriyani: these are a MUST TRY & a do NOT miss! My favorite: the Millet Biriyani!

A fraction of the other culinary delights on offer (I could only manage to click & taste these many out of the 300 items on offer):

Anarkali Aloo Anaras:

Paneer Tikka:

Ribbon Paneer Pakoda:

Ghee Paper Roast:

Rava Idli:


Dry Fruit Rava Dosai:

Thate (Flat) Idli:

Palkatti (Cottage Cheese) Dosai:

I know - regular readers know that desserts are my main course - so, here is an one of a kind dessert Annalaya serves - its called 'Gold Kavana' and is made of black sticky rice (Kavuni Arisi) with an authentic 'gold dust' dressing served with a scoop of coconut ice cream! The 'Kavuni Arisi' is a Chettinad speciality. The ardent foodie I am, I have never seen it fused so brilliantly with gold dust & coconut ice cream.  Guess what, forget buying gold for Akshaya Tritiya, you can now actually ingest gold, taking a cue from former film stars & chief ministers of this State who were cited by media as doing so :)

Gold Kavana Dessert:

The next dessert to lure me was the 'Butterscotch-Paan flavored Ice Cream':

For someone like me who never consumes Paan, I loved the fusing of flavors in this dessert.  The paan flavor comes thru so well that you have to balance your portion size with butterscotch (so the paan flavor doesn't overwhelm you).

Khus Khus Milk:

Annalaya serves a menu that has almost 300 items & all segments are comfortably & affordably priced. Being a strict vegetarian, I was delighted to find the awesome spread & number of genres on offer :)  I was regaled by Annalaya's naming convention - for example, there is a dosa called "MLA Dosai" & I wonder if its because it rarely shows up (as most MLAs or Members of Legislative Assembly, as in popular rhetoric, show up only during polls in their constituencies)! Or, may be, its patronized by the elected representatives down south!

Last but not the least, the 'Beeda' or 'Paan' that culminates the dining experience: [no, I didn't taste it, but appreciated the zip lock seal]:

Service is fantastic & I must make an affectionate mention about Annalaya's appreciable diversity quotient: Jayashree has ensured that women are well represented in the restaurant's staff. I particularly noticed it (almost naturally) because I am so used to (and bored) of being the only woman in the pack - almost always (from Board Room to Blogger Events).

The gentlemen sported this attire:

And, the ladies sported this attire:

Interior décor is compact & largely wood themed, with functional seating:

Thank you Jayashree for being such a gracious host:

Welcome Annalaya & thanks for infusing class in Chennai's casual dining landscape.  You sure make Chennai & Tamil Nadu proud. Here's hoping you will keep up the good work.

Connect with Annalaya through:

Hope you enjoy this review & sneak preview! Happy Casual Dining Folks!

Cheers :)

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