An authentic Ethiopian restaurant in Chennai. No kidding!
The lowdown: Chennai’s dining scene has an uncanny knack of throwing up surprises (the occasional shock too). From Korean to Peruvian (and South American) to Russian and now the country’s first Ethiopian restaurant. Aside from the odd Ethiopian dish (like the Sambusa) and the country’s legendary Berbere spices, our exposure to Ethiopian cuisine has been limited.
The space: Tucked away in a tiny corner of a building that is also home to two other restaurants, Abyssinian is a remarkably small restaurant (with seating for just 16 diners). It’s a smart ploy given that Ethiopian cuisine is an unknown commodity even for the city’s well-heeled. It’s cozy though; the restaurant is packed with artefacts specially sourced from Ethiopia. The traditional chairs are a tad uncomfortable. We understand that it’s something the restaurant management is already working on.
The grub: the restaurant stays true to Ethiopian style community dining. All the action is centred around a Mesob, a wicker dining table with a peaked hat. Take the hat off and there’s room for a large platter that is good for up to four diners. We tried one of their Signature Messobs (Rs 3399 to 4199), a typical shared meal served on a large Injera (the Ethiopian staple bread crafted with rice or millet). A wide selection of Wot and Alicha (gravies and stews), tibs (Stir fry) are served along with the Injera. The routine is simple – keep tearing away at the Injera (like a dosa or roti) and eat with the dishes. It’s all from one large community plate. This meal ends with a choice of dessert and a quintessential Ethiopian coffee (you could add sugar or salt – that’s what many Ethiopians do). If you’re dining solo or as a couple you could either opt for one of their Tasting Plates (Perfect for first timers) or dive into their a la carte menu. We thoroughly enjoyed some of the meats (the beef and finger fish filets were particularly good) and the sautéed mushrooms.
Last word: Abyssinian is a serious attempt to introduce a truly exotic cuisine to an Indian diner and it mostly works. While the accent might be on meats, it’s not a lost cause for vegetarians (most orthodox Christians in Ethiopia take lent quite seriously) on the menu. Dessertarians might be tougher to please given the restaurant’s fairly limited sweet endings. The Ethiopian coffee with fresh pop corn (A common accompaniment for post meal coffees in Ethiopia) somewhat makes amends.
Abyssinian is at 40,Maharaja Surya Road, Venus Colony, Alwarpet, Chennai. Phone no:044 30853649. Open Tuesday-Sunday for lunch and dinner. Meal for 2: Rs 3,000/-