Chennai gets an ‘authentic’ Chettinad restaurant after a long break.
Background: If you’ve been to Hampi, you’ve probably heard of Mango Tree – Hampi’s best known restaurant. Chennai’s Mango Tree is tucked away in a narrow street off the busy Valluvar Kottam High Road (aka Village Road). No other cuisine has been ‘mis-represented’ as much as Chettinad cuisine and sadly in its home state. Nattukotai Chettiars will tell you that their cuisine is not the kind of stuff that drills holes in your taste buds with truckloads of spice. Bangala in Karaikudi has long been the benchmark for Chettinad cuisine. The Raintree at the Vivanta by Taj Connemara (the hotel is closed for renovation now) was another restaurant that tried to capture those Chettinad flavours but is certainly not the restaurant it was envisioned to be.
The space: It’s a charming house with a maze of rooms replete with Chettinad style furniture, wooden beams on the ceiling and props that somewhat transport you to the fascinating region of the Nattukotai Chettiars. We dig some of their light fittings that add a nice element at dinner and sepia images that are a big draw among antique hunters in Karaikudi’s markets.
The grub: Chettinad’s culinary traditions are still being kept alive in the region by a large group of wedding cooks who work their magic during the big fat Chettiar weddings. Aside from that restaurants like Bangala depend on family cooks and recipes. Mango Tree dips into the reserve of family recipes (the owners are from Chettinad) and some of the dishes work really well. The Karuvapellai (Curry leaf) infused chicken starter was terrific and so was the crunchy prawns coated with a masala and served with light and crispy onion rings (that tasted even better than the prawn!). Some of the curries (their mutton curry and a vegetable curry with a generous quantity of potatoes) are worth checking out too. The Mutton kola urundai was a tad dry though. We tried multiple staples but nothing came quite close to their idiappam (string hoppers) tossed in butter milk (thankfully not soggy). There are quite a few dessert options and no, they are not all from Chettinad. The traditional Adi Kumayam (made with black gram/urad dal) is presented in a sesame cracker and there’s also our favourite Chettinad dessert – the Kavunni Arisi (Black rice pudding) with a slight twist. There’s also a host of International desserts – try the Tres Leche cake or their signature tender coconut pudding.
Bottomline: Mango tree is a great attempt to bring an authentic Chettinad dining experience back to Chennai. We plan to head back to try the restaurant’s lunch platters (thalis). The restaurant gets quite a few of its dishes right and the ambience is cosy. What’s more, the restaurant almost get it’s cost:value equation right.
Mango Tree is at 31, Jambulingam Road (Off Valluvar Kottam high road), Nungambakkam, Chennai. Phone no: (044) 4218-1616. Meal for 2: Rs 1200/-