Silk meets spice in generous portions at the Royal Vega, Chennai, one of India's only tributes to rich vegetarian cuisine. Before you groan at the thought of heavy curries and acidity-inducing meals, the menu here is pure genius and draws on the best that the subcontinent and its immediate neighbours have to offer in terms of authentic flavours, textures and tales that evoke a glorious past. The restaurant, housed within the ITC Grand Chola, Chennai, draws on the philosophy of taste or rasa and the use of seasonal produce to create food from what were once India's prized princely states.
The interiors are evocative of a mahal and traditional thalis and a novel serving style adds to the charm of what is arguably one of India's finest vegetarian meals. The restaurant is divided into five sections, inspired by the dining areas of ancient royalty.
I would recommend the signature tasting menu or Ranjit Khasa which is available all year round but draws on seasonal variations to provide variety. What you can expect is to be fed dishes that are clean tasting, cleverly produced and rich without being heavy. The kundan koftah, stuffed with tart plums and cooked in a cinnamon-flavoured gravy is topped off with gold leaf and if like me, you are apprehensive about mixing fruits or nuts in your dishes, breathe easy. Something as simple as their version of the palak paneer, called palak chaman, melts in your mouth without leaving a residue of earthy spinach long after the last bite. The palak mangori karhi, also part of this meal, is another winner, tempered with clarified butter but without the heaviness that generally accompanies such dishes. You are served a number of gravy and dry dishes, an assortment of well-thought-out pulavs and Indian breads that draw on the best produce each region has to offer.
To round off the meal, try the shahi mitha, an interesting take on shahi tukda or bread pudding. Pistachio praline, milk and a sprinkle of caramel add the finer nuances to this dessert. If you are a gourmand, before scoffing at at an all-vegetarian meal, try the thali at the Royal Vega and you are guaranteed to be floored by the simple yet elegant cuisine that makes its mark here.Palak mangoi karhi Shahi mithaMeal for two:
Rs 5,000 (alcohol and taxes extra)
ITC Grand Chola, Chennai
(+91) 44 49065272