When I was a kid, India had 25 states. Fast forward a couple decades, and I can no longer keep track of how many – the latest division brings a 5th state to the South of India – Telengana. Dakshin, the ITC’s iconic southern specialties restaurant, recently revamped their menu and are now presenting delicacies of the five states. I have cherished childhood memories of Dakshin – not the ITC Windsor Bangalore one, but the ones in Chennai and Delhi. A very favorite uncle was a big fan and always took us to dine there, when he visited us in Chennai. So, it was with a bit of misty eyed nostalgia that I took up the invitation to sample the ITC Windsor Dakshin’s tweaked menu that had just been made available. Now, a meal at Dakshin is a dining experience – the setting, the lighting, the crockery and cutlery, the presentation of food, the outfits worn by the waitstaff, the service…it all comes together to transport you to a different place, where reality and the burdens of life take a backseat, and you just spend a couple of hours wallowing in your surroundings and the food.
Our meal began with a green drink that, belying its rather lucid coloring, was quite delicious and had me reaching for a second glass: Muneer, a blend of tender coconut water, jaggery and khus syrup and a dash of honey. It was cooling and went well with the spicy foods we proceeded to eat. The Iyer’s Trolley is a staple at Dakshin – fresh made to order items like dosas and vadas. That day, we sampled Adai, Pesarattu (green gram dosa) and a new addition to the menu, Mokkajona Vada (corn and rice vadas that were delish!), served with an assortment of chutneys. Then started the procession of meat dishes, of which, despite our fervent attempts to partake sparingly, knowing the line that still remained, we of course ate too much of. But really, how can one say no to Mutton Sukka (lamb morsels cooked with black pepper, cumin and fresh coriander leaves) or Kozhi Roast (roast spring chicken in Chef’s special masala). The big hit at the table was actually the fiery, Guntur style chicken dish, Mirupakayi Kodi.Once the starters and our plates were cleared, we were presented with shining silver thalis adorned by small bowls on the outer edges – being already sated, we could only wonder at the amount of food still left to make an appearance, and proceeded to literally eat one or two bites of everything we were served, with the perfect accompaniment of Appams and Ragi dose. This included both non veg and veg curries from all the five states, and the ones of note were the Massopu Saru from Karnataka – garlic infused greens and lentils that I dug into more than once – I am a huge fan of dill, which is a green that makes an appearance in Kannadiga cooking. The Araicha Attu Curry from my home state (Tamil Nadu) was beautifully tender lamb and a lovely blend of spices. There was also a chicken korma and a black eyed beans veg gravy that were nice. We ended on a sweet note – a ghee rich, moong and urad dal and rice halwa named Aadikkumayam. There’s a reason that Dakshin is an award winning, crowd pleaser, and has been so for many years now. A meal here is an experience in fine dining in a rarefied atmosphere.