ITC Grand Chola has the potential to change the culinary landscape of Chennai with its half a dozen eateries. As of now, only three have opened – Café Mercara (coffee shop), Madras Pavilion (multi-cuisine buffet restaurant) and Peshawari. Not keen on the coffee shop and worried about carryover of Peshawari quality from the old Chola Sheraton, I chose Madras Pavilion for my lunch. (I bumped into Chef Manjit Gill of Bukhara fame during my lunch, who assured me that the Peshawari at Grand Chola has kitchen staff from Bukhara and would meet the same standards).
Madras Pavilion has the look of an expensive, upmarket restaurant but once full it felt a bit crowded. That it was full so early in its life must be a delight for the hotel. The staff were very friendly and efficient.
For me the pièce de résistance was the charcuterie. Speck and Parma ham along with Milano and Napoli salami were good enough for me to make a second trip to the cold cuts counter. The salad counter alongside it had a variety of hummus, olives and fresh mozzarella of superior quality.
Chicken dumpling soup with soft chicken balls in lemon grass flavoured clear broth was light and flavourful. Good enough that I would have ordered it for an a la carte dinner.
There was a central live station dishing out something that looked like aloo tikkis which I didn’t taste and superb, plump, juicy prawns with wasabi. Like in most buffets, the ‘roast’ has a pride of place here as well and the roasted leg of lamb didn’t disappoint. The buffet included chaats which I gave a miss.
The mains have four sections – Oriental, North Indian, International and South Indian (that’s my description; the restaurant may have described it differently). Vegetable noodles and fried chicken dunked in a sauce would have fitted better with the buffet at your neighbourhood Chinese. Disappointing. The International section wasn’t much better. No classy restaurant should have pasta on a buffet (unless there is a dedicated live station) as it starts to dry out very quickly. Chicken dum biriyani is the best I have had in Chennai, and you can choose any of four types of raitas as an accompaniment – I went for the burani. Paneer makhani and mutton qorma were perfectly done. Indian breads included tandoori roti and naan, neither of which went well with the qorma but I loved it nevertheless. The south Indian mains section had a mutton biryani, a chicken and a mutton curry, half a dozen other dishes including rasam along with poppadoms and pickles. Puli-sadam got passing marks from my Iyengar wife with an expected qualifier ‘it is no match for an Iyengar puliyogare’. Due to the strong flavours in this section, it is best to keep it for last.
Desserts were a bit of a hit and miss. The White chocolate fountain is sure to appeal kids and many parents while the Kheer was disappointing; something that we in Awadh dismissively call doodh-bhaat (rice and milk). Maybe the Peshawari staff should lend a hand with the Indian desserts. The Profiterole were tasty and sinful as only profiteroles can be. Among the assorted cakes and tarts, I particularly liked the honey and nut tart.
It must be years since I had a mocktail, but I loved the kiwi fruit mocktail on offer and even asked for a couple of refills.
At under Rs. 1500, this is quality food. The spread may not be as lavish as some other buffets, with fewer live counters and limited seafood, but makes up with quality ingredients. If some chinks can be ironed out, it is certainly worth a visit, or two!