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Ayna, Hilton Chennai review

Archana Achal | | Updated on: May 29, 2012
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As I open the heavy, bronze-coloured menu ‘book' at Ayna, the newly launched Indian cuisine restaurant at Hilton Chennai, I let myself be transported back in time. Ayna has an old-world charm that is comforting yet exotic. The soft theme music and plush velvet couches are reminiscent of opulent Indian restaurants, and yet I can't find the ubiquitous paneer makhani or jeera aloo on the menu. I'm pleasantly surprised. Ayna offers very select specialty dishes from all four regions of India, the North, West, East and South. So the menu is not as extensive as other restaurants, but the few dishes that are offered are meticulously prepared and well-researched for authenticity.

Design style

Some restaurants are laid out in such a way that they urge you to take a proper look around. Ayna is one of these, where the design is in the details. It offers a total of 60 covers, of which twelve seats are in the private dining room. Here, true to its name, an entire wall is covered in delicate slabs of glass, with glass doors opening onto a terrace. The restaurant is inviting and warm in ambience, with splashes of colour emanating from the blue lampshades. The upholstery is kept to cream and rust coloured material, complemented by silk cushions with peacock-feather motif embroidery. Silk table runners in shades of gold and bronze are the only adornment to the tables, and they keep the feel of luxury at the right amount. Floral motifs are carved into some of the wooden slates on the walls, while the floors are a combination of hardwood and patterned marble. All the elements come together well, without one outshining the other.

Foodie talk

While munching on poppadums and sipping a refreshing litchee mocktail, I am urged by Mr Rajendran, Ayna's manager to try the different kebabs as starters to the meal. The paneer tikka is well cooked with a soft yet chewy consistency, but it is the smoked mushroom patties with caramelised onions that stand out. The smoky flavour of the finely chopped and mashed mushrooms is distinct and hits the palate immediately.

The beetroot and potato cutlets are well flavoured while the traditional chicken tikka and its variation, the cream-based, tandoor roasted chicken kebabs are succulent and spiced to the right amount. Ayna's signature kebab is the charcoal-roasted prawns with raw mango pulp and chilli paste.

The fiery-looking prawns are surprisingly tangy and cooked well, with no hint of a fishy aftertaste, which highlighted the freshness and quality of the produce. If you prefer South Indian starters, steamed mini idlis and deep-friend banana flower patties are available.

Curries and side-dishes at Ayna are a melange of various cuisines, and I picked a few from different parts of India. The Allepey curry was slightly sweet with crunchy vegetables in a coconut and raw mango-based sauce. The Alur Dum, a Bengali speciality, was a spicy concoction with baby potatoes tossed in a curry with ginger, garlic and mustard seeds for a pungent hit. The quirk factor was added with the Papad Paneer nu Shaak, a Rajasthani dish with poppadums and paneer cooked in a red chilli and yoghurt sauce. A slightly-tangy and creamy dish, it's paired best with hot, crunchy tandoori rotis or fragrant, steamed basmati rice. The prawn curry with coconut, mustard seeds and other spices is a good option for seafood-lovers, but while the mustard flavour was undeniably good, the prawns were not as melt-in-the-mouth as the kebabs. Try the Mutton Roganjosh, a traditional Indian favourite if you like rich curries. The southern-style chicken curry with green chillies and coconut isn't spicy; just right to be mopped up with their signature Zaffrani Paronthi Naan, a heavenly, flaky accompaniment, generously tossed in ghee and sprinkled with crushed almonds and poppy seeds, which adds great textural variety.

The vegetable biryani made in Lucknowi style was well-flavoured with saffron and cream. A Hyderabadi mutton biryani is available as well.

A fitting end

If you crave something sweet after all this, like I did, try the Chhena payesh and the chef's special chum-chum. Both dishes were sweet but not cloying, with each soft, paneer ball in the former making a delightful mouthful. The kulfi studded with pistachio crumbs and served like a scoop of ice cream was less sweet than expected but refreshing, as was the sweet pongal, a rice-based dessert sweetened with jaggery and garnished with sliced, toasted nuts.

Goan curries, Bengali sweets, breads from Kerala and much more.

This is what Ayna has to offer. While some of the dishes are best tried alone, it is also a chance for the guest to experiment with the best of various regional fares that make up the large, amorphous entity called Indian cuisine.

What: Haute Indian cuisine

Where: Ayna, Hilton Chennai

How much: Rs 3,000 for a meal for two excluding taxes

archana.a@thehindu.co.in

Published on May 01, 2012
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