Chennai, July 23 (IANS) Opening a new Japanese restaurant, drawing up a new menu for its Indian restaurant, not retrenching staff and offering guests more are the daring strategies being adopted at Hilton Chennai following the ban on serving liquor, the hotel’s top chef said.
The Supreme Court has banned the serving of liquor in hotels located 500 metres from state and national highways. This has hit hard the revenues of hotels impacted by the order.
“The liquor ban is a litmus test for the Executive Chefs as they have to attract custom for their restaurants, retain their long-staying guests and attract short-stayers with their culinary skills,” Achal Aggarwal, Executive Chef at Hilton Chennai, told IANS.
To this end, he has launched a new menu for the hotel’s Indian restaurant Ayna and a new Japanese restaurant, Roppongi Hills.
“Following the liquor ban, the bar was empty and it was decided to put it to productive use by opening a Japanese restaurant which would also cater to the Japanese here,” Aggarwal said.
Serving the soft, crispy Ayna vada (tofu added to traditional vada batter) Aggarwal said that some hotels have asked their Executive Chefs to quit as part of cost-cutting measures and are managing with the middle-level people in the kitchen.
Speaking about Ayna’s new menu, Aggarwal said over 60 per cent of the dishes were new, while the balance was carried over from the previous menu.
Some of the starters will take you by surprise, like the tasty khasta crab which has the layers of crab meat with tandoori shrimp in a crispy filo sheet; or the tandoori salmon, which was orange flavoured.
The curry leaf grouper and the kozhi varuval (chicken with a twist of secret spices) were also tasty and different.
Vegetarians can opt for kathal ke kebab (pulled jackfruit stuffed in poppadum cone) or khasta khumb (layers of spiced mushroom in a crisp filo sheet).
“We have converted some of the main courses into starters, changing their form. There are lot of new varities of fish, including John Dory, for seafood lovers,” Aggarwal said.
As for soups, there is the vazhaithandu chaaru (raw banana stem soup) or murgh badami shorba (chicken soup with almonds) for the asking.
“While offering more to our guests, we didn’t retrench any staff. We sent our juniors to our group hotel in Singapore. Their salary was paid by that hotel even as they gained experience,” Aggarwal said.
According to him, the tough times also enabled him to spot hidden culinary talents in the butchery and commissary departments.
“Normally they don’t cook. But one Sunday they turned up and made a few fantastic dishes when I wanted to test their skills,” Aggarwal said.
“On the whole, we are not making losses in our restaurants as we expected. We are doing the same number of covers,” he added.
“There was also an additional focus on banquets to protect the overall revenue as well as cutting wastage, said Aggarwal who decided to increase the live counters in the buffet, offering more to the guests.
It was time for the main course, with Aggarwal serving Ayna butter chicken. The tasty twist here was the chicken meatballs made with minced chicken tikka.
There is also nattu kozhi kolumbu (country chicken curry) that goes well with rice, or the nalli rogan josh (a Kashmiri mutton delicacy).
Vegetarians can pick singada palak (leafy spinach, pickled water chestnuts and stuffed chili) or gucchi aur khumb (trio of stuffed morels, portobello and button mushrooms) with a choice of naans/paranthas/kulchas like olive naan or Lucknowi kulcha. Else, skip these and just go for subz tehari (baby potato and seasonal vegetables) with aromatic rice laced with fresh turmeric and served with kachumbar salad.
There were experiments on the dessert front too — the apple halwa, baked Indian yoghurt with figs or butter milk ice cream.
What: New menu at Ayna Restaurant
Where: Hilton Chennai at J.N.Salai, Guindy
Timings: Lunch 12 noon to 3 p.m., Dinner 6.30 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Price: Meal for two would cost around Rs 4,000 without taxes
(Venkatachari Jagannathan’s visit was at the invitation of the Hilton Chennai. He can be contacted at [email protected])