Culinary Voyages with Minnie Menon:  A2

It was no April Fool’s joke that A2 the Restobar at The Park Chennai rooftop was launched on April 1, with great panache. Priya Paul the Chairperson of the Park Hotels flew down for the event. After all A2 is her brainchild. Gunjan Gupta, a leading Delhi based product designer was entrusted with the interiors and worked closely with Priya from inception to completion. I recall rushing back from Mumbai to attend the launch. “Expect the unexpected “is my mantra for The Park. A2’s industrial look with metallic tubes and distressed wood certainly had many Chennaiites gobsmacked that night. It looks onto Aqua, the poolside lounging and dining area on the rooftop. I learnt that A2 is an interpretation of Aqua as an indoor space. Gunjan has certainly worked to her brief. She has very cleverly integrated Indian and classical elements with modern accessories in the furniture and décor. A2 is certainly an indoor perception of Aqua, quirky, informal and with oodles of chutzpah.

The Park is Chennai‘s first boutique hotel and recently completed its 15th birthday so the mood was buoyant when I visited for dinner. The Executive Chef Ashutosh Nerleker and the Sous Chef Rahul Shrivastava have in a short span of time imbibed The Park philosophy of thinking originally and thinking fusion. Sure-fire ways of winning a foodie’s heart! The General Manager Rajesh Radhakrishnan has been an excellent mentor with his immense culinary experience. He joined The Park 14 years ago as a young Chef and got initiated into the Park food culture. He soon became the Executive Chef of the hotel and Area Director in charge of food production. So they make a formidable trio.

A2 was launched as a restobar with sushi, sashimi as the focal points along with other interesting tapas. “Our sous Chef Rahul comes with a four year stint at Oberoi Delhi,” said Ashutosh. There was genuine pride reflected in his tone as he referred to his young colleague’s impeccable culinary pedigree. “The sushi loyalists who visited us at the launch phase continue to do so. Once a Sushi loyalist always a sushi loyalist,“ added a smiling Rahul, the specialist in this segment. “Thanks to A2 a number of Japanese and Korean business groups stay with The Park on a long term basis now. While these businessmen enjoy our international menu, they need their comfort food,“ confirmed Rajesh. In our city there is a notion that the cuisine from cherry blossom country has limited fare for vegetarians. But I can assure readers that the eggplant and asparagus sushis with caramelised onions as a topping are well worth turning herbivorous for the night.

During the last year the menu has evolved from its Japanese centric avatar. The Park is now underplaying the sushi, sashimi and maki roll offerings and has given the restobar a more world cuisine focus. “We have many more options in tapas and a chef’s special bento box. A complete meal with 2 veg and 2 non veg options priced competitively,” said  Ashutosh.

I possibly hold the record for visiting A2 the maximum number of times and have tried practically every dish on the menu. The teriyaki chicken and tempura prawns make me forget the perils of a widening waistline and I waded into them with gusto again. The additions like the spicy Rendang curry (Malaysian lamb) with steamed rice, pastas, ramen and yes some English pub specials like shepherd’s pie have given an added thrust to the menu, giving  it a global feel. With the onset of summer, I noticed some specials like the Burrata salad with oranges and pears. They were truly refreshing and cooled me down instantly. The Chocolate bomb dessert which is sinfully addictive  now has worthy competition: the evergreen baked Alaska and a deconstructed Tiramisu, making it extremely taxing to choose between them.

Chef Ashutosh had an interesting anecdote about ‘the blooming onion’ he served me – a dish he learnt during his stint in Bermuda. The name reminded me of Audrey Hepburn’s scandalous language in My Fair Lady. Her mentor Rex Harrison was not happy!

The onion is cut in a specific way as the photograph indicates and deep fried. I prised out a couple of segments, the taste was certainly worthy of its name.

”Our food philosophy has been fairly simple. We are flexible, we enjoy customer feedback. If a guest wants to have his lamb chops with French mustard and not our sauces, he gets his wish so long as it does not affect the integrity of the dish,” confirmed the affable Rajesh Radhakrishnan.

While A2 started off as a dining go-to-place, it is slowly gaining popularity at lunch time with ladies and in-house guests, the cuisine and the comfort level of this restobar being a big draw. As our dinner came to an end, the subtle variations in the music charged up the atmosphere. My thoughts drifted to the age old saying that music is a great unifier. As I glanced at the guests in the 40-seater restobar I drew a parallel. The new menu at A2 brings a very similar vibe with its global focus.