Culinary Voyages with Minnie Menon: Kefi

Kefi exudes a unique brand of intimacy and romance. Rooftop restaurants always radiate a certain glow, whatever be the weather, balmy, cool or with a faint nip in the air. Dining at a height truly is like a breath of fresh air! There is a certain intangible atmosphere about Kefi which turns first time visitors into hardcore loyalists.

Kefi the Mediterrean Al fresco dining restaurant at the Taj Club House has been an instant hit from inception 9 years ago. “It was launched strictly as a Greek restaurant and over the years it has evolved into a full fledged Mediterranean restaurant with Iraqi and Moroccan fare as well,” said Executive Chef Sumeet Sood. I must confess I always feel a sense of déjà vu when I visit this hotel, since I have the privilege of being the first customer to walk in through their front door.

The outdoor dining format, with a view of the swimming  pool, the cabanas and the softly lit temple trees lends an intimate air to the surroundings. There is also an indoor dining restaurant, styled like a Greek villa which is quite charming. Kefi is a 68-seater restaurant including both formats. A seating capacity that can host quite a party! Mediterranean cuisine has gained in popularity in the last decade in Chennai and Kefi is among the leaders in fronting this trend.

Executive Chef Sumeet, though very new to this property, looked completely in charge in his new surroundings as he welcomed me. New at the Taj Club House Sumeet may be, but he is a dyed-in-the-wool Taj loyalist for 22 years.

His eyes lit up as he shared the Tasting menu that had been specially crafted for me.  I started with a Bourou Bourou soup, a vegetable and pasta broth from the Greek island of Corfu. How could I begin with a soup in this weather you may well ask? Simply because it is one of their signature dishes. The specially crafted Mezze platter with popular favourites arrived. Falafel, the  fried chick pea cake is one of the most popular in this cuisine, be it in Dubai, London, Mumbai or Sydney. “As good as what you get in Lebanon” was my response. Hummus bil dijaj, where the hummus was topped with chicken, was different and  delightful. The spanakopita left me craving for more. “I have kept the servings very small since I would like you to taste the entire menu” said Chef Sumeet. I smiled happily in complete agreement between mouthfuls. I had completed a brisk 6 km walk and arrived prepared to do justice to the evening’s fare. I noticed there were some outright winners on the menu. “Ricotta Gnudi  is like a soft gnocchi… grilled dusted ricotta with seasoned mushrooms” explained Chef Sumeet. The rosemary and pine nuts lent a unique flavour to the dish.

The ambience and the cuisine has positioned the restaurant as the place for a joyous celebration – be it a birthday or an anniversary. The ‘two people one candle‘ dining concept in this romantic surrounding is hugely popular . I noticed a young couple celebrating a birthday sitting under a cabana cutting out the world around. A quick glance in their direction and I understood the true meaning of the term ‘public solitude’!.

On the mezze platter was also a Kefi classic – their Prawn provencale which is deftly tossed with olive oil, tomatoes, garlic and white wine, one of my personal favourites. A change of taste was in order and voila arrived a raspberry, coconut mango sorbet . It looked wonderful and tingled on my palate – just what the doctor ordered.

“Now you will enjoy what I know is one of your favourites, the lamb Kleftiko “exclaimed Chef Sumeet. Kleftiko is the traditional lamb shank and the exotic name adds a sensory touch to this evergreen dish. The unhurriedly braised lamb infused with herbs and seasoning  was a small portion mercifully. “Thank you Chef for being considerate!”

There is only ONE dessert I can have here… Baklava. Each time one passes Dubai duty free many of us pick up a packet. But these diamond shaped Baklavas at Kefi with pista, almonds, and walnut made me murder my conscience. I indulged with the strains of Rihanna’s song “Shine Bright Like A Diamond ” humming in my head. It brought in a synergy.

The charcoal grills are an integral part of the Kefi offering, with the Sheek taouk and the Sikanderi kababs winning the popular vote. We concluded our evening with a brief conversation on customization of dishes. Chef Sumeet like a true blue Chef wedded to his craft said, “It is difficult in this cuisine  to customize because every dish has to be just so.”

And I confessed to them with some light hearted banter about my “no carbs at night fetish.”