It is a wonderful view from up here and as always Chennai looks so special from anywhere high up. Pergola, at the Accord Metropolitan, our restaurant of choice for dinner, offers the most perfect 360-degree views of Chennai that make for a stunning backdrop to engaging conversations and delicious food. As we dine, fireworks light the sky at regular intervals, creating a magical skyline and reminding us that this is indeed the festival season.
My guests are Malavika Sarukkai, Prima Donna of Bharatanatyam and Anil Srinivasan the classical pianist, two people that I have the greatest admiration for and have always looked up to, for their dedication to their art. Interestingly they are both related to each other and I do have an old family friendship as my connection to them!
Dance to Malavika Sarukkai is an act of meditation, creating harmony and moments of reflection. Every time she performs, she recreates on stage an artist’s reality – of aesthetics, passion, harmony and sanctity. Over the years she has evolved a style that speaks in her voice and her choreography focuses on the essential, stripping away the decorative and superficial.
Although Anil was brought up in a very traditional South Indian atmosphere steeped in Carnatic music, he had studied Western classical piano since he was a child. He has performed at venues across the world, and effortlessly creates an aesthetic that’s unique by mixing Indian classical with Western classical styles. Interestingly, he works with schools in music education for children and has reached over ten thousand children across all strata of society.
What better way for me to reconnect with these two wonderful artistes than over a cozy dinner, with the city’s skyline for company? We are welcomed in by Chef Puneet Kumar Khanna and are seated at our table. I can see right away that privacy has been factored into the simple and chic layout of Pergola. Chef Puneet gives us a brief about the storied restaurant and how it has been turned into an enclosed space with outdoor areas as well, to give diners a choice.
Chef Puneet has had a career of over twelve years in the field and has worked extensively with several prominent hotels in India, and overseas. As the Executive Chef of the Accord Metropolitan, he has had the opportunity to charm diners with his cuisine, and has kept them coming back. Pergola’s menu is quite interesting and it does help that we can choose from Indian, Continental and Oriental as well. On this occasion, Malavika, Anil and I decide to trust Chef’s choices so we wouldn’t have to make decisions, and use the opportunity to sit back and enjoy the evening.
Our conversation ranges from dance and music, to its future in an increasingly commercial world. I have always been a great admirer of Malavika’s dance and tell her that after many of her performances, I have felt so strongly mesmerized that I would find it difficult to stand up. She blushes in embarrassment instantly when I add that I always thought that she looked like a Goddess on stage!
Celebrated pianist Anil Srinivasan speaks with passion about the work that he does with children and the incredible satisfaction that he derives from this. The two artistes are very vocal about how in the ancient texts of Natya Shastra, food was thought of as a creation that was as valuable as the performing arts and needed enormous sensitivity to produce it to perfection.
As our conversation intensifies, Chef Puneet sends out a selection of soups to us. Malavika and Anil choose the Tomato and Basil concoction that has indeed been cooked to perfection, as has my Manchow soup with its crispy noodles, which is always my first choice when I eat Oriental. We snack on the well-made Herbed Focaccia to go with the soups.
A selection of starters comes next with light, crispy wontons that are excellent; a Tandoori platter which offers a choice of mushrooms, broccoli and paneer, all grilled to perfection; and the last, which is also my favourite, nachos with a cheese sauce blended with olives, jalapenos, parsley and Monterey Jack cheese. Totally yummy! The Paani puri is charmingly served and comes in little shooter glasses with three flavoured liquids – lassi, tamarind and watermelon with ginger and a spicy mint. Great fun tasting these!
The bartender brings out a selection of vodka shooters that are fascinating, as they had all been marinated for forty days with olives, pickled garlic and just garlic, creating a fascinating array of sensations as the spirit slides down! I gamely down a shot, while my friends are content with simply taking in the aroma.
The main course is excellent – the Penne Pergola with a roasted bell pepper garlic sauce that has sundried tomatoes and jalapenos infused together, is quite the star of the evening. The dish comes with a choice of chicken and other meat variants. The Indian options are great too – the Nawabi Sabziyon Ka Bahar has nine vegetables cooked in a cashewnut gravy and garnished with almonds and sultanas while the Paneer Tikka Lababdar is tossed in a traditional makhani gravy and is very easy on the palate. The Zaikedar Prawns, Sage Chicken, the Parda Biryani with both chicken and mutton variants, a platter of meat selections and the Tandoori Pomfret are all available.
Although the ubiquitous choice in Oriental dishes, I must admit that the fried rice served with baby corn and mushroom in Szechwan sauce is well-made and very flavourful.
By now, the three of us are totally relaxed and completely engrossed in enjoying the experience. Anil says that he is having so much fun that that he would actually like to go with me on all my food-tasting forays! Chef Puneet then sends in the three desserts. It is difficult to say which is the best, as each seeks to outdo the other in flavour, presentation and taste.
The Black Out Cake set on a sizzling platter served with ice cream is my first choice. I do have a pronounced weakness for dark chocolate cake and find it irresistible. The Sticky Date and Walnut Pudding, topped with butterscotch ice cream is super too, as is the Pannacotta made with lemon grass. The Mithai Medley, Chef Puneet’s innovation may want one to taste it, and then die instantly of guilt! It has mini rasgullas, topped with Rabdi, topped with Raj Bhoj Carpaccio and to top it all off, Sohn Papdi! That was a mouthful and it is impossible not to be consumed with guilt after polishing it all off!
Our visit to Pergola made for a totally wonderful evening, with the company, the wonderful food and the restaurant itself, all blending together to create a perfect experience.