These unforgettable words of the suave and sophisticated Humphrey Bogart as Rick in the film ‘Casablanca’ echo in my ears every time I enter a restaurant that showcases Moroccan food. The elegant and beautiful Ingrid Bergman and Rick telling her the iconic words, “Here’s looking at you, kid” make you want to immediately go to Casablanca and hunt down Rick and his café! But today we are at Azulia in the GRT Grand Hotel and are here to enjoy the Moroccan food being presented to us by Chef Abiram. My guests the elegant Preeti Garg and young Antara Tulsiyan of Gallery Veda and I are looking forward to dinner, as we all love the food of this region.
The GRT Grand Hotel is in the heart of the city and does epitomize luxury with the quintessential South Indian hospitality as their creed. Azulia promises the diner a Mediterranean experience, serving food from ten countries of the region, set in three continents – Asia, Europe and Africa. Quite surprisingly, the cuisine of this region does have plenty of choices for vegetarians as well. Chef Abiram’s career has taken him around the world before returning with a wealth of experience to his roots in India. With his passion for Mediterranean cuisine, Chef Abiram always gives the discerning diner a great experience.
Preeti Garg and Antara Tulsiyan are both involved in the burgeoning art scene of our city, having started Gallery Veda in Chennai. Preeti’s interest in art developed into a fascination and this led to the launch of the gallery. Their intention is to make art more inclusive, and not as intimidating as it is sometimes perceived and they have launched two more galleries in Chennai. She feels that there is a lot more work to be done and so much more to achieve. Antara Tulsyan’s college background in sculpture from the Bryn Mawr College in the US, gave her a strong grounding in art, as did her family’s passion for art. Having grown up under the influence of an avid collector in her father, Antara has found the perfect space in Gallery Veda to indulge her passion and sensibilities.
As we chat casually, Chef Abiram gets us seated and we are ready to go. Our first course is a simply outstanding soup, made of roasted pumpkin and carrots flavoured with ginger; it is creamy and delicious, as is the thyme-scented chicken with onion soup. The “Nice Little House Salad” was just perfect; lettuce leaves with strawberry and avocado, tossed in a Pommery orange and mustard dressing. The cold mezze platters in both the vegetarian as well as the meat version are excellent. Accompanied with warm pita bread, there is the Hummus Azulia, with the dual flavours of hummus with basil and roasted bell peppers, Moutabal, which is char-smoked aubergine with garlic and lemon and the Muhammara which is an interesting blend of five exotic nuts and spices. The hot Mezzes comprise a Falafel, the Bourak Bel Jibneh made of Halloumi, feta, Gruyere onions and herbs. There is a Fatayar, a puff pastry filled with spinach and pomegranate, Jawaneh which is marinated chicken wings cooked with garlic, lemon and coriander, a Bourakia which is spit-roasted minced lamb and the sautéed king prawns, all of which both my guests and I love and appreciate.
The mezze platters are so filling that it already seems like we have reached the limit; yet, there is more to come. Thankfully, the mango sorbet helps clear our palate and prepares our senses for the next course. Antara, Preeti and I begin to slow down, as the Pizza slices called Manakish, an interesting flat bread topped with tomatoes, scallions, mint and olives, arrive. We sample just a slice each, to reserve space for the mains!
Antara gets a wonderful platter of giant prawns, which have been marinated and served with a vegetable and tomato stew and served with vivid cous cous. They say that the proof of the pudding is in the eating and this time it is the prawns! Antara exclaims that she loves the dish and manages to finish it. Preeti and I share the two vegetarian mains; the Yaket Bel Khodar, which is the artichokes served with carrot, potato and peas in a flavoured white sauce and the Morroccan Falafel Tagine, served in a tomato sauce accompanied with cous cous, always a favourite with me. We both enjoy tasting the two dishes, which are so uniquely flavored and individualistic.
The dessert is the all-time classic Baklava, a Turkish-style Phillo pastry layered with mixed nuts and topped with honey and perfumed rose water. Mindful of our waistlines, we opt to share one portion. The dish gets a big thumbs-up from us, on all counts of taste and flavour. We discuss the excellent presentation of the food and can’t help but love the quirky, stylish china that everything has been served on. A super evening sharing cuisine that all three of us love! Preeti, Antara and I agree that Azulia presents a food experience that gets a five star rating in all the areas!