Being a south Indian, it is important to me that Joash has a fair idea of south Indian cuisine. I have never forced him to like it, but he loves idlis and dosas. He has been brought up in an Anglo Indian family, the flavours that he is used to are mild and simple, unlike the ones that I’ve been brought up with, which are robust and spicy. I am constantly trying to introduce him to authentic Indian food and when we got invited to the Andhra Food Festival by JW Marriott – Juhu, I was excited as this was new to me as well.
JW Marriott had organized a media table for us at Saffron where the Andhra Food Festival was held. Chef Naidu was flown down from JW Hyderabad to share his expertise and showcase the flavours of Seemandra. He had a very authentic selection of dishes lined up for us. Interestingly, Andhra has a lot of meat and seafood dishes that are spicy and tangy. Accompaniments form an integral part of a typical Andhra fare.
We were welcomed with Coconut water that had fresh mint. It was thoroughly refreshing. Soon, the waiters got us the first course. Andhra Fried Fish, it was spicy and tasty. There were four chutneys (Tomato, Curry Leaf, Tamarind and Peanut, and Ginger) that were served which went really well with it. I loved the Tomato Chutney,and Joash preferred the Curry Leaf one.
We were then served the Masala Gaare (Lentil and Onion Fritters), Nellore Vada (Lentil Dumplings) and Aratipandu Uttappam (Chef Naidu’s Signature Banana Pancakes).
The Masala Gaare was like a Dal Vada but was pretty dry. Not very impressed. The Nellore Vada was very similar to a Medu Vada. It was crunchy and tasty. We loved pairing it with the different chutney combinations. The Banana Pancakes were the star of the evening and we were completely mesmerized with it. It took me back to my childhood days. I used to love gorging on to banana fritters that my mum used to make, and these surely brought back those fond memories. Joash loved it too. It was really interesting how these sweet pancakes tasted great with the savoury chutneys. We actually asked for a second helping. I really liked the pancakes, and ended making my own version a few days later. 🙂
We were then served the Kodi Vepudu (Wok Tossed Spicy Chicken) and Venchina Mamsam (Lamb Cubes broiled with Roasted Spices and Onion)
The Kodi Vepudu was, as the name suggests, spicy, with green chillies and a whole lot of curry leaves. I loved it but Joash found it a bit too spicy for his palate. The lamb dish was something that we had never tasted before. It was OK. We both found the meat far too tough.
For the main course we were served the Andhra Vegetable Kurma (vegetables cooked in cashew and coconut gravy) and the Bangaladumpa Jeedipappu Fry (Pan Tossed Potatoes.)Both these were not very impressive. They were served with steaming hot dosas. The Dosas were light and fluffy. We also tried the Guntur Kodi Koora (Spicy Chicken Curry) and the Mamsam Pulusu (Lamb Cooked in a Broth.) I personally loved the Guntur Kodi Koora because I love Guntur Chillies. These chillies are predominantly used in Andhra cooking, they are really spicy, and they add a lovely red color to the dish. Soon the Pulihora – Tamarind Rice was served, we didn’t like it as we found it too acidic. The Kodi Pulav (Chicken with flavored Basmati) was good, it was mild but again, not impressive. The Mullakada Ullipayalu Sambar was different compared to the usual Sambar that we have tasted before. The fact is that every region in South India has its own kind of Sambar, Shallot and Drumstick is mainly used in the Sambar made in Andhra Pradesh. We prefer the Tamil Nadu version any day.
Dessert, we all were expecting something different. I expected a medley of desserts that showcased the lovely variety that Andhra cuisine has. I was dreaming about Double-ka-meetha or Qubani-ka-meetha, Badam-ki-jhab or even the authentic laddus or Pootha Rekulu, which are really thin rice sheets with ghee and sugar. But we were served a very boring Semiya Saggu Biyyam Payasam (Vermicelli and Sago cooked in Milk). It was below average and something that I would never expect on a tasting menu.
The overall experience was new. The food served was moderately tasty and they did showcase the flavours of Andhra cuisine, but there was nothing that gave us a reason to go back for more. The highlight of the evening was the Banana Pancake, which was yummy. We would’ve absolutely loved it if the whole idea of the Andhra Food Festival was packaged in a better way. It could be a great experience for people who enjoy Andhra Cuisine, but there was nothing that would really appeal to someone who doesn’t know about this cuisine. It really missed any sort of ‘wow factor’. Had the dishes been served or presented differently, it would’ve really made an impact. The service was super fast after the first course, we were overwhelmed with dishes being served one after the other, and we literally had to eat quickly to make some space on our plates. There were 6 dishes for the main course, served with Dosas and a bowl of Sambar. It was impossible to accommodate everything on one plate and it was just a very rushed experience for us. I expect the servers to know when one needs a change of plates, it only adds to the experience.
Having said that, I don’t want to dismiss the fact that Chef Naidu was spot on in terms of the flavours and the authenticity of the dishes, but it wasn’t a meal that would make us want to go back for more. The dishes lacked appeal and any sort of flair that one would expect from a restaurant at JW Marriott.