When it comes to Chennai, good food and hospitability go hand in hand. From unstinting portions of meals served at weddings till the diner says enough, to the mess tradition where people were served sumptuous tiffin and meals for a meager amount, food reflected generosity and affection. In a time when fine dining and fast food culture is spreading like fire in the city, these longstanding restaurants remind us of Madras and its food culture back in the day where money was secondary to both quality and quantity and the only priority was the customer, perhaps why they still continue to rule the roost.
Best of Biryani
Buhari Hotel was started back in 1951 and is still known for its rendition of the much beloved Biryani – the credit of the dish becoming famous among the locals of Madras goes to Buhari Hotel. Biryani served in Buhari is distinctly different from the Ambur or the Hyderabadi styles considering the taste was tweaked to suit the Madras palate. Also, unlike how the Biryanis used to be served on banana leaves at Muslim weddings, Buhari used to serve it in the conventional restaurant format. One of the signature practices at Buhari is how they placed a boiled egg atop a mutton or chicken biryani back in the day and the custom is still followed. In the 80’s, anybody who would visit Madras on a holiday or for work would be asked ‘did you have the Biryani from Buhari?’. Chicken 65, the ever famous bar snack and side dish is supposed to have been invented at Buhari by its founder A.M.Buhari, a pioneer in the South Indian food industry.
‘Samco’ is a rather unique name; most visitors to the restaurant presume that it has anglicized origins. Nothing could be further from the truth. Samco was the brainchild of three friends – Soopy, Aboobacker and Mohammed. That’s right – the first letters of each of their names was used to form ‘SAM & Co’, back in 1962. Though the restaurant had humble beginnings, starting out as not much more than a small tea kadai (tea shop), has since been revamped twice, each new avatar fancier than the other but in essence, its menu offerings remain the same. The addition of Indo-Chinese dishes to the menu hasn’t taken the focus away from the real crowd pullers – the delectable biriyani dishes and the savoury parathas, payas and Malabar style curries. This is the place where film producers and directors would discuss their scripts and where auto drivers would silently talk to their parotas – the eternal love affair iconic star Kamal Hassan has with Samco dates back to its days of inception.
In the 50’s, Triplicane had a fair share of some of the best cafes in the city. People would take a stroll on streets in the evening, have a plate of cushiony idlis bathed in sambar along with a cup of steaming filter coffee. One such institution that attracted heavy crowds from all over the city was Ratna Café. Situated on Triplicane High Road, at its junction with the Pycrofts Road, the café is known for its delicious breakfast menu. The place has been around for 6 decades now and a visit to Sri Parthasarathy Swamy temple was never complete without a cup of coffee from Ratna Café. Triplicane being a home to many bachelors, Ratna Café was haunted by young men who wanted to taste food that reminded them of their homes. The success behind Ratna Café is none other than the fact that all customers were treated equally and VIP treatment is not something of importance to this legendary eatery.
Liu’s Waldorf is a Chennai-chinese institution. Nestled between Ramco Systems, a huge block of residential apartments and the IIT Madras campus, it’s easy to overlook Waldorf. Its unassuming exterior is a relic of times past, when enthusiastic IIT-ians made it almost exclusively theirs. With its small car park, and cosy, typical pseudo-oriental decor, it’s easy to underestimate Liu’s. After all, there are plenty of run of the mill options in Chennai, thriving on the hungry enthusiasm of the masses. But unlike the Noodle bars of today, Waldorf is a slice of history. Some of the customers have been eating there for over 25 years, savoring their big bowls of fried rice, noodles and soups.
For many, the New Woodlands Hotel holds fond memories; at one time it was one of the finest vegetarian dining experiences in the city. From idlis and dosas to cauliflower Manchurian and naan, New Woodlands Hotel has come a long way from the days of the tiffin carrier meal. Between the corporate executives who litter the booths, tucking in to their vegetarian thalis with gusto and the elderly couples revelling in good dosais that they didn’t have to make themselves – it’s clear that though nostalgia has its place, this is hub of today as well. From their legendary channa baturas to their beloved cassata ice cream, New Woodlands Hotel is a great walk down memory lane, especially since the hotel is well maintained and service prompt.
Gazing upon Grandeur
Taj is a brand that has long been associated with luxury. The Taj Group owns some of the finest hotels in the country and in Chennai, and Vivanta by Taj-Connemara is the widely known as the oldest and one of the most famous hotels in the city. Located in the heart of Chennai’s business district, the Connemara is flanked by Spencer’s Plaza, another commercial hub which houses a multitude of stores. Also in the locality are Ethiraj College for Women, the Rani Meyammai Hall and Taj Mount Road – cementing the Connemara’s USP as one of the best located hotels in Chennai. The Taj-Connemara has now been closed for renovation and we hope they retain the same old world charm that the place has.
House of Bread and Cakes
Among an array of bakeries that began its venture in the 40’s is the famous Bosotto Bros Bakery which was in the heart of Mount Road in the Thousand Lights area. The bakery was well known for its Japonaise cakes filled with butter ice cream and traditional plum cakes. During Kamaraj’s reign as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Queen Elizabeth paid a visit to Madras and on hearing that it was Prince Andrew’s first birthday, the CM called ordered a birthday cake from Bosotto Bros. A vintage picture of the Queen cutting the cake in the presence of former CM Kamaraj adorned the wall of the bakery. The place was knocked down for the Metro rail construction, but that did not stop us from mentioning them. Bosotto Bros has given so many fond childhood memories for the 80’s and 90’s generation.