South Indian & Sri Lankan Fine Dining: Nadodi KL Meets Demands Despite Mounting Pressure
"Eat or be eaten." Nowhere is this more evident than in the world of gastronomy. Today you're on top of the world after an unthinkable night of uninterrupted sleep, tomorrow sees you cowered in foetal position—a fallout from a particularly searing Google review; the griddle isn't the only place where a chef can get burned.
Though nothing novel, it's still worth noting: mixology is taking precedence over oenology at a handful of restaurants; Singapore's Tippling Club is a fine example while Beta KL did a commendable job under Rusho Hassan's rule. Likewise, Nadodi offers a Liquid Degustation in addition to a wine pairing. We'd encourage even the most committed of wine drinkers to eschew fermented grape juice just this once; permit Akshar Chalwadi to guide you through his realm.
I’m very much inspired by food.
An ex-pastry chef, Akshar (also Nadodi's operations manager) takes sole responsibility for what he dubs 'Stirred Fascination.' The nameless cocktails fall into 5 categories: 1) Long 2) Dry 3) Meat 4) Sour 5) The End. These are cocktails we could savour for hours while chewing the fat with friends.
Wagyu trimmings generously gifted by Kikubari (because that's what friends are for) are a key ingredient in one of the vodka-based cocktails, which happens to be the writer's favourite. Perfumed with a spritz of vinegar, the beverage carries accents of rosemary, burnt garlic, peppercorns, and most delicious of all, the gratifying flavour of bovine fat. Also request the off-menu libation that is truffle-washed gin, sweet basil and egg white; the citrusy cocktail is what every limau ais aspires to be when it grows up. If all goes well, the coffee-infused Pernod will act as your nightcap. Coffee grains imported from India make for an authentic 'Nadodi brew.' Think of it as a salted caramel latte on steroids.
A Tirade On Malaysian Timing
Eating out in Malaysia, a wonderful experience where variety is concerned, can be tarnished by shoddy service, clueless waiters, unappetising temperatures, and bad timing that leaves one fuming. But organisation is the least of Nadodi's worries with Sricharan Venkatesh steering the ship.
During a non-work-related dinner with Sricharan and his sweetheart, I was in stitches as she described a scene at a house party. Picture fast friends huddled over their PlayStation consoles, try not to mess up in Overcooked, a cooking simulation game. Unsurprisingly, everyone burned down their kitchens save for Nadodi's head chef.
His tidiness and sense of order is reflected in our first bites of the evening: the Trio, which takes you on a trek from Tamil Nadu to Sri Lanka with a layover in Kerala, encompasses light eats that are almost evanescent, easing your appetite into slow wakefulness.
With the denser Duo, Sricharan takes two Indian snacks—one from Tamil Nadu, the other from Kerala—and turns them into something else with faint semblance. Served with smoked scarmoza, an Italian cheese more limber than my yoga instructor, the chicken kheema paniyaram bears semblance to arancini. Similarly, the masala kappa could be likened to a spicy tater tot. I realise this is like saying, "Grandfather has my cheekbones," even though it was his frame first. A humbling experience through and through, a meal at Nadodi will do that to you — grapple with your limited vocabulary, dig into the recesses of your memory, and if all else fails, simply give in to reverie.
The Artsy Adolescent
Sricharan doesn't just know whereof he comes from; he makes us love it too. Tapping into the universal emotion that is nostalgia, Bakery Memories serves as a time machine that takes the customer back to childhood — only it's not ours. The breakfast tray presents a bilateral view of the chef as an adolescent and a full-grown artist, bringing a quote by Guru Nanak to mind:
The truth is, the Creator is contained in the creation.
Introverted but intelligent beyond his years, the twenty-seven-year-old composed a bit of prose to accompany the hot egg puff, a thimbleful of calamansi soda, and 'ketchup' made from rasam.
Making up most of the mains are ocean bounty.
Because noodles are virtually non-existent in Indian cuisine (the closest thing would be idiyappam, putu mayam or string hoppers), I am most looking forward to the Lobster Ribbons spun out of 100% lobster flesh (save for some in-house stabilisers). But the flourless tagliatelle flounders beneath a stream of pumpkin sauce. When one has lobster, one should taste lobster.
Au contraire, the red snapper boasts a nice acidity while producing a strange numbing sensation. Puliogare is to South India as otak-otak is to Johor — a staple and a speciality but not 'luxurious' per se. "This is a meal that was packed in brass carriers back in the day," explains Sricharan. “We've infused the barley with tamarind to transmit some umami qualities."
A play on Jaffna-style crab curry, the Nadodi Globe reawakens my desire to dine at Ministry of Crab in Sri Lanka. A lush wad of alabaster meat is the star while Kerala Matta rice, keerai sambol and a sago cracker assume supporting roles. Just because this is fine dining, don’t expect them to tone down the spices.
Prior to this, the tastiest lamb I'd ever eaten was at Gaggan. That is, until I had Nadodi's Pickled Chops. Who knew a dish could make your mouth pucker in the act of masticating? It's a bit like sneezing with your eyes open or applying mascara with your mouth closed.
The Ibérico lamb is one of those dishes that induces a temporary state of lunacy, and it’s only once we’ve finished mopping up every last drop of lamb jus that it occurs to us we’re in a room full of civilised people, executive chef included.
"As you may know..." begins Sri hesitantly, a little disturbed by this carnal side of us he's disentombed. "India is famous for pickles, especially mango pickles."
I respond by way of another fun fact: "Did you know that the idiom 'Holy cow' rose out of Hinduism's reverence for cattle?" Thank Kamadhenu for that, as chefs in India have had to direct their prowess to lamb protein!
Striking while the iron is hot, Nadodi is scheduled to unveil its latest menu at the end of April 2019. "The menu will once again be filled with memories and stories," promises Sricharan, who has never once shirked his duty of conveying culture and evoking emotion through food.
Regular 11-course tasting menu: RM490+
Vegetarian 11-course tasting menu: RM450+
Liquid degustation: RM260+
Wine pairing: RM280+