As a die-hard francophone, I can safely say that I am slightly biased towards all things French. Fashion, fragrances, art, wine and, in most cases, the food. When I was invited by the ITC Grand Maratha in Mumbai to sample the latest menu at their restaurant Dakshin Coastal, I couldn’t have been happier. I have always maintained that the ITC Group is far ahead of all the other Indian luxury hotel chains in terms of their Indian food offerings. I was then told that I would be sampling the new Franco-Pondicherry menu. Fascinating and exotic as it sounded, the history behind this cuisine is rich and goes back many centuries. The tiny region of Pondicherry was colonised by the French for a long time and hence, even today, traces of France and French culinary traditions are visible in Pondicherry. It is interesting to think about how the Pondicherry locals and the French colonisers, were required to adapt traditional Tamil food to the European palates. Using local ingredients, changing textures and more… it must have been difficult, but the results today are wonderful. And this is what I experienced.
So how does Franco-Pondy food measure up against regular Tamilian fare? Well, for starters, the textures and flavours are far less robust. The thick gravies that we know so well are considerably thinner, like the French sauces. Even the style of cooking, I’m told, is slow and elaborate. The spices are far more discreet — the masalas do not overwhelm.
This was accompanied by deep fried potato wadas, which were also good. The masala coated fried prawns were exquisite. All this set the tone for a wonderful meal that was to follow.
Dakshin Coastal wins on all fronts — service, hospitality, décor and, of course, food. In my eyes, the ITC group retails its top spot as India’s F & B leader.
At a personal level, I enjoyed every morsel of my meal. But I have to say that my taste buds still tend to veer towards the more robust, spicy, fire hot flavours of traditional Tamil, Chettinad or Kerala fare. That being said, this tempered down version of traditional Indian food is bound to find takers among foreigners who enjoy Indian food but don’t necessarily appreciate its pungency.