Finding Neverland

“Have you placed your water order yet?” Water? When did Chennai get so la-di-dah?

Though, to be perfectly honest, ‘On The Rocks,’ the swish new restaurant at the Park Sheraton, is really a world away from everyday Chennai.

Which is nice — after all everyone needs their Neverland.

Clearly, for some, designer water is where it all begins. Throwing caution to the winds, we ask for the water list. After all you only live once, right? And what could be more deliciously reckless than a wild night of water?

Matt, wine-turned-water sommelier at On The Rocks continues, “Well, we have Perrier.” (But of course.) “Evian.” (Which will go delightfully with the fish, no doubt.) “Qua and Himalaya.” Matt pauses dramatically. There’s a reverent hushed silence as we make our choice. After much agonizing soul-searching we pick ‘Regular’ – a cheeky little number that’s delightfully down-to-earth. The French call it Eau-de-Tap. Okay, not really. But they could. It would look so grand on a glossy menu.

On The Rocks is so terribly posh it’s dangerously close to being intimidating. Set in what was once the well-loved, boisterously-swingy, perpetually-packed Gastby disco, and then the much less memorable Provogue Lounge, this restaurant manages to completely reinvent this space, much to it’s designer’s credit. The look is now sophisticated, cosmopolitan and – most admirably – fresh.

With discreet lighting, well-spaced seating and a small but classy wine library, On The Rocks rises a couple of notches above mere swish, by Chennai standards. The suave staff speak in those hushed tones peculiar to cathedrals. The food is beautifully styled, and arrives with appropriate fanfare. Matt, who turns out to be a perfectly friendly Aussie bloke, is on hand to help you pick your wines. He matches our starters with a lush Margaret river cabernet sauvignon. It all feels very ‘Lifestyles of the rich and famous.’

There’s plenty of culinary drama, thanks to Chef Nikhil Nagpal, who tirelessly styles every dish to degrees that would make Victoria Beckham insecure. The food is almost bewilderingly exotic, gathered from all over the world.

We try creamy baked camembert, sweetened with a rich honey reduction and twanging with the gorgeous flavour of roasted garlic. Chef Nagpal’s strength is his decisive pairing of unexpected ingredients, which works best with simple dishes. So the white chocolate squares crusted with rosemary and pepper, and served with paprika cheese are spectacular. But the fussy grilled zucchini muffins with herbed cheese, kalamata olives and English cucumber result in a confusion of textures.

The highlight here are the rocks: Australian lava stones heated to about 400º and then set on your table. Remember meat generally cooks at about 280ºC, so this is seriously hot. This is where the magic begins. The chefs pop raw meat on the stone, and you watch it cook in an astonishing matter of minutes. A prime tenderloin, for instance, begins changing colour in a matter of seconds, is done in six minutes and well done in eight. The meat, sourced from Brazil, is excellent and cooks with nothing more than a thin dusting of salt to prevent it from sticking to the stone. It comes with fancy marinades, ranging from an orange ginger sauce to a Wasabi demi glaze, but really tastes the best plain.

Our meal ends with a pretty almond clafoutis with marinated baked plums, a crunchy crumble and maple cream. There’s also the intensely sweet Vidal ice wine, made from frozen grapes by the Niagra.

The menu changes every two weeks, so be prepared to experiment.

This restaurant will work for you if you like flamboyant culinary capers, daring pairing and unabashed luxury.

It does however teeter on the verge of becoming a refuge for the snooty and jaded with it’s rarified atmosphere, which borders on cold.

Perhaps if they added our local water packets to their Eau De Menu? Hmmm… Don’t hold your breath…

On The Rocks costs about Rs 2000 per head, not including alcohol. Call 24994101 for reservations.

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2 responses to “Finding Neverland

  1. Jam

    Holy smokes, that restaurant review literally made my mouth water. For those few minutes, I could almost see the ambience, decor, food, and actually smell the sizzling meat from those Australian Lava Stones.

    Awesome review, makes me wanna come to Chennai right away just to catch a meal at this particular place.

    Cheers………Jam

  2. shocase

    Thanks Jam. It was pretty yum… Though I actually flipped for the melty honey-Camembert. Made a mental note to try it at home… of course that never happened! :o)

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