The Short Version:
Great food, great ambiance, great service. Brilliant contemporary South Indian cuisine in a Madras Kitsch setting. 5 out of 5. If you haven’t been there yet, what are you waiting for?
The Long Version:
Put ‘Madras’ in the name of your restaurant, and you’re sure to attract us, if only to take a look-see! Vidya and I are big time South Indian food addicts – we took a four-day food break in Bengaluru just to check out the South Indian tiffin places! So it was no surprise that we were checking out Madras Cafe & Co. in Hyderabad before we had a chance to be influenced by any reviews.
I’m going to refer to Madras Cafe & Co. as MCC hereafter – kindly adjust.
We were four of us – Vidya, her parents and me. Given the company, we decided to go full-on veggie. We were greeted at the door by a hostess, who quickly seated us. A word on the decor – it’s Madras Kitsch on a scale I haven’t experienced before, and I loved every bit of it. The Athangudi tiles on the floor nicely complemented the colorful wooden chairs, some of them with woven backs, all of them upholstered with – wait for it – Madras checks! The walls were decorated with colorful paintings, reminiscent of the giant hand-painted movie posters on the erstwhile Mount Road. We sat down, and the kitsch continued – on the placemats, coasters and the menu.
After we settled down, drank some water and finished reading the entire menu, we asked for the two veggie soups on offer – the Annasi Pazha Rasam (a cold pineapple soup), and the Thakkali Podi Milagu Rasam (a thin peppery tomato soup). Both were served quite fancily on the table – a soup dish was placed before us, the sliced pineapple was placed on it, and the soup then poured ceremoniously into the dish. This was repeated for the other soup as well with tomato slices and coriander leaves. We felt very haute cuisine-y being served soup like that! All the drama aside, both were solid soups with a good bite of spice.
We paired the soup with a plate of Gun Podi Kayaguralu (deep-fried veggies tossed in a spice mix) and another of Urulai Veruval (fried potato slices in a dry red chilli powder dressing). The Gun Podi Kayaguralu was so delicious it was gone in a trice – we were licking our fingers and staring at an empty plate within seconds of the waiter’s back being turned. We proceeded with the Urulai Veruval at a much more sedate pace – not because it was any slouch in the taste department, but I had the brainwave of deciding within the first mouthful that it would make a brilliant accompaniment for that staple of South Indian cuisine – Daddojanam, or simply, curd rice.
So we forthwith ordered a plate each of Vangi Bhath (brinjal rice), Bisi Bele Bhath (a mixed rice-lentil preparation in spices) and Daddojanam – one does not simply order only Daddojanam. It has to be preceded by the appropriate rice dishes to prepare one’s stomach for its heavenliness. While waiting for the rice to arrive, we asked for and wolfed down a plate of Kosambari – that delicious salad that powered the magic of Kumble and Dravid, and is every Kannadiga’s comfort food. The uber-friendly supervisor who became our guardian and guide for our lunch made sure we were not left twiddling our thumbs by magically making some complimentary majjiga (spiced butter milk with sliced green chillies and coriander leaves) appear before us. Between the Kosambari and the Majjiga, we were fully occupied till the arrival of the rices.
Now, it is fairly easy to satisfy a Bisi Bele Bhath aficionado – just ensure it is properly spiced (properly balanced, with the slightest hint of heat), at the right temperature (hot enough to almost be scalding, yet not hot enough to scald), at the right consistency (not too solid, not too liquid, and definitely not pasty) and at the right time (before the hunger turns into anger!). MCC’s Bisi Bele Bhath managed to do all of the above and yet the Vangi Bhath (which usually plays a supporting role to various chutneys, podis and crunchies) stole the show by out-deliciousing the BBB. The brinjal was properly cooked soft, but did not disintegrate and disappear into the rice. The rice itself was soft without turning pasty, and the spicing was just right.
After the two rices, the Daddojanam played a fitting role – like your star bowler taking eight wickets for eight runs after your star batsmen had scored a century apiece. It was a perfect blend of rice and curd with a balanced tempering that added to the gentle goodness that curd rice is. Paired with the Urulai Veruval, it was simply perfect.
We finished with a couple of desserts – the Ela Kolukkattai (rice dumplings stuffed with coconut and jaggery steamed in a banana leaf) and the homemade coconut and jaggery ice cream. While both were good enough in their own right, together they really brought it home – like following up an IPL win with a Champion’s Trophy win. By this time we were in a food coma, and glad that we had a driver to drive us home.
The service was really outstanding – attentive without being obtrusive. Though some of the waiters are obviously new and learning, they are courteous and competent. The supervisor (whose name I unfortunately did not get) was quite nice – he kept asking us how we liked the food and told us about the different dishes. In combination with the ambience and the food, it has ensured that I will go back to try out the non-vegetarian food as well as the other desserts.
At the end of a really satisfying lunch experience, the bill was a princely Rs. 1856 – good value for money in my opinion.
I rate Madras Cafe & Co. a 5 on 5, and a must visit if you are in Hyderabad.
Address: 1st Floor, Phoenix Towers, Opposite Trident Hotel, Hitech City, Hyderabad
Phone: 040 69995333
Open for lunch and dinner
Meal for 2 costs around Rs. 1000