KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 27 — Travel makes for great adventures and for tales to regale loved ones with once we get home. The best stories, more often than not, are stories about what we ate and drank and discovered in strange lands.
Sometimes at the end of all our travels, what we discover aren’t the wonders of strange lands but those of our home and homeland.
This is the guiding principle behind Nadodi, a fine dining restaurant located a stone’s throw away from the Petronas Twin Towers that reinterprets the cuisine of three regions — Tamil Nadu, Kerala and northern Sri Lanka — with a delicate, modern-day sensibility.
Consider it the journey of a nomadic people from southern India, courtesy of the four founders of Nadodi.
All four are originally from that region and share fond memories of South Indian cuisine interspersed with the nascent years of their careers.
For them, these memories of favourite foods are part of what inspired Nadodi’s tagline — “Engaging Nomadic Cuisine” — as it describes their journey around the world and back due to their calling.
The driving force behind Nadodi is Brand Director S. Kartik Kumar, who comes from Pondicherry in Tamil Nadu.
Instrumental in setting up the founding team, he had a formal culinary education before working at luxury hotels in India.
Kartik recalls, “I’ve always wanted to work for luxury hotels — just by the size of them and the pride it instils in you. In the early days, late night meals were always chicken liver and ghee rice. After a 16-hour shift? That was bliss.”
Executive Chef Johnson Ebenezer (better known as Chef JE) is a Chennai boy with 17 years of experience working at luxury hotels, restaurants and cruises around the world.
This wide-ranging résumé has helped him “taste” the world, so to speak, and informed his sharp palate: “The plank salmon of Juneau Alaska, the curd rice and chickpeas of my culinary college, the ceviche on the shores of Cancun whilst the waves startle at my feet — these helped me understand world cuisine and cultures.”
Hailing from Mumbai, Operations Manager Akshar Chalwadi is an acclaimed mixologist, having been awarded India’s Most Promising Bartender by Bacardi Martini.
His entry into the food and beverage industry was inspired by “the flair associated with that which you can create in the eyes of the beholders.”
This could be something as simple and memorable as his grandmother’s cooking: “She’d get news I was coming home during spring break and cook kilos of adrasam (fermented lentil dessert) for me.”
For Chennai-born R&D (research and development) Chef Sricharan Venkatesh, who used to work at one of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants in Bangkok, keeping an eye on creativity produces that sense of “A-ha!” and wonder in diners.
He says, “The kitchen is where monotony is broken down. It’s a melting pot of ideas. Food can impart happiness and surprise. Speaking of happiness, I remember as a kid, I used to steal five rupees from my dad’s wallet, head to Sinora Bakery in Chennai and grab an egg puff, a local delicacy.”
Given this diverse range of experiences and influences, it comes as no surprise that the quartet has long wanted to showcase the foods of their people.
Traditional must-have ingredients include rice ( a staple food), lentils, tamarind, plantains and coconuts. Where chillies are concerned, red chillies tend to be in their dried form while green chillies are used fresh.
Kartik says, “South Indian food has always been neglected. Perhaps because it has always been a comfort food. This is the food of the nomad people, after all.
“It has sustained their tribes throughout the ages. Ingredients were more found than sourced and the practicality of ‘making do’ over-rode any thoughts of grandeur in their quest for survival.
“But at Nadodi, we want to be the pioneer in elevating this humble cuisine into stardom.”
The process behind the conceptualisation of each tasting menu — Nadodi is currently featuring a 15-course menu called The 15 Miles Journey, with a cocktail pairing option crafted by Akshar — has to be a careful balance of both old and new, according to Chef JE.
“Our artisanal creations make use of exclusively sourced ingredients and ‘specialty’ farmed produce — to earn a place at our table, and on your plate. We harness contemporary techniques to retrofit age-old recipes with modernity,” he says.
Take the dish called Spice Trade (also known as Malayali Trade), for example. What arrives wouldn’t look out of place at a French pâtisserie.
At first glance, it looks not unlike a copper-hued mille-feuille pastry with artfully placed dollops of cream. Take a bite and you’ll realise it’s a pittu (known locally as puttu) made from red rice, served with avial (a Keralite vegetarian dish) in purée form.
The wittily named What Came First turns out to be egg kalaki (a popular omelette cooked at roadside stalls in Chennai) in the form of a mousse, garnished with a single sliver of crispy chicken skin. Out of the Shell features Chettinad-style Hokkaido scallops with cilantro foam.
In a southern Indian twist, Nomad’s Globe utilises short grain rice instead of the typically used long grain variety for its country chicken biryani. Detox Liver sounds almost diet-friendly until you realise it’s a decadent spiced chicken liver powdered with raspberry dust.
In the The 15 Miles Journey menu, the highlight has to be the Monsoon Ritual course. It’s designed to be the one course during the meal when Chef JE can come out of the kitchen and engage with the diners.
He heats up the spiced tomato broth — made from three different types of tomatoes — in a siphon brewer (more commonly used for coffee) in order to infuse it with fresh herbs.
It’s quite a performance.
Once the broth is sufficiently flavoured, the chef removes the siphon brewer from the heat, allowing the infused liquid to flow down into the lower pot before pouring it into a bowl, designed by the founders and made by a local potter. One is advised to drink it like freshly whisked matcha, holding the bowl with both hands.
It’s quite an experience.
And it’s exactly this diner experience that the Nadodi team is after. For them, the most crucial element of running a successful restaurant is the ability to create good memories for the diners.
Akshar explains, “Our vision is to create an engaging dining experience — that is unique — whereby we leave an imprint on our diners that will define nostalgia for them in the future.” (This could well be the reason servers won’t reveal what goes into his No Name Cocktail. “It’s a mystery,” they’ll say.)
The Nadodi team has high ambitions for their fledgling restaurant. Sricharan says, “We believe in smaller goals to attain the pinnacle. First, we want to be recognized as the top restaurant in KL and then in Malaysia.”
Lofty aspirations indeed. But if their imaginative yet authentic tasting dishes are anything to judge by, Nadodi is well on its way already — and what a journey it’ll be!
Lot 183, 1st Floor, Jalan Mayang, Off Jalan Yap Kwan Seng, Kuala Lumpur
Open Mon-Sat: 1st service 6pm-6.30pm, 2nd service 7.30pm-8pm & final service 8.30pm-9.30pm. Sun closed.
Tel: 03-2181 4334