My first encounter with this twenty-four- year-old icon was a few years ago in Chennai, and I remember enjoying everything that I had there. Each item on the menu was cooked in its own distinct spices and style, and the food at Dakshin became the yardstick of authenticity for me. So when we visit Dakshin at the Sheraton Hotel in Saket, Delhi for lunch today, I am excited at the treat that lies ahead for me.
Unlike Chennai, the restaurant here is smaller and dimly lit, though the trademark southern interiors are all there. We are greeted by Chef Vel Murugan, the Asstt Master Chef of the hotel. As we are seated, I ask the chef what to expect today. “You are my guest at my home. I will serve you the kind of food that I would serve my guests – the very best”, is his quietly passionate reply.
The afternoon starts with the much expected and appreciated papad basket with four different chutneys, and chilled refreshing fresh coconut water (Rs 225). Soon we get the starters. Kuzhi paniyaram (Rs 175), the small dumplings that are made in Iyer kitchens are as good as they can get. The meen veruval (Rs 1000) from Tamilnadu disappoints though. While the seasoning is bang on, the choice of fish in deference to Delhi’s tastebuds is sole, which lacks the depth of the texture that is so needed as a counterpoint to the lovely marination of the fish. Also the fish is not crisp as meen veruval should be.
After a brief wait where I sample some pickles from their vast selection, the mains start arriving. Ghongura mamasam (Rs 1100) from coastal Andhra is nice, except that it is not fiery at all, unlike most dishes from coastal Andhra. Raal poruma kolli (Rs 1300) is a prawn dish from the Mudaliar community. It is cooked with vadakam, a mixture of onions, garlic and some spices, and fresh drumstick leaves. It is a fine tasting ‘peasant’ dish; truly what I have come to expect from Dakshin. Another dish that delights is pachakari varattiyathe (Rs 700), a hot and tangy Moplah vegetarian curry. The accompanying appam (Rs 175) and veechu parotta (Rs 250) are impeccable.
Moplah refers to the Malayalam speaking Muslim community in Kerala with Arab roots. The Moplah erachi biryani (Rs 950) is said to have been brought from Samarkhand by the traders and adapted to the local tastes. It is known for its use of coconut and for being much lighter, with a punch of pepper and the other Kerala spices. It is enjoyable, but somewhat lacking in the intensity of spices. In contrast, the Andhra kodi biryani (Rs 950) takes my breath away, literally. It is most deliciously pronounced in its heat factor, making the dish a passionate adventure.
Vathallappam (Rs 400) is the star from the desserts trolley. It is caramel custard made out of coconut milk and jaggery. It is simply awesome. It is lighter than the custard, with smoky undertones of the jaggery and the coconut milk lifting the taste to the stratosphere. The Badam halwa (Rs 400) is delicious too, but far too heavy for me to attempt a second spoonful. Filter coffee (Rs 200) in the end is perfect enough to transport me to Chennai.
Dakshin, Delhi lives up to the brand name. I have truly enjoyed the meal here. I just wish the restaurant could go beyond its one-taste-fits-all approach to some of its dishes and allow the diners to choose the fish and the spice levels in the food.
(Disclosure: This review was done at the invite of the restaurant)
Ratings (Out of 5)
Food: 3.5 | Ambiance: 3.5 | Service: 4.0 | Overall: 3.5
Meal for two: Rs. 2500| Alcohol: Yes | Credit Card: Yes | Timings: 12:30 PM to 2:45 PM, 7:30 PM to 11:30 PM
Address: Sheraton New Delhi Hotel, District Centre, Saket, New Delhi | Telephone: 011 24661122