Contemporary South Indian restaurant Nadodi has all the makings of Southeast Asia’s next ‘It’ restaurant.
It used to be that going to a fine dining Indian restaurant meant tucking in to North Indian staples like naans and tandoori chicken. When Gaggan burst into the scene, that notion was redefined to include modernist elements. Think yoghurt explosions and fish tikka that resembles a lump of charcoal.
But there’s a new contender in a city not so far away. Enter Nadodi – an avant garde South Indian restaurant in Kuala Lumpur opened by F&B folks whose CVs gleam with positions at ITC hotels, and notably, Gaggan itself.
Here South Indian staples are catapulted into haute, modernist territory. This is arguably the first time the world has seen such a combination, for not only is the number of proper fine dining South Indian restaurants lacking (the cuisine has always been seen as humble) but attempts at modernising Indian cuisine has always focused on the offerings of the north.
For this reason, most of South Indian food is still a mystery for many of us who aren’t brought up in that culture. Sure we know our thosais, our idlis and our vadais but few would be as familiar with the likes of rassam, payyassam and sodhi.
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This is something that the restaurant is more than well aware of. The menus are presented as 10, 13 and 15 mile journeys where each course is painstakingly explained by the staff. It’s meant to symbolise the journey crossing three of India’s southern regions: Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Sri Lanka. In fact, the name Nadodi itself means nomadic in Tamil and Malayalam – meant to reference to the migratory nature of food, culture and the South Indian diaspora at large.
One of the first dishes that made an impact was cheekily named, ‘What came first the chicken or the egg?’
Here, egg kalakki – Indian style soft scrambled egg is served in an eggshell with crispy chicken skin that’s been roasted, coated in the spices that would make up the chicken 65 recipe (it’s a spicy fried chicken snack invented in Chennai) then dehydrated to a crisp.
Another is the ‘Tales of Musa’ – where musa is the botanical name of the banana variety. This dish is the lovechild of two ideas: of nose to tail dining where no part of an animal is wasted and of having one ingredient – usually a vegetable – and interpreting it in multiple ways.
Except at Nadodi, it is not some avant garde idea but one drawn from a rich culinary tradition of eating the entire banana tree. After all, banana trees fruit only once and putting all that energy to harvest just the fruit would be a waste of nature’s bounty. Here, the stem is mashed with lentils much like the common Tamil household dish named kootu, the plantain is blanched and stir fried with chillies and shallots while the white flower petals are sauteed with curry leaves.
Other botanical-leaning dishes that stand out is the ‘Monsoon ritual’ or a rasam made from three types of tomatoes grown in the farms of Genting Highlands: heirloom for the tanginess, momotaro for the taste and wine for the colour.
“There’s no water in here, it’s all tomatoes so this is pure umami,” says chef de cuisine Sricharan Venkatesh, who also leads the restaurant in R&D as he places the siphon filled rasam on the table.
He proceeds to turn on the burner, which increases pressure, and the soup in all its orange-crimson glory shoots up to the upper chamber to infuse with sprigs of coriander, curry leaves and peppercorns. There is more than just theatre to this technique; these herbs are best infused at the very end as the flavours tend to dissipate if introduced too early into the cook.
The meat-dishes are just as good but it seems to be the plant-based elements that takes the food to the next level. Take for instance the ‘hook’ course – the barramundi sitting on a sauce of mango and fennel is unmistakeably fresh and perfectly seared but it is the addition of watercress and a sliver of torch ginger flower that elevated the entire dish with its herbaceous flavour.
These ingredients are procured locally as they’re easily available – so available in fact that the restaurant is proud of the fact that doesn’t own a freezer.
One critique? The prawn that’s been sous vide and then seared on a pan veered on the tough side. Still, one could argue that there is a cultural difference in the way these proteins are enjoyed as they tend to be preferred well-done in Indian restaurants.
This freshness is also seen in the restaurant’s piece de resistance, the iddiyappam with lobster truffle sodhi. Iddiyappam is what many Singaporeans and Malaysians might know as puttu mayam and the popular way of having it this side of the world is with red sugar and shredded coconut.
Here, it is served in a magnificent piece of crockery that takes the shape of a gold orb that’s made of three parts. The first compartment contained two types of sambol; coconut with red chillies as well as spiced potatoes with crispy onions, the second was the iddiyappam itself and the third held the sodhi – a luscious thick stew of coconut milk in a glorious yellow hue from the turmeric, topped with truffles and some truffle oil.
Digging in the sodhi brought fourth a generous portion of lobster poached till just right; tender yet still had a bite. The natural sweetness of the lobster contrasted beautifully with the savouriness of the sodhi. Pour a little bit of this over the iddiyappam, add the crunch of the crispy onions and you get an incredible mix of flavours and textures on the palate.
The wonders at Nadodi don’t start and stop at the food. Like many restaurants making a name for itself in recent days, the team has been working with a local Malaysian potter (only known as Cindy) to customise their crockery.
If your budget also permits, go for the cocktail pairing and you won’t leave disappointed. The 15 course menu comes with nine cocktails that are as innovative as the food. One particular creation sees barman Akshar Chalwadi placing vodka in pani puri – a puffed crispy dough ball that otherwise holds a tangy soup.
Another is the hot and cold cocktail where gin and lime is served like a latte. The bottom half is cold and the top half is shaken through a syphon and oozes out as a warm mousse.
If a fine dining South Indian restaurant is a rarity in itself, a contemporary one like Nadodi is a gem. And boy, is it polished. Had this restaurant opened in one of the dining capitals of Asia, the press and hungry gourmands would’ve swarmed over it like bees to honey. Has Kuala Lumpur arrived? There aren’t enough restaurants yet to rival the likes of Singapore and Bangkok but we dare say the city is on its way. Tell everyone.
Nadodi is at Lot 183, Jalan Mayang, Kuala Lumpur. Entrance is by the lift at the back. The 15 course menu is priced at RM440++ and cocktail pairing is an additional RM280++.