Delhi’s newest South Indian restaurant gets a lot of things right: the rasam, for example, was the best we’ve had in a long time. The sharp, hot broth — which didn’t stint on tamarind and asafoetida, unlike so many other places — was exactly what we needed on a cold, windy winter evening when we made our way to Padmanabham in Janpath. It was served to us with hot, crisp medu vadas, and as we gobbled down the whole thing, it seemed like the meal had got off to a great start.
And then came the chinna podi idlis (mini idlis served with molagapodi) and we encountered what turned out to be a recurring motif: a failing of the basics. The idlis themselves were perfect; in fact, outside of a South Indian home, it’s unlikely you’ll get idlis that so exquisitely balance softness with firmness. The let down was in the podi; this may seem counter-intuitive, but the best podis always have a gravelly mouth feel, a satisfying crunch that offsets the softness of an idli or set dosai. They are not ground down to a fine powder, like what we had at Padmanabham. But even if we set aside this matter of the right texture, we can’t ignore the fact that the podi coating the idlis at the restaurant was flavourless.
This should be especially troubling for Padmanabham because its neighbour is the redoubtable Saravana Bhavan, the restaurant which taught Delhi to appreciate such things as molagapodi. The latter has, off late, been heavily criticised — and rightly so — for a serious fall in standards of food and service, but some things it always gets right. One of these is its molagapodi. The other is the filter coffee, which, at Padmanabham, turned out to be the biggest disappointment. The weak, overly milky beverage we were served simply cannot compete with the cuppa that is served right next door. And we don’t even want to talk about the kesari bhath which tasted of nothing but sugar.
But, as stated right at the start of this review, Padmanabham does get lots of other things right, such as the potato masala in the Chettinadu masala dosai which, we must say, is unmatched even by Saravana Bhavan. The sambar is excellent, and the chutneys are fresh and explosive, as chutneys should be. The tahir saddam (curd rice) was soothing, as was the ghee pongal (although we wish they had both been served with appalams). We visited in the evening, so we were unable to have the bhojanam — thali-style meal — that is served for lunch every day, and which, depending on the day of the week, could be from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh or Karnataka. If we visit Padmanabham again, it will be for this, not necessarily the tiffin items.
Address: Padmanabham, 52, Janpath
Connaught Place, Delhi Price for 2: Rs 800
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