By Venkatachari Jagannathan
Chennai: It’s perhaps the only “fish bazaar” with a swimming pool located on the 14th level of a star hotel here and opens only at 7.30 p.m!
Welcome to the 68-cover Above the Sea Level resto-bar at the Raintree Hotel on St.Mary’s Road where the “Fish Bazaar” seafood festival Jan 24-Feb 3 is being hosted.
“The concept is simple. Guests can choose from the range of day’s seafood catch including live ones. The items will be weighed and would be cooked as per the guests’ choice of marination and cooking style – grilled, poached, steamed or tandoored,” chef R. Jai Shankar told IANS.
The dishes are served with a choice of accompaniments like olive grilled vegetables, spicy potato wedges or garlic mashed potatoes.
And guests can enjoy the starry skies and breeze and speculate on the names of the other tall structures visible on the skyline while eating their food.
The day’s catch of seafood ranges from lady fish, ribha fish, iraal, pomfret, emperor, tuna, grouper, pearl spot, cuttle fish, parrot fish, rock/sand lobsters to octopus, oysters, live mud crabs, king prawns and sardines, among others.
Live iraal, lobsters and other fish are kept in a large glass tank for guests to choose from.
Setting the mood to dive into an elaborate fishy dinner is the aroma that wafts through the restaurant and a small fish bowl containing live blue gourami – an ornamental fish.
No, the fish in the bowl is not for the plate. Watching it, guests can relax their minds.
“Last year we had 40 fish varieties and this year it is 51. No imported fish varieties are served during the seafood festival. This is an opportunity for the guests to taste the local catch,” Shankar said.
Surprisingly there is no seafood soup.
“We offer only vegetarian soups,” Shankar said, suggesting the oven-roasted tomato soup.
A Tamilian but hailing from Bihar, Shankar took to ladles like a fish to water. His father M. Rajendran was a head chef for Tata Sons in Jamshedpur and Shankar wanted to follow his footsteps after his B.Com degree.
Shankar passed out of the Institute of Hotel Management here. He joined the Taj Madras Flight Kitchen and worked in other hospitality groups. He also had a brief stint at London’s Coromandeal Restaurant before joining Raintree Hotel a couple of years ago.
By this time, the slender grilled lady fish arrived on the table. The flesh was tender and there were not much of problematic bones spoiling the mission on hand.
Serving the giant-sized tandoori king prawns Shankar said: “January is the best time to host a seafood festival here. After that the fish breeding season begins and fishing will be banned. Further, the International Leather Fair is held around this time and several foreigners come here for our food which keeps the till box ringing.”
The mouthful of succulent prawns go down the throat in a jiffy. The meaty prawns taste better without any accompaniment.
Suddenly the blue gourami gets agitated. Perhaps it turned jittery fearing for life as the plate on the table was empty.
The painful wait for the tandoori pomfret ended with Shankar serving the tantalising reddish masala-coated fish. It tasted great with or without a coat of lime. However, an extra dash of masala would have been in order.
“If you have it with wine it would be great,” suggested assistant restaurant manager R. Anand, who was an executive butler at a beach villa/resort property in the Maldives before joining here.
“A butler has to take care of a guest from the time he checks into a hotel till he checks out. The butler service is 24X7. Only a few star hotels here offer a butler service. Hotels will have butlers on shifts but at the Maldives property we were on service round the clock,” Anand explained.
“Once a guest in the middle of the night wanted to learn using a coffee machine. He did not allow me into his room as his daughter was sound asleep. I brought a coffee machine from another villa and taught him its operation,” Anand mused.
He said butlers are hired by industrialists, movie stars and other high net worth individuals after experiencing the service in a hotel.
“Overseas the pay and the opportunities for a butler are good. An Italian guest who came to stay in the Maldives beach villa hired me as his personal butler and took me to Germany,” Anand said.
Though the pay and the employer were very good, Anand was not able to acclimatise to the cold German climate and he returned here.
Meanwhile taster’s portions of steamed rice – basmati and ponni varieties – Penang curry (mild Thai curry flavoured with chilli peppers, galangal, lemon grass, shrimp paste), Goan curry (made with fresh coconut milk, turmeric and cumin) and Malabar curry (with Malabar spices, onions and tomatoes) arrived on the table.
The ponni rice with Penang curry tastes great while the other two curries were also good. It is better to avoid basmati rice with these curries.
For the sweet tooth there is gulab jamun and saffron-flavoured rabdi.
A good meal for two would cost between Rs.2,000-3,000 (without alcohol).