After Bangalore, we made our way to Chennai to spend a few days with my in-laws. I've spent a large part of my childhood in this city, but I've lived in so many places since, that the eight years in Chennai feel like they were but weren't really part of my life at all. Driving around with a strange sense of deja vu, parts of the city seem familiar, but it's the familiarity you feel when you visit someplace you've heard about a lot but haven't experienced yourself. The emotion is missing from the familiarity.
I'm a stranger to this city now and it is to me, and so we go about attempting to get to know each other again.
Most of the restaurants from those eight years, eighteen years are surprisingly still around, though they're now hidden behind the younger, fancier ones. I'm amazed at the sheer number of new food joints around the city. Where do I even begin to get re-acquainted with the taste of this new Chennai?
We decided to try out one of Chennai's legendary restaurants (set up in 1997, the year I left the city, it's strange to see this referred to as legendary; it really was that long ago then!) - The Bayleaf.
The Bayleaf Chennai in Gopalapuram is a Mughlai and Bengali restaurant. I was a little surprised and intrigued by this combination of cuisines. I wonder if it started off as a Bengali speciality restaurant and didn't find a large enough clientele and therefore expanded to incorporate Mughlai too? Or if it actually began as a kathi roll stop and then expanded to include other food from Kolkata? I'm tempted to believe the latter, if the exciting roll menu and very positive reviews of it are anything to go by.
We decided to dine in, this time around, and save those famous paratha rolls filled with spicy stuffings for another day.
The Bayleaf, ambience wise, looked a little run down. The long fabric lamps added a bit of much-needed style to a restaurant that could do with a lick of paint and some sprucing up of the decor indoors. Service was very average, maybe even below: I had to pretty much set my own table; the waiter handed me my plate and cutlery to sort myself out (!) - and food presentation was lacking much. However, what Bayleaf lost out on in presentation, it made up for in its Bengali flavours.
We ordered some paneer tikka from the Mughlai menu and maacher chaap (fish chops) from the Calcutta menu, for starters. The paneer was bland, but the fish cutlets were delicious. Maacher chaap are spicy minced fish patties, bread crumbed and fried. For mains we had murgh makhani (butter chicken) and naans (garlic and butter) and roomali roti (roomali means handkerchief, and this flat bread is rolled out thin as a hanky before it is cooked on a large inverted wok), from the Mughlai menu, and aloo dum (spicy potatoes slow-cooked) and luchi (Bengali pooris made from refined plain flour) from the Bengali menu, and the tandoori masala pomfret from the Chef's special menu. The mains were delicious.
We should have stopped there and returned home quite satisfied with the meal, overall. Instead, we decided to share a bowl of gulab jamun with ice cream, and the jamuns were very disappointing.
I'm still keen to go back for a chicken egg roll, though. I have a good feeling about it. If you go to The Bayleaf, avoid the Mughlai and stick to the food from Calcutta.