Saturday, April 23, 2011

Sea Shell Arabian Specialty Restaurant/The Mundu and The Abaya.

I'm going to behave, for a change.

All my restaurant reviews have been posted on Mondays or Tuesdays. Who does that? Unless, of course, you live in a lovely, alternate reality where you get to dine out (or be wine-and-dined) on weekdays. Incidentally, if you live that kind of a fancy life, do mail me on how to get there. Like a 12-step programme or whatever. I'll give you cupcakes in return.

Normal people, who socialize during the weekends, rejoice. I know this doesn't apply for doctors, but sorry, guys. You dug your grave, now you lie in it.

So. The rest of you, listen up. For you, I've eaten, re-eaten, drunk digestives such as mint tea/zeera water and eaten out some more. Only so you know where to go right away, instead of taking the long, unsavoury and horrendously expensive route.

You know of my love for the Mediterranean and Greek food, I'm guessing? My family opposes of this love affair (again, guys?). It simply does not suffice for them to cut a piece of artfully arranged steamed fish and dip it in the tiny drizzle of lemon-cilantro sauce and chew on it for an hour and a half. On the other hand, their palates have been spoilt silly... they can't have mass-produced, chain-restaurant-y food either.

So all day Sunday, we scour the Sunday newspaper supplements and We read reviews, we call other foodies, we draw up a shortlist of new places to eat out at. We slick on our lipglosses, spray on Chance by Chanel, get into the car, full of preprandial glee... and we land up at Seashell Arabian Speciality Restaurant.

Before you smirk, NOT the one on Greams Road (that would be Seashell Cafeteria, same people, less posh). Yes, I do go there to pick up quboos (pita) when I'm too tired to make them at home. W and I used to religiously eat there at least once a week, during my internship. Usually on Fridays, after Jumah prayer, when he emotionally blackmails with his stories of childhood days in Saudi Arabia, when Friday would be a mini-festival of sorts.

I'd do my song-and-dance about the wastage of money and the usage of calories, but, seriously. Canteen chapatis and dubious kurma or grilled chicken and LOTS of it?

Grilled chicken, it is, and if you plan on going there with the family or with friends, don't go to the one on Greams Road. It's named Cafeteria for a reason. It's packed, loud, serves quick-and-delicious food, but won't do for a peaceful night out. Instead, head to Anna Nagar.

The interiors are repetitive. Wooden tables, velvet-lined chairs, yellow lighting, Aquafina bottles, tissue papers with their name printed... the regular shebang. It does not aspire to be "different", thought provoking or invoking or controversial. You don't have to be on your best behaviour, smile extra wide or be extra polite. It's the kind of place where it's OK if your nephew decides to shed all his clothing until he looks like John Abraham in Dostana (given that said nephew is under the age of 2). It is even OK, and smiled upon, if your sister decides to put on an impromptu dance show for all the people in waiting. Not OK if she says "Sanjeevanam Herbal soap valangum Maanaada Mayilaada, After the Break!!" at the end of it, though.

And yes, this is still a food blog. Moving on.

Do me a favour and order only the Arabic or Malyali dishes, OK? If you plan on getting Chop Suey or Kashmiri Pulao, you can't blame me if it tastes bad. This restaurant is run by Malyalis who've returned richer from UAE and other parts of the Gulf. And I presume you're not the type to go to Mainland China and ask for Saffron Prawn Risotto, so do me this favour.

The Arabic dishes we had were...

Repeat after me. Arabian style Grilled Chicken.

The ARABIAN-STYLE grilled chicken. Not the violently-red tandoori chicken that they also serve, but the ARABIAN grilled chicken. They've brought the wrong thing many, many times, so you might want to spell it out/describe it to them. With a side of pita bread, hummus and thoum (garlic mayonnaise, not unlike an aioli). It's tender, juicy, spiced just right... make pita pockets, and dive in.

This would be the chicken shawarma, with a side of pickled radishes/carrots and chilli. Don't leave without ordering at least one. A smorgasbord of just-grilled chicken, heated with tomatoes, onions and mayo and tossed. The entire concoction gets wrapped in pita or a parantha (Yes, I know).

Why the heck am I describing shawarma to you? It's as ridiculous as explaining what white Modern bread is. Sounds like I just want to make you all jealous at some subconscious (and mostly conscious) level. The simple ones are priced at 50, but go on up to 120 bucks as they get more fancier and decked with more components.

And the one semi-flop of the day... The dish above. That would be the Grilled Fish Platter/Samak Tawa. Fish, that I have reason to believe, drowned in Masala and then was cremated, just in case. Far be it for me to criticize flaky fish that has been charred outside by fiery coals. It's the masala that's a downer. Too much of it, coating my mouth completely.. even spoonfuls of the garlic mayo or one of their famous milkshakes wont wash it away fast enough. It you like well-done meats on bread, this could be your thing.

And that would be Koji Rice/Qabsa. Or Redemption After The Grilled Fish, as I like to call it. You can call it a deconstructed Arabian biryani, I guess (but please don't).  Steaming, mildly-spiced rice that's serve with sides of tomato paste and caramelized onion in little cups. You need to mix the tomato and onion into the rice, spear a little grilled chicken/lamb and eat it all up. If it isn't steaming hot-hot, send it back, citing sacrilege. Priced between 140 to 160 bucks a plate, serves at least 3 people easily.

And now for the Keralite part of the menu. Appams (hoppers) would be a good start.

Fluffy little crepes that taste almost sweet, due to the liberal use of coconut milk. At 15 bucks a piece, I think they are a steal. I choose not to pay heed to Mum's stories of how appam would be sold fresh off the griddle at my native place, for mere pennies, during her childhood days. So last millennium.

Do you know what the perfect foil for the sweetness of the fluffy appams would be?

Meen curry! The spicy tangy (tamarind!) curry complements the Appams beautifully. Priced at 110 bucks a kadai. If I had to nitpick, I'd say that the sourness and spice of the gravy doesn't permeate into the tender fish, but I'm a big seafood lover, the type to even eat a blackened, overspiced fish, so I found this quite delicious.

On a completely unrelated note. Fish, crab, squid, prawns, lobster. Steamed, baked, broiled, grilled, Chowder'd, Calamari'd, Fish-and-chip'd, in a robust curry or a well-made biryani, I'll eat anything except shallow-fried, rubbery fish. Seafood=MMMMMMM!!!!

As you've probably surmised, I eat quite a bit of dessert as well. The folks here have a long, long Dessert menu. Remember Sharjah milkshake? Bananas, Malt, Vanilla ice cream? That and a lot of milkshakes that you've had at Fruit Shop on Greams Road feature predominantly. But since I've already made a Trifle for Dessert (it's always with a capital D) at home, we give it a miss.

Quite a feat, considering how the smell of the scalding hot chocolate sauce on the Sizzling Brownie the neighbouring table ordered wafted over to our table... What kind of a moron gobbles gargantuan amounts of food and shows off to the whole world, anyway?


  1. I like the Greams Road one better than the Anna Nagar one! But for the best Shawarma's go try out this little hole in the wall place on the other side of Rountana on the same side of the road as Sea Shells. Actually, you'll lose your way - ask RD to take you there. It's called Arabian Delights (I think!) and it's yummy!

    Oh, and did you just call yourself a moron? ;p

  2. I've had the shawarma at Arabian Delights... it tastes a little too garam masala-y for my taste.
    There are many hole-in-the-wall shawarma places popping up. I think a visit to Chennai is in order?

    And no, I didn't mean to call MYSELF a moron. Or maybe I did. Lol.

  3. I live in Anna Nagar and we happen to visit/order take out from Sea Shell a few times a month. The appams are to die for! You should try having it with Irani Chicken or the Pepper Chicken! Sooo delish!

    And as for Koji Rice, I just had it yesterday after Jumuah. It is my most favouritest (if that's even a word) food in Sea Shell!

  4. Zarine, I know! To think I wasn't planning to try those appams. And you can totally cook up new words to describe yum food like Koji Rice. :)