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Few things make living in Chennai seem consistently worthwhile. Its residents are so eager to camouflage their identities with silly colours and wanton tributes to socio-cultural diversity that nobody really knows what to make of us, Chennaites, anymore. Even product companies with their infinite market researched wisdom and soul-exchanging contracts with Satan can’t seem to figure us out.

Thankfully, a vast coastline, with tiny beaches suckling at its teat, snarling at the city from the outskirts is one of those silver linings that distract us. All the rubbish, the unruly derelicts and the annoying Hare Krishna foreigners quietly fade into the background, giving way to the glory of buttery chicken sandwiches, crumbling architecture, cigarettes, the sea, and good company.

She paints beautifully over my weekend’s canvas…

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ww1

I’d believe in Superman sooner than I would in organized religion…and I hate Superman. So kind of irony to allow me to photograph Jesus being crucified on a barbecue grill with Sabith cooking sausages under his feet. The other photos I took seemed relatively normal considering divine intervention and the mass intake of …cough cough.

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Marina beach is our city’s first born; formerly a much-loved water body now left to rot in its filth and almost embarrassing attempts at beautifying it. The Besant Nagar beach is Chennai’s second child. Spoilt by a barrage of consumers and hovering activists, it rests uneasily with the grace of ballet dancer suffering from elephantiasis.

Thiruvanmiyur beach is Chennai’s adopted child. Its distance from the city has given the quiet stretch of sand and sea a rightful sense of seclusion. Greg and I often take drives beyond the Sea Shore Estate in Thiruvanmiyur and each and every time, the beach gives us something to beguile ourselves into a false sense of philosophical ennui. It’s a good thing, especially when my camera tags along.

Last Sunday was an afternoon of impersonations.

Broken pieces of timber and seaweed impersonating a trail

A kid pretending to be insignificant

A hut and a boat conspiring to resemble a Viking helmet or perhaps a fancy burrito dish

A bush under the impression that it is and has always been a king crab

The hut now gets cocky and tries to impersonate Jabba the uhmm Hutt

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  • Arun….NOT John. Nice try, man.
  • He’s Ashok Nagar’s rockstar chef. We just call him bhaiya.
  • Abhishek…known as Bird for obvious reasons
  • Gopu, reporter, chetas, stares vacantly at 2002
  • Greg, owner of Matas and father of cutest child ever, strikes melancholy

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I have very few hunting grounds in Chennai. During my stay in Bangalore, eating had its sweet little pleasures. From the devilishly addictive ice creams of Corner House to the steaks of Millers 46 and right through the English breakfast at Koshys, I had an envious choice to make whenever hunger beckoned. In Chennai, now that my paycheck has become considerable bigger, I expected food to be kinder to my whims. Unfortunately, Chennai is known for stuff that kills hunger and keeps you going, not for delicious little things that bribe the hunger to come back later. Not all hope is lost; a few places here and there do tempt one’s culinary fancies.

Cornucopia is one such place, a decent restaurant tucked around Cenatoph Road, bang opposite the ridiculously overrated Dhaba Express. It previously used to be home to Café Jam, a long forgotten coffee pub that aspired to be a fad and ended up being a joke.

I don’t know when Cornucopia came into existence and I am not really sure who owns the place, but I do know that the food is rather special. The ambience is pleasing too. And the service, ah yes the service. The one aspect of hotel management that brown-skinned people just don’t seem to understand (especially when the customer is brown-skinned too). Despite all my raging cynicism against our city’s ability to cope with basic etiquette, the waiters at Cornucopia really deserve a pat on their heads (or perhaps a beer…not on the head, of course) for their politeness and overall service etiquette. A special mention to Mr. Mohan (head waiter, I presume) since his politeness is sometimes overshadowed by his recommendations for the main course. He even encourages you to break the norm and shift the ingredients on menu.

I hate spicy food. And conceptually, mint on meat displeases me. But thanks to Mohan, The Spicy Red Snapper with Mint and Rum somehow turned out to one of the tastiest things I have had. The number one spot on that list undeniably goes to Filter Coffee Roasted Lamb in Whiskey and Sauce. Jerome hit the jackpot when he ordered that during lunch last week. My Red Snapper, like I said, had its share of yumminess…but it paled, paled like the clouds on a rainy Sunday, when compared to Jerome’s catch of the century. It’s almost an anti-climax that my cellphone has tainted the photos of only that dish. You just have to take my word for it; it could make a grown man hungry, and wail if he is also hungry.

Jagan ordered Grilled Mutton, and we all dug in, but our tastebuds were still soaking in the fleshy caffeine flavour. Even as my fork pinched and pulled at the pearly flesh of the Red Snapper, my eyes were roving over Jerome’s plate as it sent signals to the brain to get another piece of that lamb, by any means necessary.

Before I get lost in that dish,. I must not forget about the starters and certainly not the Crab Cakes. Little cakes of delight, they are. Elegantly doused in herbs and gently baked, they come with garlic sauce and butter sauce. We didn’t try the deserts this time, but I do remember getting terribly excited about the pastries here sometime this summer.

So there you have it…Cornucopia, easily one of Chennai’s most elegant restaurants, if not in decorative interiors then certainly in food and service. If in case, you go there…look for Mr. Mohan, and ask him to add a twist to your main course.

Address: 30, Cenotaph Road, Teynampet, Chennai, 600018, India

For reservations, call 91 44 24311193

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No cats, only clouds and cradles

Greg’s daughter is an angel. She’s just over two years old and is as cherubic as a sleepy pixie. Fittingly so, she goes to sleep in a cradle that looks as though it has been carved out of soft clouds.

My camera agrees…

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Alambara again

Sun swims for our viewing pleasure
Sun swims for our viewing pleasure

Prepare and initiate

The preparation for the trip to Alambara backwaters was both necessary and perhaps a tad too long. At about 6 in the evening, Reuben, the HR guy whom insects and people disgust to no extent, and I started recording an Mp3 music compilation. We called it ‘Road Tripping’ and exchanged at least three high-fives before sobriety kicked in and so did the feeling that we were doing something lame.

I brought Iggy Pop, White Stripes, Meat Puppets, King Crimson and others. Reuben was armed and presumably dangerous with Megadeth, Alice In Chains, Pink Floyd, Skid Row and Pearl Jam. But the song, which was almost as crucial as the trip itself was ‘Lie Without A Lover’ by newcomer Robi Dracos Rosa. The guy looks like Ricky Martin and wrote lyrics that didn’t require too much assistance from the brain. The music however shone like a cracked mirror. It was an incredibly catchy pop song, sounding almost futuristic in its recognition of subtle harmonies.

Last week, an accidental viewing of VH1 introduced me to this song. And after the others heard it, it was settled that we needed to take that trip to Alambara.And the rest avoided history by being a culmination of awkward planning and wishful thinking. Yuvraj, the resident chink, was on his way down to our not-so-friendly neighbourhood reporter Gopu’s place and Deepu had already (gleefully too) started initiation of stage two.

Rinse and Repeat

Pass the smoke
Pass the smoke

Coffee was being served haphazardly and just the way we liked it. The apparatuses came out of hiding and so began our hazy journey into the long night. It was 9.30 pm, Yuvraj and Gopu were still missing and the three of us were halfway through the process of passing out of our collective senses.

Several hours later, the three of us moved farther from sobriety; latecomers Yuvraj and Gopu were drunk and excessively smiling respectively.

Kickstarting another memory

It was 3.15 am when we hit the road. We had to fill up petrol and check the air, both of which took more time than what was bearable. It was almost 4.20 am before the ECR highway greeted us with much kindness. The intro bass riffs of ‘Lie Without A Lover’ kickstarted a refreshing drive down memory lane. I previously had found the lyrics to be quite corny but all of sudden the words “Hey these nights are fashioned around you / I guess the path of love is no longer haunting you” seemed rather poignant. Art, I tell you.

Pause

Reflections...
Reflections…

I had been to Alambara twice this year. Gopu had accompanied me during the second visit. Yuvraj, Reuben and Deepu were as clueless as bats on sweltering afternoons. Now, where the hell was this place? Wait. Stop. Turn around, man. “Anna, where is Alambara?” “Oh ok, thanks anna”. Take this left. Let it rip, man. We are here!

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