Think brunch in Chennai and you automatically think of lazy Sunday lunchtimes sipping on wine, quaffing some beer and enjoying the lavish spread prepared by top class hotel chefs. Increasingly though, Saturday brunches are becoming a thing throughout the city.
The Hyatt Regency is one of the best known hotels in the city, and there’s barely an expat who hasn’t at some point relaxed in the 365AS bar (do you know why it’s called 365AS? Answer at the end of this article). We were invited by the Hyatt Regency to meet with Chef Mauro, an expat Italian chef from Milan who had been brought over to manage the Focaccia restaurant.
Just to sidetrack a little, the next time you visit Hyatt Regency, take a peek into their various restaurants (Indian, Chinese, Japanese and Italian) and you’ll notice something unique about all of them – they all have live kitchens where you can see your food being prepared while you wait. If you like your dining experience to be live and in front of you, Hyatt Regency has got you covered.
Back to topic. I’ve never done an Italian brunch before so was curious to find out what it included. I know from experience that when expat chefs prepare the buffet menu, you’re always in for some interesting dishes!
To kick things off, Chef Mauro introduced us to the starters table. Now I know what you might be thinking, another table full of salads, but this is an Italian buffet so duck was on the menu – duck! I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so excited by a buffet starter dish before as I shovelled spoonfuls of roast duck onto my plate. Besides the duck, there were some fancy Italian breads which went down a treat with the dips and spreads laid out.
Wondering whether to go back for seconds on the duck dish (is it clear how much I enjoyed it?), Chef Mauro insisted that I head over to the live pasta counter instead. Every type of pasta was available – and when was the last time you had pasta freshly made in Chennai by an Italian chef? However, my eyes fell upon the big dish of gnocchi and like an impertinent child, pointed and exclaimed “Want!”. And so for the first time in my life in Chennai, I ate freshly made gnocchi at a restaurant. Oh it was so good!
Up next? Pizza. Why yes, don’t mind if I do, this is Italian food afterall. I was worried that I might fill up on pizza and not have room for the cold cuts of meat that I had been eyeing up since I arrived in the restaurant but my fears were unfounded. About six inches across with a light base done to perfection, it was just the right size to share with my wife – vegetarian toppings because I apparently eat enough meat at these buffets for the both of us. Oops!
Thanking my lucky stars that I only had a small bowl of muesli for breakfast that morning, I finished the last pizza slice and made a beeline for the lineup of cold cuts of meat. Parmesan ham with melon, salami with baby carrots. It was all loaded up on my plate. When I reached the table I discovered that my wife and Chef Mauro were making plans for her to go to Milan and visit his family restaurant.
My wife says she has a thing for Italians. Whether it’s Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Botticelli, she says she loves them all. She also says she has a thing for chefs so I decided not to take any chances and the first opportunity I got to butt into the conversation, pointed her in the direction of the spinach and goat cheese lasagne.
The pièce de résistance was the pork belly and cabbage baked dish. “First time I make it for the buffet.” Chef Mauro informed us in his singsong Italian accent while gesturing to a waitress to top up our glasses with more prosecco wine. My wife was enchanted. Italians! I tuned out a bit though as I dug into the soft, melt-in-your-mouth diced pork pieces and decided that actually, I too had a bit of a thing for Italians.
The finale to our brunch was on the desserts table. It was so positioned to be as far away from the seating area as possible, perhaps a clever ploy to help you work up an appetite after gorging yourself on Chef Mauro’s creations. A giant brown block dominated the centre stage of the table, “What is that?” I asked, thinking it was some kind of Italian cake or brownie, Chef Mauro raised an eyebrow, “It is chocolate.” My wife shook her head, apologising to all chefs everywhere.
Completely full and thoroughly entertained by Chef Mauro and the rest of the Hyatt Regency staff, we left the buffet one percent satisfied. I now now one thing for certain. Whenever my wife talks about us going to Italy, I’ll make a reservation at Focaccia with Chef Mauro instead.
Word has obviously gotten around the expat community because the restaurant was full with expats of all ages and families with their children enjoying Chef Mauro’s creations. Speaking of children, I’ve never seen kids have so much fun in the kitchen than when the chefs let them create their own pizzas by rolling out the dough, adding the tomato sauce, cheese and toppings.
Focaccia is located off the main lobby of the Hyatt Regency on Anna Salai. The cost for the Saturday buffet is Rs 2,336 (that includes tax) and includes unlimited alcohol. The non-alcoholic buffet is Rs 1,956.
Seating is limited and the buffet has proven to be quite popular amongst expats so reservation is recommended, especially for larger groups.
Oh yes, and why is Hyatt Regency’s bar called 365AS? It’s simple. The hotel is located at 365 Anna Salai. Clever, eh?