The Outsiders’ Guide to Madras (Chennai)

Madras. The fifth city I have stayed in. Well, sixth almost, if you count my omnipresence in Bombay during my Pune days. I came here in 2009 and there’s been no looking back since then. Quite a few people I know don’t get it. The city has bad weather; Tamil is not the easiest language to understand; and well, the naysayers have a pretty long list! Changing people’s opinions can be a futile exercise and there is absolutely nothing in this whole wide world, without a few cons. I say change your perspective. Happiness too is just a point of view, at the end of the day. 🙂 Now, getting down to business.

Food
  1. Crimson Chakra – Part South Indian and part continental. A house turned into a restaurant, in a quiet lane in Gandhinagar. I have always had brilliant food here. Appam, chicken stew, crab curry from the south indian fare and almost everything from the non-vegetarian continental fare. If you ain’t too hungry, you can order half portions from the continental menu. Absolute must visit. Oh, it is a vegetarian’s delight too.
  2. Anjappar – If you’re craving good old spicy Chettinad food at moderate prices, this is the place to go. The Nandu rasam (crab soup) here cures all our maladies. There are outlets pretty much all over the city.
  3. Sandy’s – This one started out as a chocolate laboratory, and to my utter delight, has grown into an all day dining place. We keep going back here. On quiet afternoons or long work days. The food is droolworthy and they never disappoint. Must try the dark chocolate milkshake, hot chocolate, blueberry cheesecake, grilled fish in orange sauce, fish and chips..I could go on and on!
  4. Besant Nagar (Elliots) Beach – For INR 40 bucks a plate, the seaside stalls on the beach serve the most delectable prawn masala and vanjaram fry. We are big fans of street food, and this place is up there on our favourite list. There is something really nice about staring at the sea, enjoying the evening wind and munching on plate after plate of those fresh-out-of-the-sea prawns.
  5. The Farm – Imagine an old huge bungalow turned into a restaurant. That’s The Farm. They grow their own produce and make their own curd and pickles. Churn out amazing parathas and serve them with curd, daal and pickle. Excellent for a brunch. The wood fired pizzas are pretty awesome too. The owners are very friendly, and last we had gone there, they allowed us to use the pool table too. 🙂
  6. Raintree, Alwarpet – The rooftop restaurant here is excellent. Must try the mutton here. Absolutely succulent. Plus the added advantage of drinks and a pretty neat view. Adds up quite well!
  7. Ente Keralam – If you are a big fan of Mallu food, this is the place to go.
  8. ID – I have been a big fan of the ghee roast dosa at Murugan idli shop, but of late ID has become my go-to place for good old pongal and idli fix. The one we like to go to is located in the Sathyam building. Usual weekend plan looks like breakfast at ID and then movie at Sathyam. Three years of the city has induced idli dosa cravings in my system. I have realized I am capable of craving vegetarian food too, from time to time! 🙂
  9. ITC Grand Chola – For the biggest breakfast buffet spread that you can possibly fathom. Biggest and nicest! It is so grand that we try to work up an appetite before going here. At 800 bucks, it is totally worth it if you can do justice to it. If you are one of those who says ‘I am done’ after a nibble here and there, absolutely avoid this place.
  10. Mahabalipuram – Moonrakers for really good food at moderate prices. They do poached eggs really well too. Not many places can boast of that. Radisson’s Temple by the Bay for awesome food at not so moderate prices. The beach side shacks for some amazing fish fry and beer you have never heard of. We have had the likes of Vorion 5000 and Knockout 10000, and lived to tell the tale!
  11. Tuscana – For amazing pizzas. They serve wine too. 🙂
  12. Kryptos – For Greek food.
  13. Thalapakatti – For the famous Dindigul biryani. Esp. the chicken 65 biryani. We love it. Period.
  14. Bayleaf – Bengali food! But ofcourse, how could I not find a place which served Bong food! 🙂 The first time I went here, it was with a fellow Bong and another Mallu friend. Three obsessive foodies. We had ordered so much that people sitting in the table next to ours were almost inclined to offer their tables for keeping a few dishes.BayleafNeedless to say, we cleaned everything. Kosha Maangsho (dry mutton dish which every Bengali swears by) is amazing here. So is shorshe maach (fish in mustard curry). Oh, try the maachher chop (fish chop) too. I have taken my true blue Tam friends here, and they have loved every bit of it! 🙂
  15. Gangotree – For panipuri and chaat. For the street food experience, go to this street side vendor opp. to the Khader Nawaz Khan lane. You can easily find the place by the sheer number of people standing there.
  16. Amethyst  – Beautiful coffee shop to spend a day reading. Food and coffee are both great here!
  17. Junior Kupanna – Don’t know how this place got missed from my food radar in my four years of Chennai. This one is a 2014 realization, and a good one at that! Cheap and excellent food. Eat chicken biryani, ghee parottas, pallipalayam chicken, prawn masala and payasam. Absolutely mouth watering food!
  18. The  Marina – Brilliant seafood and you can go ahead and pick what you like. They will cook it any way you like. Have had the nicest crab here.
  19. Murugan Idli – Find any outlet and eat ghee roast dosa and pongal. Divine! The one we used to frequent on Sunday mornings was the Besant nagar one, due to proximity to the beach.

There are so many other places which I could write about, but you might just lose patience reading about all of them. Atleast, go to the ones listed here, and thou shalt never complain about not finding good food in the city.

Pubs/Clubs

Important note for men. No good place entertains stags and they will not allow you in, if you’re wearing floaters/chappals/shorts. The first part sucks a little bit for guys, but from a woman’s point of view, Madras is probably the safest place to go clubbing in an all women’s group. And the second bit, they should just implement that rule everywhere! If you thought its cool to turn up in chappals on an evening out, think again.

  1. The Madras Pub – Opened recently and is already on the favourite list for most of the party folks in the city. Drinks are cheaper than most places. Cocktails are well made, with a Madras flavor to it – Pallavan Rider for instance. Food is awesome too. Open till 12:30 in the night and quite the place to be! Ladies night on Wednesdays till 10 pm. Arasu sees to it that the dancing never stops here!
  2. Gatsby 2000 – Earlier, known as Dublin. The club we swear by. Parties on a Saturday night till 4 in the morning, and how! Two levels of dance floor. Good music. Good crowd. One of the few places where the likelihood of grooving to a punjabi song, a tam song and a Pitbull one is equally high, all in one night! Entry is 1500 per couple. Redeemable. Drinks are extremely expensive here, so down a few before you enter the place. Ladies night on Fridays from 9 to 11.
  3. QBar – Known to be the after party place. Open till 4 in the morning on Saturdays, this is on rooftop Hilton. Beautifully done.
  4. High– Good place to sit by the pool and unwind with a drink. Again, a rooftop place. This is at Raintree, Mount Road.
  5. Pasha – This is at The Park. Very small place, and gets extremely crowded. To get a real flavour of Madras, go here on a  Thursday night. It is Tamil night and the dancing is pretty wild. 😀 Nothing less is expected. They have a Bollywood night too, I think on Wednesday.
  6. Social Dancing – The dancing circuit in the city is mighty impressive. I got inducted by Arun from LVDS and have grown to love every bit of it. If you are a fan of social dancing (salsa/bachata/jive etc etc), Tuesdays at Star Rock, Thursdays at Winchester (Radisson Blu), Saturdays at GRT and Sundays at Havana are the places to be.
  7. Sera – Earlier, known as Zaras. Spanish tapas bar which serves the best LITs in town! Evenings run packed. Excellent place to go to on a weekend afternoon too. They have a buffet with wine/beer. Oh, they have started serving Hoegaarden. If you have stayed in this city for a while, you’d know how big a deal that is!
  8. Bikes & Barrel – This one is in Residency Towers. Couples on the ground floor and stags on the first floor. With a net in between. Not one of my favorites, but quite a few like to go here.
  9. Ten D – Some of the best ladies nights have been spent here in Ten D. On Wednesday nights. We avoid the place on Fridays and Saturdays, because it gets too crowded to breathe. Good place to catch a beer on a late afternoon or early evening.

To-Do

  1. Go to Mahabalipuram on a good weather day. Sit in one of those shacks by the beach, take a dip in the sea, eat to your heart’s content and sip on beer. For reference sake, good weather months are November to February.

  2. Go to Pondicherry for the weekend. I had talked long back about how charming the place can be. Click here for the post.
  3. Drive on East Coast Road (ECR). Its called the scenic driveway and we could not agree more!
  4. Watch a movie. I’d say watch a Rajnikant movie. It is an experience which you would not be prepared for. I have known people to watch 4 shows of the same movie on the same day! 🙂 Also, movie tickets are cheapest (120 bucks) in this city, thanks to a state mandate.
  5. Go to Santhome church for Sunday mass. The church is beautiful. Also, it is one of the three churches in the world built on the tomb of one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. The other two are St. Peters in the Vatican and St. James in Spain.
  6. Cycle from Chennai to Mahabs – New find this year. Event is conducted by Reaxion Cycling. 42 kms of cycling and a free breakfast at Radisson at the end. 🙂 You can rent a cycle (geared/non-geared) from the event guys.
  7. Go to Yercaud. The drive is excellent. If your pockets can afford it, stay at the Grand Palace. Their pool overlooks a beautiful valley. The kind of place where you would want to just stay for a few days, read a book while lounging on a hammock and stare outside in peace.
  8. Learn dancing – Because reinventing yourself little by little is the only cure for boredom. 🙂 There is LVDS led by Arun and A2D led by Salman. Both are amazing. Classical dance, I hear, is best learnt in Kalakshetra.
  9. Join Chennai Trekking Club (CTC) led by Peter if trekking is your thing
  10. Join one of the many running groups in the city if you like to run. Enroll in the many marathons the city hosts.
  11. If you are a shutterbug or you like bird watching, go to Pulicat Lake (65km from Chennai) during December/Jan. Some very rare birds are known to flock here. For the photographers, there are a few photo walks too.
  12. Visit Anna Centenary Library – Probably Asia’s biggest library, this place is known to be a book lover’s delight. For no understandable reason, I have never managed to go here. Procrastination and always having a book handy might be the reasons. Mental note to go here the next free weekend.
  13. Hire one of those posh beach houses on ECR and throw a party of a lifetime. We had hired the same place twice (for around 12k for the day). Needless to say, the parties were nothing less than legendary. Contact Mala – 9176013110.
  14. You get the cheapest deals to South Asia/Sri Lanka from Chennai. Make use of it.

For your convenience, keep these numbers handy. Fasttrack cabs (044 24732020) and Autoraja (7200321294).  Haggling with autos is a pain in this city. Autoraja and Namma Auto are doing their bit to do away with the nuisance.

Like I said, either nitpick about what the city lacks, or find stuff that makes you want to enjoy your stay, while you are here. For me, this place is home for now. I sit and read in my balcony when it rains. Enjoy Illayaraja’s music from time to time. Though I don’t understand the words. Go dancing sometimes. Make plans all the time. Feel safe even in a crowded bus. Run with the sea for company. All I am saying is give the city a chance. You won’t be disappointed.

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