After a drive of an hour-and-a-half through peak-hour traffic in Chennai, I walk through the imposing entrance of Sheraton Grand hotel on East Coast Road, and am met with blissful quietude. As I was guided into the hotel’s open-air barbeque restaurant, Pelican Deck, that sits on a raised platform, the atmosphere remains the same, if not better.
When one hears the word grill, it is only natural to expect the hissing of a hot surface, smoke and the overpowering fragrance of meat hanging in the air, filling the atmosphere with an unnecessary sense of urgency.
Pelican Deck, which is open only for dinner, refutes all of these assumptions with its simple, welcoming design, aided by strategically-placed lights, which engulf the space with a soft hue.
Chef Pramit Konar meets us, as we find a spot facing the lawn that leads to the beach, in a quiet corner (All attempts to ignore the boisterous event underway in the open-air party area nearby fail miserably). Spots of light on decorative plants that stand tall beside the seating, make for a contemporary setting. The sleek furniture agrees effortlessly. “In the evenings, pelicans come to visit us. The fact that they store food in their mouths has also inspired the restaurant’s design,” one of the waiting staff informs us.
On an unusually chilly winter night in Chennai ( Anything below 24 degrees Celsius is winter here. Move over, Bengaluru), a barbeque grill is always a good idea, I think to myself as the amuse bouche arrives. The white bean (fava beans) dip has an appealingly creamy consistency, and is served with buttered brioche toasted in a charcoal grill. It’s just what you would want to feast on before the real deal. And what’s better? Its complimentary. The beans are pureed finely to arrive at the buttery texture.
Next, the quinoa salad makes its appearance. Served with tortilla chips (to add crunch), figs (for sweetness) and lemon vinaigrette (for zing), the dish gets upgraded to the status of an almost-chaat. Beautifully balanced, its has a mild, smoky tinge that reminds one, again, of the grill. The baby gem salad with bacon and blue cheese, however, fails to impress with cheese overpowering the dish, forcing one to carefully pick out the bacon.
“This is a dish that would get introduced in the new menu, a couple of weeks from now,” says Chef Konar, arriving with a distinct-looking starter — brioche and chicken melt. I bite into it, expecting a chunky piece of chicken, but instead the pasty meat melts in my mouth. A smudge of apricot and raisin jam that sits atop it intrigues me with a hint of unexpected sweetness.
From the wood burning grill, comes the main course: an 8 oz prime filet mignon — beef tenderloin drenched in copious amounts of red wine and arugula sauce — served with grilled ciabatta and creamy mushrooms. This, now, is a heavy meal. The tenderloin oozes juice when cut, and when combined with mushrooms drenched in white sauce, it’s quite a complex, hefty mouthful.
The red snapper is a touch too delicately flavoured, bordering on bland and served with a glut of lemon butter.
Amidst all these dishes, some cocktails too make their mark. Try the basil fizz with its refreshing tenor and prominent taste of cucumber. Or if you prefer your cocktails more edgy than sweet, order a magic Madras, which is an interesting twist to vodka, with Guntur chillies and coriander.
With its tranquil setting and crowd pleasers on the menu, this is likely to be a city favourite — especially in this weather. However, the kitchen could go easier on the butter and cream, to create food that’s lighter, and pairs better with the bracing sea breeze.