Sipping a hot cup of steamy elachi chai, I sat curled up on the bed of my home. A moment later an email popped up in my phone. I read an invitation for a food review in one of the Mediterranean restaurant in town. I read the contents twice over. Being married to a man who loves Middle Eastern food more than me, I am used to falafel, pita bread, hummus day in and day out. Having tasted them around the globe, I was looking forward to check the authenticity in Chennai. The restaurant Azulia in GRT Grand, T Nagar was unknown to me. So who would want to miss this experience? I replied back with a yes with curiosity and excitement in mind.
The tall doors of Azulia with a waiter clad in black, welcomed me with a warm smile. I entered with an open mind and an empty stomach. The well-layed open kitchen caught my attention first. I love restaurants with a kitchen where I could see the firing dancing, sauces flying and spices jumping over the hot wok and also the anxious face of the chef as he waits for his masterpiece to be cooked and plated to perfection. I hastened my footsteps to the table they pointed for me. A majestic wooden table covered with simple yet classy motifs on the table cloth resembled a wall paper to me, the shining silverwares, sophisticated pepper mill and a water bottle holder with a collage of broken glass pieces looked uber gorgeous. From the ethnic lanterns to waiters dressed in Moroccan outfits to the window panes to the overall décor screamed Mediterranean to me.
Since I showed up a little early, I had a wonderful opportunity to chat with Chef Ethem Aydemir, a handsome man whose accent reminded me of my Israeli friends. He was warm, friendly and so knowledgable with what he was loves. “I have been cooking from age 14” he narrated his story with pride in his eyes. He comes from a family of great cooks where cooking, eating and sharing the food is part of their life and he has been cooking on a professional level for the last 25+ years. “Azu means blue in Spanish and Portuguese”, he added when I asked him about the name Azulia. “The name signifies the bright blue Mediterranean Sea” he added. He cracked jokes about his failed experiments growing herbs in Chennai and that he stopped his attempts with gardening. He sighed and said “Everything is imported here, including me”. He was too witty and was a fun to be with. Before he left for the kitchen, he gave choices of the food to taste and I can assure that you can blindly follow his suggestions. He made me feel at home with his constant trips from kitchen to the seating area, making sure that every dish is served with utmost care and love and hospitality, giving me the experience of dining in his home.
There was another equally knowledgable gentleman Ricardo, restaurant manager who gave me details about the origin of the restaurant, the produce and meat sources. “The silverware were custom ordered from England” he said as he handed over a colorful book. I thought it was a cookbook, but he corrected that it’s a book which carried stories of food and brief history about ten countries that are predominant with Mediterranean cuisine – Turkey, Israel, Arab, Greece, Lebanon, Egypt, part of Italy, Spain, France and Malta . “The chef also caters to special foods like gluten free, vegan, nut-free, name it and he will custom make it for you” he boasted as I was flipping through the pages. I loved the book and if you are a curious seeker for world cuisines, this book is sure to take you on a journey around the countries of Mediterranean sea.
Now coming to what I love: Food. As we got seated, a young waiter arrived with a shot glass filled with water.
He said “Turkish magic mam”.
I went “What? Come again”. I thought it to be a floating candle.
“It’s a magic mam”, he smiled back. He then dropped a pill that looked like Mentos into it. Once it touched the water, the pill magically blossomed into a wet napkin. I slowly opened the tightly wrapped napkin and wiped my fingers and was all ready to indulge guilt free.
With the new found friends to chat with, a tummy that was growling aloud and looking forward the fun that was going to unfold, I started off the day with a glass of Four season's Merlot. I swirled the glass just like the way my husband taught me, inhaled a lungful of its aroma and sipped a little of the gorgeous medium red wine. It journeyed around my mouth and as I gulped it down, I could feel the warmth of the wine. It was crisp, rich and fruity flavored. I was happy that I made the right choice.
Soon the cold and hot Mezze platter was filled over the huge table. Under the cold ones were the tzakziki ( a cheese based dish) , hummus (a chickpea based dip),dolamdes (grape leaves stuffed with raisins and pinenuts), moussakka marakkech (aubergine and chick peas based tangy tomatoey dish) and mutabal (an eggplant based sloppy dip). My most favorite one was moussakka and the least one was mutabal. I love hummus and my refrigerator is always stocked with different types of homemade hummus. I could eat it all by itself and this hummus was definitely a winner but for my taste bud I would go with a pinch more of salt. I had tasted dolamdes for the first time in Dubai and I hated it then. I couldn’t eat a piece more after the first bite. But over the years, I have developed a liking for it. Just like wine, I feel dolamdes is an acquired taste. Here, they were perfect, moist and extremely well done.
Coming to what most of us love to munch at any time of the day – deep fried wonders. The hot mezze offered were falafel, fatayer, bourak bel jibneh, jawaneh, gamberoni Aglio e Olio, bourakakia and kebbe laktine. I fell in love with bourakakia, it was a cigar shaped, gooey cheesy delight. I munched one, then went for the next one right away and also the deep fried chicken wings, they were juicy and tender. The chicken was cooked in lemon, garlic and coriander. Even the sautéed prawns caught my attention. They were lip smacking good. The dish was called Gamberoni Aglio e Olio. Don’t forget to remember this name. I know its tad long. Never mind, ask the waiter for the king prawn starter and they are sure to help you. For a change, I found a restaurant where the waiters knew what they were serving. The boys posed a smiling face and a hospitable look and they refilled the empty glasses right away. Even the way they poured a glass of water, with a straight tilt and no spill was commendable.
And then there was Italy on the table. Yes, the pizza! The manakish pizza was a thin crust one with well-balanced toppings - tomato, cheese, fresh mint and olives. The smell of the cheesy pizza was wafting in the air and as I took my first bite, I could the hear the crunch in every chew. It had a green base which I initially thought to be a basil pesto but later realized the flavor of zaatar ( a mix of Middle eastern spices). My husband got me this spice from Israel. I have even used it to marinate chicken and seafood for one summer BBQ, I recollected.
Before the main course, a cup of passion fruit sorbet arrived at the table.
“It’s a palate cleanser, madam” the waiter reassured when I was lost on why a dessert has arrived a little early. It was refreshing, perfectly sweetened and smooth to perfection. I stopped myself with few licks and waited for the main course to arrive.
The Tuscan sun popped over my head and made me crave for some Italian pasta. With no second thoughts, I ordered Cannelloni al a Bolognaise when I spotted it on the menu. It’s cannelloni (a tube shaped pasta) filled with lamb meat and topped with creamy cheese sauce. It was one of the best plated dish I have seen so far. I hardly took notice of what others ate as by then I was almost full, scanning and saving my stomach for the dessert and I got sweaty and tired, guess the air conditioner was little under the weather that day. I had to keep insisting the manager and waiter to get the temperature right. That part of constantly wiping my forehead with the napkin was definitely not expected with the reputation of GRT.
Baklava, hot chocolate soufflé and orange cheesecake were the desserts on the list. Having tasted a light, flaky baklava from couple of Middle eastern shops near my home, I found this much sweeter, syrupy and rich. Yes, I did like this one for sure. But the cheesecake and chocolate soufflé was a huge disappointment. The molten chocolate was too watery for my liking, I would prefer a much thicker chocolate syrup anyday and for the cheesecake, it was too “orangy” for me.
Overall, I loved the food and it is definitely one of my choice to bring my husband for dinner. There are umpteen parking space available and it is better to make reservation before you show up at the doorstep. The ambiance and settings are family friendly and it is sure to take your family and friends on culinary journey.
Food – 9/10 (except for the dessert)
Presentation - 10/10
Ambiance- 5 /5
Service- No rating as it was a review meet!
Price – Rs.2-3000 for a 2-3 course meal for a couple
Address:GRT Grand, 106 Sir Thyagaraya Road, T.Nagar , Chennai
Disclaimer: I have been invited for a review at GRT grand. I did not receive any monetary compensation for the review. An invitation was sent to try out. My thoughts and opinions in this review are unbiased and your opinions may differ.