It's Great To Be A Nomad
Updated: Mar 24, 2022
My first visit to Nadodi was for an undercover review for Tatler Malaysia's Best Restaurants Guide. It was the first time I tasted South Indian flavours in such a refreshing, new light. I was instantly mesmerised; it only took one sit-down dinner for me to become a fan of what the restaurant and its team were doing here in KL.
Over time, my peers validated my sentiments as more and more glowing reviews from other writers and gourmands reached my ear. Taking well established South Indian flavours and reinterpreting them is no easy feat. Still, Nadodi pulls it off with such skill and poise that for a brief moment, when the melange of flavours they put forth on every carefully crafted plate harmonises in the mouth, you'll swear that magic was involved.
Such magic was recently internationally recognised in 2021 by the good folks at the 50 Best, honouring Nadodi with the 99th spot on what is the first time its Asia's 50 Best list decided to release a 51 to 100 ranking to shine a light on a greater number of restaurants in the region.
Shortly after their achievement, Kartik Kumar, the restaurant's brand director, invited me to come and taste the then latest iteration of their signature menu – The Nadodi Experience (RM520++). This nine-course feast has a deeper focus on Japanese proteins and is entirely different to the seven-course menu called The 7-Mile Journey and, of course, the vegetarian-friendly Vegetarian Journey, giving diners another reason to return.
How could I refuse?
The Nadodi Experience
The restaurant's signature menu began with the Nadodi Trio, which consists of a payasam tart, a false pumpkin erussery and a green pea cutlet in its current iteration.
The well-known Southern Indian sweet pudding, Payasam, receives the spherification treatment and is made with bananas alongside toasted coconut shavings. The tart's sweetness was quite exquisite, in a sense that the banana's sweetness, propped up by the toasty crunch of coconut, really shone through it all.
Nadodi's take on the Keralan speciality "erussery" takes an unexpected twist on the palate. The "buns" were airy in the mouth, while the organic pumpkin purée, coconut and tamarind combination provided the snap, crackle and pop of the experience.
The green pea cutlet was genuinely delicious and my favourite of the bunch. The wonderfully robust earthiness of green peas came encased in a crunchy, thin batter softened by a mixture of spices, herbal dusting and balanced by the addition of ikura, resulting in a hearty croquette-like experience that pleases on all levels.
Another trio of "street snacks" served as the follow-up, made of smoked a Holland eel seeni sambol samosa, the "World's Smallest" masala dosa and a truffle chettinad taco. To counter the heavier flavours of this round of up one-bite treats, I was served a very vegetal, very fresh cocktail called Green Revolution. The drink was made with rum, a chilli distillate, dill, cucumber, tomato and featured an excellent contrast of heat from the chilli, the cucumber's cooling element, and the dill's sourish, grassy undertones. A slightly charred and decorated micro sponge came served with the cocktail, which I later learnt temporarily boosts the drink's flavours when taken subsequently.
The eel samosa was first up, a crunch revealing a smoky, flaky, and somewhat spicy filling with a dominant and enjoyable smoked eel taste. The dosa was similarly brilliant, a tiny flavour warhead packed with the flavours of ghee, potatoes, curry leaves and lentils. My reservation for truffles didn't stop me from enjoying the taco, especially when the truffle's earthy notes are balanced by a melange of tart yet sweet spices and a permeating hint of smokiness.
The next dish was my absolute favourite of the evening – egg kalaki. The dish was made with perfect yolks, aerated masala egg whites, Alaskan king crab and imperial beluga caviar. Incredibly airy and flavourful, the aerated egg whites had just the ideal level of masala spices to give the dish a bold element without overshadowing the natural flavours of the crab and the caviar. The eggs alone are a masterclass of technique but add in the sweetness of Alaskan king crab along with the elegant salinity of beluga caviar and what is primarily an earthy dish suddenly transforms into something sublime. One last element helps take this dish further, in my opinion. Notice that ring of green oil edging the aerated egg whites? That's Nadodi's fragrant curry leaf oil. The only way the dish works is with incredible balance, something chef de cuisine Sricharan Venkatesh and his team pulls off with aplomb time and time again.
Choosing the previous dish as my favourite of the Nadodi Experience was no easy feat when so many home runs vied for top spot throughout the meal. Second in line was yet another flavour feat, a dish that ushered in the "Japanese protein" part of the meal. Indian-style battered kuruma ebi fritters is a brilliant idea. The Japanese tiger prawns were encased in a crispy yet fluffy fritter sprinkled with shichimi. The prawn fritters alone were already a treat, but the yuzu-forward chutney and the sakura ebi mayo added a citrus-umami combo that was absolutely packed with layers of nuanced flavours. This was a decadent dish that gratified on all fronts.
Another seafood dish was served right after, this time featuring kinmedai (golden eye snapper) as its focus. Perfectly flaky with a somewhat oily texture, the fish's inherent tastes were bolstered with the use of a "coastal" young mustard curry, mirin foam, along with the acidity of Momotaro tomatoes and wakame salad. In a flurry of flavourful releases, this kinmedai dish served as a gentle breather that prepares diners for the next salvo.
Just when my tastebuds began to relax, Nadodi chuckled to themselves and served me rasam two ways to keep the fire burning strong. Or, so I’d like to think.
The first was a cocktail – one of the restaurant's signatures. Made with vodka, a spice distillate, lactose fermented tomato, and topped with a warm lather, this was an inventive drink that was amusingly served cold and hot. The hot foam hit first, its intense aromas of spice hitting before the cold part arrived and soothed. If you're wondering, that charcoal crisp on the side provides a spice-filled flavour amplification, another sign of the restaurant's use of solids to complement liquids. As you chase down that taste with another swig of the rasam cocktail, the familiar taste of cumin lingers at the end before a gentle tartness, unlike that of yoghurt, washes it over on a boozy, spice-filled note. What a cocktail.
The second part was the Kozhi rasam paitan, a Japanese twist on a Chettinad speciality. The soup itself was creamy, yet surprisingly light, a sign of its Japanese-Indian duality. There's a beautiful spice aftertaste that stays and develops with each warming sip, enhanced with the use of fragrant and nutty toasted black rice. As I began to grow comfortable at the notion of allowing Nadodi's rasam paitan to envelop my palate, the sight of a foie gras ganache brioche beckoned. The brioche's buttery, umami-packed notes instantly hit the moment I took a bite, triggering an instinctive reaction to chase it down with a sip of rasam that warmed the soul. This was yet another fantastic entry.
Ah, the main course. Fire-cooked Pyrenees lamb, famed for its fine, sultry texture and smooth taste, is served with Madras paya puy lentils and dry plum chutney. The lamb, wrapped with Swiss chard, is juicy and cooked to medium doneness, retaining much of the meat's natural juices. The plum chutney provided the dish with sweetness to counter the meaty richness of the lamb and the lentils, which too cheekily contained minced lamb.
No meal at Nadodi is complete without their signature "globe", a restaurant staple since its inception. What is arguably "the best chicken biryani in town" was served together with yacon-cucumber raita and salna, a South Indian-style plain curry typically made with tomatoes and onion.
The biryani itself is immensely flavourful, each grain packed with the flavours of spices, chicken, dried fruit and shallots to create fireworks. Short grain rice is used instead of the typical Basmati, as is familiar with South Indian food, lining up with the rice varietals used in Japanese cuisine. Eating the biryani with the salna adds a certain robust heaviness, while the raita contrastingly adds a desirable lightness. This carb-packed finale essentially seals the deal with five or six spoonfuls of pure gratification.
The meal concludes with local Temuan chocolate cremeux, salted caramel ice cream, pecan nut sponge and almond praline. The salted caramel ice cream was nutty and sweet, balancing the chocolate's slightly bitter notes. The candied almonds make a perfect addition since chocolate and nuts go together like whisky and a dash of water. While I enjoyed dessert, it felt the most thematically removed for me, neither Japanese nor Indian but instead French.
As I reflect on my experience at Nadodi, I can wholeheartedly endorse this fantastic experience to anyone eager to stretch the limits of their perception of South Indian flavours or to those wishing for an excuse to revisit the restaurant once more now that dine-ins are allowed. Nadodi continues to get better, and it's been tremendously pleasing to taste the fruits of their evolution.
I highly recommend you embrace this nomadic journey as you metaphorically trek across South Indian in search of its culinary greatest hits that Nadodi lovingly curates in its signature dining experience.
Just a side note however, I'm told that the menu is expecting a refresh.