Central Colombo seems to love North Indian food, but South Indian food rarely gets a holler unless it's Chutneys, Saraswathie Lodge, Shanmugas or the likes. The international chain Ponnusamy on Horton Place plans to change that along with its vegetarian partner, Vasantha Bawan.
Despite hailing from Tamil Nadu, the Nagarathars whip up plenty of non-vegetarian dishes which we were keen to try again. Strangely, the Ponnusamy menu was vast, with over a hundred items to choose from, not all of them Chettinad. Despite them being open for almost a month now, a lot of options weren't available either, like idiyappam, the entire dessert section, any of the crab dishes, or many rotis.
We decided to start off with Rasam, a good indication of how well they prepare their ground masalas. At Rs. 150, this tamarind-based soup was reasonable and hella spicy. Like, eye-tearing spicy. My sinuses haven't been that clear in ears (ha ha). Due to the spice factor, it was actually sufficient for two people to share.
Our next starter was the Chicken 65 at a slightly pricey Rs. 580. The dish consisted of just about 6 small pieces of deep-fried boneless chicken, coated in a generic chillie dry spice. It wasn't the real Chicken 65 flavour I'd grown to love in restaurants in Chennai, and I wasn't impressed.
Dosa had to obviously be on the cards, so we opted for 2 plates of fresh, hot, crispy dosais at Rs. 200 each. This was very reasonable given the standard of preparation, and the chutney and sambar that came with it were well-executed too.
Idiyappam was not available, which is a bit silly given that it's one of the staples of Chettinad cuisine, so we opted for Butter Naan out of sheer greed. No it's not Chettinad or even South Indian, but it was buttery and available, so we gave in. At Rs. 180 it was hot, buttery, and well-prepared.
For our curries, we opted for the Chettinad Chicken Curry (Rs. 650), Prawns Masala (Rs. 750), Aloo Gobi Masala (Rs. 470). Each portion was quite small, and just about enough for two people to share. All the curries were virtually interchangeable, with goopy thick gravy, ghee, and indeterminable spices. The Aloo Gobi was quite good, and the chicken alright, but the prawns were incredibly bad. They were tiny, hard mysteriously black prawns that tasted off, almost bitter. We sent that back immediately.
We just didn't think either the portion size, the preparation, or the variation of any of the meat dishes made them worth their prices. We were also disappointed by the complete lack of dessert.
Service & Ambience
The service was blustering and busy, just like you'd expect from a real Chennai restaurant. Our food, however, took a surprising amount of time as my experience in Chettinad restaurants is usually of lickety-spit quick food. The waiter was very confident and told me everything on the menu was great when I asked for recommendations. However, when a lot of items were not available, and we sent the prawns back, he was unconcerned and unabashed.
Ambience-wise, Ponnusamy is your classic simple South Indian restaurant. White walls, loud conversation, a scattering of Hindu statues or paintings, and some truly strange bright gold statues outside.
Even though they removed the prawns from the final price, our total came to about Rs. 3069. While this would ordinarily be reasonable for a meal for 3, none of us came away feeling satisfied. They also didn't have a card machine, which was tedious. We'd quite ironically recommend Ponnusamy for their vegetarian (dosa), non-Chettinad (Aloo Gobi, Butter Naan) fare over the non-vegetarian Chettinad fare they're touting themselves for. However, this is still early days and we hope they'll get their act (and meat dishes) together soon. We'll have the Vasantha Bhawan review out in a couple of days so you can exchange notes.