When the air cools in the evening, Ashwa 24’s plates of Ashwa Tajine warm up. Rose wine bubbles up from a glass of seltzer and the sound of waves rolling in from the beach anoints the night.
Chef Andrea Rubio, Israeli-British food writer and former executive sous chef to chef Yotam Ottolenghi, is in Chennai to breathe fresh Italian air into Aswa’s menu. Ottolenghi is one of the most famous chefs in the world. Early in her career, Andrea was working at a Korean restaurant in London called Hurwundeeki. During his time here, Andrea’s Sicilian Couscous Salad got him noticed by the then head chef of Ottolenghi. Pretty soon Andrea was making salads at Nopi’s, a restaurant in London.
“The first few months of my time in Ottolenghi’s kitchen I was just chopping salads. Nothing else,” says Andrea. “Some of the things I learned from the seven months I spent there were new cooking techniques and how to mix new ingredients together. For example, the burrata cuore di latte e pesca on Asvah’s menu is inspired by those techniques,” he said further.
Ashwath Naroth, managing partner, Ashwa 24, says the reason for the revamped menu is simple.
He adds, “We went for the Sicilian menu as the South Italian culture is very similar to the South Indian culture. They live by the sea, they have the same mindset, we in Chennai love starchy food and the aim here was to play with more ingredients and flavors and choose the right dishes to present to our guests. Before actually putting together the menu, we had to give her a good meal of Indian food.
The lamb tajine comes with saffron bread. Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
Chef Andrea in action | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
Dining area overlooking the sea | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
Currently on his first visit to Chennai, the chef-turned-musician is crafting a new menu for Ashwa 24. New additions to the menu include Arancini di Chennai Fried Biryani Rice Balls with Paneer, and Burrata Cuore di Latte e Pesca. The cuisine blends the flavors of Sicily with local ingredients and the quintessence of Chennai.
Fried biryani rice balls or biryani arancini are made from puff pastry. In the original recipe we use breadcrumbs and eggs, says Andrea, a dish inspired by the biryani prepared at Bailen in Triplicane. The dish has a delicate and puffy coating.
We find burrata again in Burrata cuore di latte e pesca. This dish comes with chunks of Burrata Cheese garnished with Paprika Toasted Pecan Nuts Pain Melting with Caramelized Peaches.
What adds sizzling freshness to each dish are the locally sourced ingredients. Sun-dried cherry tomatoes on Eucalyptus-sourced Italian bruschetta were sweet, tender and tender. The bruschetta comes with crunchy rocket leaf pesto, ricotta cheese and pecan nuts that add an extra zing to the dish.
A reworked cocktail menu experiments with drinks like 24 Bourbon that includes bourbon infused cinnamon and a swirl of Campari and sweet vermouth. Cocktails like the Gigi are a favorite among patrons. A heady mix of homemade grapefruit puree, sparkling wine and gin, the drink is capable of washing away the rough edges of a long day.
What steals the thunder from the cocktail menu is its selection of ice cream. There are Earl Gray and lavender, lychee and mango ginger sorbet, chocolate and orange with kosher salt, pollachi, pistachio and vanilla made from pods derived from kaffir lime, and many other flavors. Ashwath explains, “We chose to make ice cream using the traditional French method. Our ice cream melts quicker than normal ice cream because we have chosen not to use emulsifiers. These stabilizers are usually responsible for maintaining the temperature of the ice cream. The taste is more delicate in our ice cream.
Digging into Earl Gray and lavender ice cream is like eating a perfume—it tastes light, fragrant and comes with a scent that lingers. While the chocolate and orange come together with chunks of rich nutty chocolate, the salty kosher orange kicks in just as the cream melts in the mouth.
Baba, a pastry from Napoli, is a rum-soaked delectable creation whose availability depends on strict calibration—such as the ingredients and the cumbersome process of soaking them overnight in rum. If not done carefully, owner Ashwath removes it from the menu. “Unless it’s made the way it’s supposed to be, I don’t serve it. I don’t want to let customers down,” he says.
The menu at Andrea’s in Aswah blends the flavors of the Italian seaside with the sizzle of Chennai’s East Coast Road.
Call 8610225381 for registration. A meal for two costs ₹3,000 for two. Ashwa 24 is located at 4/24, Beach Road, Sri Kapaleeswarar Nagar, Neelankarai, Chennai.