With silver pillars and customized tableware, Southern Spice pulls out all the stops in presentation, yet remains delightfully old school with the food.

There is the fine French china by Bernardaud and gold and silver plated spoons, but be prepared to give your fingers quite a work-out at the relaunched Southern Spice. After a 10 month long wait, Taj Coromandel's South Indian restaurant has opened its doors to a 100 cover dining space that will make regulars proud. But first, the finger speak. Besides murals and carvings on the walls, the silver leaf columns, and Padmanabhapuram Palace inspired bronze lamps. It's the Italian table linen and napkins  that will find you wanting to play touch and feel.. And when the menu arrives, don't miss the kayfr katti kola urundal, which comes wrapped up in banana fibre. like a Christmas bauble. The trick is in the dexterous unravelling of the slender cord, before you pop the minced lamb dumpling into your mouth. A Thanjavur specialty, it is one of the additions to the menu that has been borrowed from the late actor Sivaji Ganesan's home. And for some serious finger-flexing, wait till the main course when the Malabar crab curry with coconut makes an entry. The sweet and delicately spiced meat will find you dropping all pretence of fine dining to battle the stubborn shell. It is worth it, we promise.

Slice of the South

While the kola urundal and the crab curry are the new items at what the Taj Group of Hotels is certain will become a destination restaurant, old favorites like the Allepy fish curry with green mango, the banana dosa and the elaneer payasam [a Southern Spice original] have been retained. The elimination process hasn't been easy. Executive chef Alok Anand was joined by the restaurant's 10 chefs and sopme members of the original team launched Southern Spice back in 1996 to file their list of 500 new and special recipies dwn to 60. With the months of research in Dindigul, Madurai, Karalkudl, Virudnagar, Kozhikode, Vijayawada, vVishakhapatnam and Karwar etc going into the recipes, it's no wonder Chef Anand is not letting go of the dishes that didn't make it. "They are all special and will be on the menu later", he says, recalling how he championed the paruppu usili, a steamed lentil dish from Tamil Nadu in which he has substituted asparagus for the usual beans. While both Anand and the hotel's general manager, N. Prakash, insist that the food is as traditional as it can get, therefore a few nods to creativity in the kitchen, courtesy Canadian scallops prepared Kerala-style, or Angus beef with masala and - get this - chocolate mousse for dessert with a runny center of 'poornam' or coconut, lentil and jaggery. "Everybody loves chocolate and we decided to make our own," is Anand's reasoning.

The Private Room

Among the new offerings at the restaurant outfitted by the edgy American designer, Ed Poole, are three private dining rooms that can seat 6-12 people. Featuring gold-plated dinnerware and the option of an exclusive Tamil Brahmin sadya [full meal], the rooms offer privacy at the flick of a button and come with personalized service, fabulous Mysore-style murals and in one instance, a vibrant kalakart ceiling. The place works for intimate family gatherings and business outings. A hand-tufted kolam carpet, lotus motifs and regal chairs complete the look of the restaurant. Meanwhile, among the trademark offerings from the kitchen is a rasam menu, featuring five varieties - with a customised serving bowl, you can make a production of it as you would with the special teas at Golden Dragon next door. As for the briyani, there are four varieties, with the moist, evenly spiced moplah neimeen [seer] briyani being the show stealer.

Sweet Specifics

For dessert, Anand and team have short-listed the chocolate mousse and the tender coconut payasam mentioned earlier. Two experimental ice creams, a re-imagined wheat payasam in one instance and a cardamon and pepper offering, round up the list. For the purist, there is a divine sugar free poha and to end the meal, strong filter coffee and some spicy chocolates.