Even though Chennai is located on a gorgeous seacoast, isn’t it a shame that we don’t have many restaurants offering fresh coastal and seafood?” Chef Harish Rao poses a rhetorical question, as we sit down for a meal at the city’s latest culinary addition, Sea Salt, in Nungambakkam. The restaurant, located right above Sandy’s Chocolate Laboratory, is owned by chef-restaurateur Sandesh Reddy, along.....
Featuring bright teal walls, the restaurant has fishing paraphernalia scattered beautifully all across it. A wooden boat demands your attention as it hangs from the ceiling at the centre of the space, oars on another wall and vintage-y black-and-white images of sea coasts and fishing scenes from around the country’s coasts take up the rest of the walls. A huge sign reading ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ is unmissable, next to huge glass boxes holding the day’s fresh catch, including fish, prawns, live lobsters and crabs.
We spot some rural red snapper, a huge snowy grouper fish, stingrays in the day’s catch. “The variety of fish could be different each day for lunch and dinner depending on the catch,” points out Harish. A diner gets to choose the fish or other seafood of their choice to be cooked in different preparations like kothu, tamarind curry, Madras curry and raw mango curry. While similar dining concept has existed in the city at restaurants like Marina, Sea Salt, on the other hand, places its focus on sustainable fishing and making diners appreciate seasonal fish rather than opt for the same kind they always prefer. “We are working with the local fishermen as well as ocean scientists to ensure we fish only using small boat and hand-cast nets to avoid overfishing, which happens due to large fishing vessels. Fresh catch is brought over each day during lunch and dinner times,” informs Harish.
We sit down to try the Madras squid, fried rings of freshly cut squid coated with a simple batter spiced with red chilli powder, and curry leaf prawns — shrimp sautéed in curry leaf paste. The prawns remain so tender and taste almost sweet from their freshness, while the squid still has its juiciness intact despite being fried. The decision to try a fresh lobster in Uthukuli butter is one of the wisest picks from the menu and a highly recommended one. The very tender lobster paired with a hint of garlic and a generous amount of butter is a match made in heaven. The freshness is sure to linger around your taste buds and mind for very long. If you like a bit of crunch while eating your fish, try the stingray curry, which features an unusual crispy cartilage. Relish it with a hot-off-the-pan egg appam or parotta, which are made at a live counter. While most restaurants refrain from serving the fish head, the restaurant gives the option of turning it into a delicious curry. Every diner is ensured to have an informative meal here — from learning about new kinds of fish, to consuming them wholly, losing inhibitions. All the food is served in terracotta pots, fisherman’s style.
Sea Salt calls itself a coastal food restaurant, drawing inspiration from the food found in Nellore, Chennai, Puducherry and even Mangaluru, with its ghee-laden chicken roast featuring on the menu. For the biryani lovers, yera choru is one of the most flavourful prawn biryanis you’ll find around. We end the meal with a tender coconut payasam, which contains just enough sweetness with chewy bits of moist young coconut in it. The restaurant certainly pays its tribute to the city’s fishing community in a flavourful manner.