Restaurant Review: Avartana Brings Its Soulful South Indian Experiments To Mumbai

Feb 6, 2024

I never knew I would enjoy rasam poured from a French press into a Martini glass. I didn’t realise my papad could lend amazing crunch to my dessert. I never imagined I’d taste doodhi in the form of spaghetti. This was until I dined at Avartana at ITC Maratha in Mumbai. My recent meal at the preview of ITC’s flagship contemporary South Indian restaurant was eye-opening in more ways than one. The original Avartana at ITC Grand Chola in Chennai was ranked 30th among Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2023. It was one of only three Indian restaurants to be featured on the prestigious list. Its Mumbai establishment continues its legacy of celebrating the mystical yet modern aromas from Southern India. This is the third Avartana in the country – the other one is located at ITC Royal Bengal in Kolkata. 

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Photo Credit: Avartana

Avartana offers five tasting menus, each inspired by different motifs and storytelling objectives: the seven-course Maya (mystical), the nine-course Bela (beautiful), the chef-special eleven-course Jiaa (soulful), the thirteen-course Anika (grace) and the thirteen-course seafood special Tara (sparkling). At the preview, we enjoyed a selection of dishes from each menu, aptly united under the title of “Kimaya” (divine). We had chosen to try the vegetarian menu and were pleased to note that the variety and ingenuity were equally matched with that of the non-veg section.

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Potato Nest. Photo Credit: Avartana

The amuse bouche was a mini Potato Nest topped with a pineapple and mint sphere. It broke apart with satisfying crispiness, flooding our palette with a refreshing burst of flavour. The first true taste of Avartana’s signature style was in the Distilled Tomato Rasam that followed. The broth was poured over fresh coriander leaves and cherry tomatoes in a French press. It was then served to us in Martini glasses. Two sips were all that were needed to convince us – we could have this every day! The understated heat of the black pepper and the smoothness of the rasam combined to give it a uniquely healing effect.

The rasam epitomised the delightful balance that Avartana manages to master – the presentation of ingredients is unfamiliar, but the taste is undeniably wholesome. The dishes are experiments with a soul. They are not fancy reinterpretations that confound and leave one scrambling to find a silver lining. Creativity and thoughtfulness radiate from the menu, plating, service and decor. 

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Tempered Bottle Gourd. Photo Credit: Avartana

After making a mental note to request rasam refills, we began with the courses. For vegetarians, the first to arrive was the Tempered Bottle Gourd. The humble doodhi was virtually unrecognisable on my plate in its spaghetti-like avatar. I was almost suspicious. This feeling of unfamiliarity is a contrived one, Chef Deepti Jadhav tells us. She explains that Avartana aims to create that vague dissonance between the conventional and the unconventional. It is not here to deliver what we are “used to”. It is here to challenge our notions of what these simple, everyday ingredients can be turned into. But once you dig in, Chef Deepti assures us, you’ll find the roots.

Drumstick Dumpling

Drumstick Dumpling. Photo Credit: Avartana

She was not wrong. The dish in front of us was made of doodhi. But we had a newfound appreciation for its texture and coolness. We (delicately) slurped it down with plum chutney and a multi-seed crisp. The Andhra mango ginger used to flavour the gourd is one of several hyperlocal ingredients that the restaurant takes pride in including. Several of the key ingredients are directly sourced from the Southern regions, as the team wants to replicate the charm of the original Avartana, Chef Deepti clarifies. The next novelty was the Drumstick Dumpling with moringa broth. Indians are no strangers to different vegetable stuffings inside dumplings and dim sums. Although uncommon, let us tell you, that the choice of a drumstick filling, like this one, works marvellously.

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Crispy Chilli Potato. Photo Credit: Avartana

Next, we feasted with childlike enthusiasm on the perfectly Crispy Chilli Potato – who could resist? It was spiced with Andhra-style vepudu masala and adorned with a buttermilk sphere. Another favourite was the Asparagus & Coconut Stew served with Idiyappam. Asparagus is not something one would usually find on South Indian menus. Chef Nikhil Nagpal, the brand custodian, explained how the vegetable was chosen for its ability to keep the focus on the flavours of the stew. Additionally, we discovered that the stringy idiyappams pair quite well with the crunch of asparagus too.

Asparagus & Coconut Stew

Asparagus & Coconut Stew. Photo Credit: Avartana

The ambience provided a harmonious backdrop to our culinary experiences. The banana leaf – the quintessential South Indian symbol – is a recurrent motif incorporated into the decor. The bright lighting is meant to represent the vibrant sunlight that graces the Southern states. The flooring has been inspired by traditional designs found in temples over there. The chandelier brings to mind the design of the cove of houseboats on the backwaters of Kerala. The crockery also serves as a reminder of the restaurant’s roots. Some of the courses are plated on granite serving dishes sourced directly from Mahabalipuram. One of the more colourful pieces is crafted with resin from Pondicherry. Diners can thus expect a genuinely holistic experience. 

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Photo Credit: Avartana

As we savoured the courses, we sipped on a wonderful mocktail called Pickle Jar – a concoction of raw mango, celery, coriander and lime juice, with a hint of red chilli powder. It was slightly tangy and wholly refreshing and didn’t go overboard with sourness. We loved the touch of serving it in a glass that actually resembled a pickle jar. The same can be said of the exquisite lemon leaf sorbet, which was served next as the palate cleanser.

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Spinach And Curd Cheese. Photo Credit: Avartana

Our enjoyment of the meal did not waver at any point. We were fascinated yet again by the delectable transformation of an everyday veggie when the Spinach And Curd Cheese arrived. The green leaves were shaped like a potli and enclosed a yummy dahi tempered with mustard seeds and onion. It was served with an aerated rice cake and South Indian-style salsa. The dish as a whole was unlike any palak sabzi or snack we’ve tasted. Even picky eaters won’t complain about greens in this delicious form.

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Uthukuli Morel. Photo Credit: Avartana

The next course was all about indulgence. The Uthukuli Morel was among the most memorable parts of our evening. The rich sauce pays homage to Uthukuli, a small town in Tamil Nadu renowned for its butter. It is served with butter toffee and mini Malabar parottas, which were also slathered with butter. This was the only course that felt heavier on the system but we had no regrets. The flakiness of the parottas and the exquisite amount of butter, when relished in such a setting, reminded us of the decadence of croissants and fine French pastries. But there was something special about seeing an Indian indulgence in the spotlight in this specific manner.

Jackfruit Rice with Okra Yogurt

Jackfruit Rice with Okra Yogurt. Photo Credit: Avartana

After this buttery binge, the Jackfruit Rice, steamed in a banana leaf, had a grounding effect. The jackfruit was beautifully cooked and fell apart easily as we scooped up the rice and okra yoghurt. The delicacy has a hometown feeling attached to it. Even if you’re not from the South, the dish seems like one you would eat and cherish at a grandparents’ house.

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Raw Mango Pudding with Ghee Candle. Photo Credit: Avartana

Both the dessert courses we tasted had theatrical elements to them. Flavour continued to reign, so we could not complain. The Raw Mango Pudding comes with a ghee candle that can be actually lit. As it melts, it lends the sweet a quick jolt of warmth. Ensure you quickly crush the accompanying papad over it and relish the pudding.

Fennel Panna Cotta

Fennel Panna Cotta. Photo Credit: Avartana

The next course was more hands-on. The Fennel Panna Cotta is designed like a bird’s nest. The sparkly nest is crafted with caramelised sugar and shelters a sweet, scrumptious egg. The egg ‘white’ is the panna cotta, while the shell is made of cocoa butter. There’s a yolk as well, made using mango and ginger puree. A small hammer is used to crack the egg and out flows the yolk! It’s a pleasing visual spectacle; but even if you’re not impressed, the mastery demonstrated in the balance of sweetness will win you over.

Avartana breathes magic into mundane ingredients at every step. We often compare a fantastic dining experience to a journey filled with discovery and adventure. This metaphor has never been more fitting than in the case of Avartana, Mumbai. We would gladly retrace our steps and make the voyage again.

  • Where: Avartana, ITC Maratha, Mumbai – A Luxury Collection Hotel, Sahar Airport Road, Andheri East, Mumbai – 400099 (Near International Airport, Ashok Nagar)
  • When: Dinner Only All Days, 7:00 pm to 11:00 pm (Prior Table Bookings with Menu Preference are recommended)
  • Price: INR 2500 – 4750 plus taxes, per guest, depending on the tasting menu selected.

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