Chennai’s newest Mediterranean spot offers, as one would expect, Morrocan tiled interiors and generous mezze platters with bowls of creamy hummus, warm pita bread and salty olives. But well before we browse the menu or even head up the elevator to this rooftop dining space in Nandanam, we find ourselves already quite taken by its name: Finding Rumi. Owner Junaid Ahmed seems to have a knack for coming up with names that intrigue and delight. A case in point is The Butterfly Effect Café (just a floor below) which he opened last year.
Conversation unfolds over crisp Spanakopita triangles (filo pastry filled with spinach and feta) and succulent chunks of Dijaj Souvlaki (chicken marinated with hung curd and charcoal-grilled) as Junaid walks us through his homage to the Persian poet. An architect by profession, Junaid points to the classical interiors — a mix of Moroccan, Greek, Roman and Persian concepts — which he says, “coincide and relate with the regions Rumi travelled in, lived in and food from those regions.” The chandeliers with long stems that fan out into bulbs look much like the outstretched arms of a Dervish dancer — a dance form founded by the poet as a Sufi whirling form of meditation. Meanwhile, we hear the occasional chirps of resident lovebirds Pyramus and Thisbe (names inspired by the ill-fated lovers in Ovid’s Metamorphoses) — no doubt a reminder that some of Rumi’s most soul-stirring works following love and loss.
That’s what cheese said
Chef Vijay G rolls out an elaborate spread of shareable plates and appetisers including a wholesome Moroccan Pumpkin Soup and Sigara Boreg Jibneh which are savoury pastry rolls fried till golden with the goodness of ricotta and cheddar filling. The latter, we enjoy digging into with a side of Levantine tabbouleh (tomatoes, mint, onion) for those bright, fresh flavours with some lemony zing. We decide to take a quick walk at this point to pace ourselves for the main course and spot a pretty string of lights suspended in the outdoor section which promises quite the Pinterest setting at night.
Toast to the roast
Back at our table, there is barely a glimpse of the white table cloth with dishes overflowing. This time, we sample some favourites from the Northwest Indian section of the menu as well, like the classic Mutton Rogan Josh which comes with a deep red gravy and tender meat. But we find ourselves keener on the Iraqi Spiced Dijaj, which is a roasted spiced chicken with a curious Egyptian vermicelli-rice and grilled veggies. Dessert, we consider skipping by this point because we are bursting at the seams. But the Baklava rich with pistachio and its Greek cousin, the Kataifi drenched in syrup are a temptation too sweet to resist.
Meal for two INR 1,800.