Elevated Indian
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Elevated Indian

New chef Ayush Nayak gives classics a twist at Maya restaurant


If you've been in Bangkok as long as I have, you know to forego the hype and stick to good food. Enter Maya, Indian restaurant at the Holiday Inn Sukhumvit 22, which has been a favourite since the days of free-flow ladies' nights.

Chef Ayush Nayak.

Though, I am an anomaly and would go more for the solid Indian food rather than the flowing glasses of bubbly. So, I was happy on hearing that Maya had finally reopened its doors after an eight-month hiatus with two menus and a new young Indian chef, who has brought his own specials to the table.

The Heritage menu has all the favourites, which Maya was consistently good at and drew everyone to the restaurant, brunch being a hot favourite. The Crafted menu is the chef's specials and chef Ayush Nayak, who hails from the Indian central state of Madhya Pradesh, takes dishes from the Heritage menu and re-imagines them without taking away from the core taste of the dishes.

"I am serving 80% heritage cuisine and 20% crafted. I focus on the presentation without compromising on the authentic taste of India. Like my Saag paneer lasagne [B420] with a bell pepper gravy, is a modern interpretation of the classic saag paneer. It is layers of paneer in-between layers of saag with a capsicum sauce at the bottom, hence the term lasagna. It is only made to look like lasagna, but has the taste of saag paneer," says the young chef.

Right: Purani Delhi ki ghosh briyani.

Kulfi falooda.

From left: Gobi Manchurian chaat with a mango, mint and lime lassi; Mixed berries kheer.

I love lamb chops done the southern Asian way and if it's on a menu, it is part of my order. The Lamb chops with raw mango and mint sauce (B550) is so good at Maya, with the chef marinating them with Indian spices for five to six hours and then is roasted in a tandoor. Though it comes with an onion salad, which is a staple accompaniment to the dish, which is also liberally tossed in the mango chutney, I would have preferred more chutney. It was that good.

The word "galouti" translates to "thing that melts in the mouth" and Lucknow's famous galouti kebab has a fascinating history behind it. The galouti kebab is said to have first originated in the kitchens of an ageing nawab (nobleman), who was fond of meat but had weak teeth. So, his cooks decided to create the kebab in such a way that it melts in the mouth and at Maya, the Carrot and beetroot ki galouti (B420) with avocado sauce is no exception. "This is a dish that has a lot of thought put into it. I love the colour of beetroot and I decided to create a vegetarian galouti instead of the usual meat one," adds chef Nayak. The kebab has ghee and cottage cheese to bind the ingredients. Avocado doused with spices helps cut the sweetness of the carrot and beet.

If you're from Bombay, now Mumbai, you would recall the chicken or mutton puff or patties. My childhood memories kicked right in when I saw the Keema pao with homemade salsa (B350). The salsa being a typical Indian chutney that goes with such puffs. For his version of butter chicken, chef Nayak marinates chicken with vodka for an hour and adds it to the normal butter chicken marination before roasting it in the tandoor. The Shrabi butter chicken flambe with vodka (B450) is best mopped up with a jalapeno and olive naan (B120) or a ghee-loaded one. Ghee is the good fat, remember?

From left: Keema pao; Carrot and beetroot ki galouti.

Don't leave the restaurant without tasting one of the biryanis, and there are two main to choose from: Purani Dehli ki ghosh biryani (old Delhi's meat biryani, B620) and Matka kathal biryani (clay pot jackfruit biryani, B450). The Matka kathal was more delicious than the meat one even though it is a vegetarian biryani. Last year, there was much debate in the Indian sub-continent about a vegetable biryani being a biryani or a pulao, and my opinion is: does it really matter? Indians have been using unripe jackfruit in their cooking for decades and this one, cooked in a clay pot under "dum" or steam using dough as a lid, was sublime.

"I come from a vegetarian household and the standing joke in our family is when I ask my mother to cook me a 'chicken biryani'. She knows I'm referring to jackfruit as it has a certain meatiness to it," laughs chef Nayak. I love wet biryanis, the more masala, the better. Neither biryani disappointed in that department. The biryanis are served with a salan (curry), a raw salad and a boondi (fried chickpea flour) raita.

For dessert, I suggest the small pot of Mixed berries kheer (B220), which is a saffron rice kheer garnished with berries to cut through the richness, or the classic Kulfi falooda (B175), a mix of malai kulfi, Rooh Afsa and vermicelli that would do wonders in this hot weather.

Maya manager Shyam Kumar doubles up as the bar manager and has crafted a few cocktails and mocktails to go with the Indian meal, so do ask him to make you one of his delicious concoctions.

Upscale, unpretentious and solid food, thy name is Maya. Visit bangkoksukhumvit.holidayinn.com/maya-restaurant.

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