Johnson Ebenezer and Sricharan Venkatesh
The driving forces behind contemporary South Indian concept Nadodi share about
their inspirations and experiences.
Just five years ago, the fine-dining scene in Kuala Lumpur was limited to a series of decidedly predictable choices: the usual glut of European options, where your meal would be rife with foie gras, truffles, butter and wine; a smattering of high-end Japanese omakases, and grand Chinese restaurants decked out in overwhelming chinoiserie. Things are changing though. Restaurants in the Malaysian capital are starting to look inwards, drawing from the rich multi-cultural diaspora that make the population.
In the case of Nadodi, which opened in 2017, it’s the South Indian people that have made the journey to settle in Southeast Asia.
Named for the Tamil and Malayalam word for “nomad”, Nadodi explores the different regional cuisines and flavours of the route from Tamil Nadu, down south to Sri Lanka. The cuisine, while mindful of the traditional flavours and nuances specific to each region, is presented in a contemporary way. Expect foams, savoury ice creams, and
dehydrated bits and bobs—like a miniaturised banana leaf meal of different side dishes encompassing every flavour, served on an edible “banana leaf” made with isomalt and chlorophyll.
Equally compelling is their cocktail programme, with items like a cold-and-hot, vodka based tipple inspired by rasam (a sour and spicy South indian soup typically served with rice); and a deconstructed bloody mary in granita form that also doubles up as a mid-meal palate cleanser.
How did the idea for Nadodi come about?
Ebenezer: Nadodi was conceived as a team effort between four members of our team: Sricharan, our chef de cuisine, Kartik, our brand director, Akshar, head of our beverage programme and myself. We wanted to present our heritage the best way we know how—through our food. Prior to Nadodi’s conception, the team and I were sharing recipes and what we grew up eating, and we realised that while we were raised in different parts of South India, we all grew up eating similar foods. How has the journey been like?
Venkatesh: It has been an exhilarating journey. We have learned much from each other and guests who have supported us from when we first opened. Our cuisine has also definitely evolved as we continuously learn and share with each other. We are constantly exploring new techniques and pushing new boundaries as we progress on our culinary journey.
Are there any dishes on the menu that evoke particularly strong emotions for either of you?
Venkatesh: Almost all our dishes on the menu are inspired by our childhood experiences [both Ebenezer and Venkatesh are from Chennai]. A few favourites include the Marina Melodies/Panju Mittai, which is a puff made with homemade cotton candy, filled with dried ginger and pistachio crumble. As children, myself and Johnson would get really excited about candies and pastries. I remember trying convince my grandparents to buy me cotton candy.
Another dish is the Sinora Egg Puff, an iconic item
that we had on our menu some time ago. This was inspired by memories from my college days; I grew up eating egg puffs from a bakery called SINORA in Chennai, which was situated right beside my school. I recall sinking my teeth into the moist, crumbly puff. It was also one of the few nonvegetarian items that I could eat back then, because I was raised in a strict vegetarian household. We rethought it into a flower pot-style snack with a flaky, buttery pastry tart and a mixture of boiled eggs and onion masala that is made to resemble “soil”.
Where do you think the dining scene in KL is going? Ebenezer: We are definitely seeing more restaurants open over the past few years. Kuala Lumpur has long been a dining destination for gourmands and foodies, and restaurateurs in KL are increasingly adventurous in catering to the global diner, which is adding diversity to our local dining scene.
Why KL? Do you think Nadodi would have worked in South India/Sri Lanka?
Venkatesh: When we first arrived in Malaysia, the team was surprised to see so many banana leaf restaurants. There were also many iterations of South Indian food in Malaysia, most of which are enjoyed as comfort food. We wanted to elevate the cuisine, while still drawing on the same familiar flavours found in typical South Indian fare. KL presents to us a more discerning crowd that embraces the techniques and flavours we bring to the table. We are not doing replications of South Indian food; instead, we are taking inspiration from the comforting flavours that people associaste with the cuisine.
Has any local cuisine/dish influenced some of the courses at Nadodi?
Venkatesh: One of our courses is inspired by fish head curry. “Heads Up” is presented in a ceramic mug and the base is lined with steamed local trout. The fresh catch is topped with crispy flat rice, which is tossed in lemon zest before being fried. It is then finished with a coconut and tamarind curry espuma and garnished with seaweed.
What/who are some restaurants/chefs you’re inspired by? We are always inspired by hawkers and street food vendors, watching them go about their day, cooking food that they love to cook—that is truly inspiring.
Coco Loco: a palate cleanser ofcoconut nectar, lemon-coconutgranita, lentils, cucumbers, andmarigold flowers
3 Bites: one-biteinterpretations of abanana leaf meal, kiri bath(a Sri Lankan coconutrice dish), and vada (afermented lentil fritter)