The Hindu


Step into Ni­nan’s Restau­rant that serves you age-old recipes with a dash of his­tory

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Ni­nan’s Restau­rant is like step­ping into an­other world. It is a space with 20-foot-high ceil­ings, that trans­port you back to the Bri­tish Raj.

The build­ing that houses the restau­rant, YMCA, Es­planade, is 120 years old and the restau­rant has been op­er­at­ing here since the 1930s. It was first an Ira­nian restau­rant and then be­came the iconic Ni­nan’s in 1956.

It is now 1.30 pm and the restau­rant is fill­ing up fast; mostly ex­ec­u­tives from nearby of­fices and lawyers from the neigh­bour­ing High Court. Tur­baned wait­ers, dressed in white with blue cum­mer­bunds, scurry back and forth, car­ry­ing plates of steam­ing hot fish curry and rice, mut­ton

and Ni­nan’s sig­na­ture dish — caramel cus­tard.

Ni­nan Jr, the founder’s son, who has been run­ning the place since 1981, shows me to a ta­ble by the side and we sit down to talk. I ask him how it all started and he replies, “That is a long story.”

There are a cou­ple of ceil­ing fans dan­gling from high above, mov­ing at an un­hur­ried, stately pace, that re­minds me of a time gone by when time it­self seemed to flow a bit more slowly. The sight is strangely calm­ing and I tell him I have all the time in the world for a long story and he be­gins.

“My fa­ther KA Ni­nan stum­bled into the restau­rant busi­ness. He


:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: had come to Chennai in 1933 and had joined Spencer’s. Af­ter a few years, he was put in charge of run­ning the Con­nemara Ho­tel in Madras, the West End in Ban­ga­lore, and the Savoy in Ooty, which were owned by Spencer’s at the time. In 1950, at a din­ner, my fa­ther met Dr RV Ra­jan, the first In­dian Dean of Madras Med­i­cal Col­lege, who said he was hav­ing trou­ble run­ning the can­teen at Madras Med­i­cal Col­lege and asked my fa­ther if he would be in­ter­ested in tak­ing over the con­tract for the can­teen at MMC. My fa­ther agreed and here we are six decades later in the same busi­ness,” he smiles.

“My fa­ther hired one of the se­nior Con­nemara chefs, Kup­pusamy, to run the MMC kitchen and all our recipes over the last 60 years have been handed down and have re­mained un­changed.”

“In 1956, when the Parsi who had been run­ning the Iraglish nian restau­rant at YMCA Build­ing, wanted to exit the busi­ness, my fa­ther bought over the restau­rant,” shares Ni­nan.

Be­ing sit­u­ated op­po­site the High Court meant a ma­jor­ity of Ni­nan’s clients were lawyers and judges. One of them, Supreme Court lawyer TM Ku­mar rem­i­nisces, “My fa­ther used to haunt the restau­rant dur­ing his med­i­cal col­lege days. That is how Ni­nan’s be­came a house­hold name in our fam­ily. This was the place I first tasted caramel cus­tard as a child.”

In the 60s and 70s, Ni­nan’s EnEn­ter­ing Break­fast was a favourite among of­fice-go­ers in Parry’s and the many bach­e­lors who lived at YMCA. The break­fast, con­sist­ing of fried or scram­bled eggs, toast, corn flakes, milk, English tea and fil­ter cof­fee, is still served ev­ery morn­ing.

Asked to re­call a few in­ter­est­ing in­ci­dents over the years Ni­nan, talks of a time they were cater­ing to a State din­ner where Prime Min­is­ter Nehru was the chief guest. “Our man­ager Aravin­dan no­ticed that Nehruji was fond of chicken legs and got a sep­a­rate plate of just chicken legs and kept it next to Nehruji’s plate, who then looked up at Aravin­dan and thanked him.”

Food from Ni­nan’s kitchens was also served to min­is­ters of Ka­ma­raj’s Gov­ern­ment and at State din­ners for vis­it­ing dig­ni­taries like Pres­i­dent Nasser of Egypt. “Those days, we catered buf­fet din­ners for over 3,000 peo­ple and for­mal sit-down din­ners for 500 peo­ple at the Se­nate Hall and 700 peo­ple at Ra­jaji Hall,” shares Ni­nan. “Some of th­ese events would last three to four days and we had to pro­vide the food, cut­lery, crock­ery and ser­vice for lunch and din­ner for that du­ra­tion.” He adds, “My son Tarun joined the busi­ness last year. When I even­tu­ally pass on the ba­ton to him, I hope he will carry on the legacy left to him by his grand­fa­ther.”

Dr Jacinth Cor­nelius, re­tired Pro­fes­sor of ENT at Stan­ley Med­i­cal Col­lege, says, “In 1976, when I was do­ing my house sur­gency in Stan­ley, I was stay­ing at the Catholic Cen­tre near Parry’s and came to Ni­nan’s to have din­ner ev­ery day. I make it a point to drop in there for a meal. The fish fry and caramel cus­tard still taste the same as it did 40 years


In this fort­nightly column, we take a peek at some of the coun­try’s most iconic restau­rants

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 ?? R RAVINDRAN ■ ?? Long in­ning Ni­nan’s still stands strong
R RAVINDRAN ■ Long in­ning Ni­nan’s still stands strong

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