Uday Balaji is on an overdrive. The electronics and communications engineer who spent the early years of his career at Infosys is now a restaurateur and is introducing specialised cuisine outside of their home base. So there’s Batlivala & Khanabhoy offering Parsi fare in Chennai, and in a bid to break stereotypes surrounding South Indian food, he set up Savya Rasa in Pune in October last year. The menu is extensive and features cuisines like Kongunadu, Chettinad, Malabar, Nasrani, Mangaluru, Mysuru and Nellore.
Speaking to Pune 365 about the inspiration behind Savya Rasa, Balaji who is CEO of V M Hospitality, says: “Outside of the south, most people generally see South Indian food as idli, dosa,vada and the like. Savya Rasa was born out of the desire to showcase the deep regional variety in the cuisine and culture that the south has to offer. It is meant to be a destination restaurant where a guest is transported to a southern home.”
Soon after a six-year stint at Infosys, Balaji did an MBA from IESE Business School at the University of Navarra, Spain. VM Hospitality, a company owned by Balaji’s brother Vikram Mohan, runs restaurants in Chennai, Coimbatore and Pune under the brands Savya Rasa, Meena Tai’s and Batlivala & Khanabhoy. And there’s an Ethiopian eatery coming up soon.
Back to the restaurant: located near Starbucks on North Main Road, its interiors are decorated with several artefacts, paintings and furniture that is native to the south. The glass windows are adorned with a set of puppets from Andhra Pradesh known as Thol Bommalu. They are made from leather and depict certain scenes from the Ramayana. “It was our intention to keep the architectural aspect of the restaurant limited to one region, so it is primarily meant to recreate a Chettinad home. However, we sourced artefacts from the various states through contacts and travels. We worked with Craft Councils, local artisans, artists and so on to source, commission and curate all the works showcased in our restaurant,” explains Balaji.
The menu boasts of serving seven types of cuisine from five southern states namely Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The names of these dishes may seem like a tongue-twister to some, but the staff dressed in crisp white mundus guide guests through it all, even giving a brief history. An exclusive menu with over 80 dishes with a separate menu for cocktails could leave one spoilt for choice. A meal for two would typically cost Rs 2,000, and a spokesperson for the restaurant said Savya Rasa Pune is positioned in the ‘fine dining’ category.
Balaji adds, “We are continuing our research in the south and we are planning to showcase various regions through festivals, seasonal menus and so on.” Some of the specials served from the new menu included Koon Ularathiyathu which is a dish of buttoned mushrooms tossed in black pepper, curry leaves and onions, Vengaya Somas, fried triangular pockets filled with caramelised onions and Rava Vadai which is a golden fried cutlet made from semolina, coconuts and green chillies. There are also a wide range of exquisite chicken, mutton and seafood dishes. The food was complimented with the Betel Sour, a concoction of whiskey and betel flavours and Coffeetini, a vodka-based coffee cocktail.
In an attempt to wow Puneites with exotic tastes, Savya Rasa has been garnering some rave reviews. To this Balaji responds, “The first few months were certainly interesting since we were getting a lot of requests for idli, dosa, sappad and so on. But as the months have gone by the people of Pune have really taken to the restaurant and appreciate what we’re trying to do. We constantly get feedback on how we’ve helped open eyes to the diversity of the south. This has been our biggest reward.”