The beauty about being of mixed parentage is that I have been exposed to a variety of cuisines from an early age. Mum learnt how to cook Indian food only after she got married, but she quickly picked it up to please my dad who enjoys a good curry. On her part, she taught my dad how to enjoy sambal belacan and kuay teow t'ng. It was a match made in heaven, and I am a by-product of their romp in their bedroom many many many many.....m a n y years ago after a dance in the rain (together with music and change of costumes) around the coconut trees in Penang.
Vishal, a chettinad restaurant, has been operating in Brickfields for the last four years. Dining at Vishal used to be an interesting experience. There was no signboard outside the restaurant when it first started operating. We were just told to look for the end shoplot next to Woo Lan. After locating it, we had to walk through the dark dusty room filled with cobwebs at the ground floor of the shophouse that seemed to be a store of some kind. We would then climb up the rickety wooden stairs to the first floor where we removed our shoes and walked barefoot to the tables that were lined up in rows along the length of the room. We would sit in a row, not facing each other, as Indian workers promptly placed banana leaves before us followed by the various types of food. It did feel like our little secret then. A little hideyhole which housed treasures meant for us alone. Of course, it was only a matter of time before word spread about the good food on the first floor of that dilapidated shophouse and people thronged the place to eat the freshly prepared meals at Vishal.
Barbie and I recently visited Vishal after an absence of almost 10 months. During that period, Vishal underwent massive renovations and is currently a very presentable looking restaurant located at the ground floor of the building which doesn't look as dilapidated as before and now sports a new coat of paint.
There is only one similarity between the old and the new Vishal. Tables are still placed in rows where people sit on one side. If you are seeking a romantic meal where you wish to gaze deeply into your partner's eyes as you sip your payasam, this is not the place for you.
Service was excellent. Before our butts touched our seats, banana leaves were immediately placed in front of us as one of the waiters quickly rattled off the menu for the day. We were overwhelmed with the selection of food and felt rather intimidated and obliged to take whatever was recommended by the affable waiter.
"Briyani rice is very good. You must try it", the man said.
Eager to try as many dishes as possible, I turned him down. "No, that's okay. I'll have white rice, please."
"No, no, no, the briyani rice is very good. You try", he said with a dancing movement of his head.
At that point, I gave in. Within seconds, the briyani appeared before me. Having tasted victory, the man backed off Barbie, so she got to enjoy her white rice.
The briyani rice with chicken was very good as the rice was infused with the flavours of the spices. The serving, unfortunately, was rather big and two could have easily shared that portion.
The banana leaf rice is served with a standard selection of vegetables. The vegetables that day were nondescript and uncreative. I hardly touched them after consuming the bare minimum for my daily intake.
The meat and fish dishes, on the other hand, were wonderful. The chicken varuval, a typical South Indian dish, had a dry, almost paste-like sauce that was spicy and extremely delicious.
There were several types of fish, marinated in a turmeric and chilli paste, that were deep fried to the point of crunchiness and brought to the customer immediately.
An interesting dish which we tried that afternoon was the lamb chop. The lamb was presumably slow cooked until very tender and then fried in an egg batter. The resultant dish was surprisingly delicious with the meat literally falling off the bone and the fried egg creating a custardy sweet flavour to the spiciness of the lamb.
Rasam, a spicy soup tasting very much like mulligatawny (perhaps they are the same), is served together with the meal. We are both big fans of rasam, and I always maintain that rasam either makes or breaks a meal. In this case, the rasam was sufficiently sour without overpowering the rest of the flavours.
For refreshments, we ordered two types of lassi. Barbie ordered the mango lassi which the waiter claimed was made with Indian mangoes, while I had my favourite salty lassi, which is essentially a diluted yoghurt drink with salt.
For dessert, we were served payasam, a thick soup-like drink (like tong sui) made of milk, cardamoms, cashew nuts and vermicelli. There are several varieties of payasam, but the payasam served here is the traditional South Indian variant. I wasn't too impressed with the payasam as it had a rather strong flavour of oil. The very sweet dessert, nevertheless, acted as a good foil for the spicy meal.
Vishal Food & Catering
No. 15, Jalan Scott
Off Jalan Tun Sambanthan, 50470 KL
Tel: 03-2274 0502/012-287 1995/012-311 2837/ 016-679 3374