Attain Culinary Nirvana at Chef Pillai’s Innovative Restaurant
Image Credit: Inji Puli Chicken Wings

To explore South Indian cuisine, I landed in Bangalore, the most suitable city for the cause. In Bangalore, one can experience the cuisines of all the south Indian states and their sub-cuisines as well. Be it Coastal Karnataka or Uttara Kannada, Chettinad or Karnataka’s fantastic vegetarian cuisine, Andhra or the famed Hyderabadi cuisine, Malabar or the southern Kerala food, Bangalore is the melting pot of all the great south Indian cuisines.

I have a lot of friends in Bangalore, and fortunately, more than a few of them have worked hard to find their way up to be reputed chefs in the city. Usually, I base my explorations around suggestions from the locals; however, the most serious recommendation I always take advantage of is when they come from a chef working in the city. So, when a food-loving college friend of mine, as well as the executive chef of a five-star hotel plying in the city, recommended me this Kerala cuisine restaurant in Whitefield, the passion for food exploration in me left me with no choice but to make a trip across the city to reach Chef Pillai’s restaurant opposite the Phoenix market mall.

Making a reservation was a wise decision, as I realised the popularity of Restaurant Chef Pillai, which was a full house. Professionalism was unmissable as the warm and courteous manager greeted and escorted us to our table. A nice and cosy verandah housed close to 10 tables. I glanced upon the celebrity wall adorned with photographs of film stars and cricketers who are fans of chef Pillai’s excellent culinary skills.

To eat well at a celebrity chef’s restaurant is prudent to base your order on wise recommendations from the server. Mr. Mathews, the restaurant chef Pillai's enterprising manager, suggested we try the ‘Inji puli’ chicken wings and ‘Venad Paal Konju’ for the starters. ‘Inji Puli’ is a traditional Kerala-style sweet, sour, and spicy sauce in which the crispy and juicy chicken wings are immersed. The bite-sized chicken wings were addictive, and we realised that at its first touch on our palate. Ginger and Tamarind were prominent flavours; however, adding jaggery and chilies heightened the taste, letting the Yin and Yang of the opposite flavours bowl us over. We got tempted to order a repeat portion of it; however, the many interesting culinary options on chef Pillai’s extensive menu stopped us and led us to try the delicious-looking prawns on the table. ‘Venad Paal Konju’, another of Chef Pillai’s classic Kerala dishes, had juicy and perfectly cooked prawns tossed in curried coconut milk with a quintessential curry leaf flavour. The sprinkling of Sambol atop the prawn dish from the Kollam district of Kerala took our hearts away. It was a fantastic start to a meal we looked forward to dining at, and there were still quite a few dishes to go; we were excited in anticipation.

                          Image: Venad Paal Konju

Chef Suresh Pillai has worked internationally and gained further fame from his stint at the Masterchef competition. Living up to our expectations were the innovative dishes from the mischievous short eats menu, which included chef Pillai’s take on popular chaat items. ‘Sambharam Kadumanga’ Paani puris were Paani puris or Golgappa or Puchkas, as they are called in different regions of India; however, the Kerala stamp on it replaced the jaljeera water with spiced and tempered buttermilk (Sambhharam), and instead of the usual potato and chickpea fillings, the paani puri was pre-stuffed with Kerala’s delicious mango pickle (Kadumanga). What a bomb of flavours It was. The tangy and sharp flavour of mango pickle burst into our mouths, and simultaneously the ‘Sambharam’ played a cool soothing effect. Highly impressed and left inspired to try this at home whenever my paani puri-loving family gets together.

‘Pazham Pori chaat’ was a take on Kerala’s authentic snack of raw Banana fritters served with honey yoghurt and delicious chutney made with tamarind, dates, and jaggery. Namkeen mixture was sprinkled atop along with red and bright pomegranate. It was one of a kind dish and introduced us to the authentic flavour of Kerala, a state which I had never visited at the time of my visit to Chef Pillai’s restaurant.

There were many interesting dishes for the main course on the menu, the curries, the roast, and the stews, but, as my friend had recommended, we went straight for the signatures and ordered the ‘Karimeen Nirvana’; from chef Pillai’s much-talked-about Nirvana menu. ‘Karimeen (Pearl spot)’ is Kerala’s most popular fish, and serving Karimeen wrapped in Banana Leaf is the quintessential Kerala style of cooking the loved ‘Karimeen’. Chef Pillai uplifted the ‘Meen Polichatthu’ (Wrapped in Banana Leaf) and served the pan-fried masala ‘Karimeen’ with coconut milk poured over the fish. A big leaf of banana was placed atop the ‘Appam Chatti’ (Utensil to cook appam), upon which the ‘Karimeen’ was served, brimming with the thick and creamy coconut milk sauce. With the traditional accompaniment of soft and fluffy ‘Appam’ and the stringy ‘Nool Parathas’ served along with the ‘Karimeen Nirvana’, the temptation to dig into it reached its pinnacle.


I took a big grab of ‘Appam’, swabbed as much of the fish and the sauce as possible, and placed it carefully on my palate. ‘Nirvana’, that’s what they named it, and how aptly so. I am a big lover of coconut, and ‘Karimeen’ is a fantastic fish to enjoy the coconut flavours with. The flavours of ginger, green chilies, and curry leaves were unmistakable; however, the reduced coconut milk carried a soft and velvety texture which I believe is the X-factor of chef Pillai’s signature dish. It deserves all the hype it has got and more accolades for presenting the authentic flavours of Kerala cuisine in an innovative style. 

                        Image: Tender coconut pudding 

We were in ‘Nirvana’ already; however, if anything else could have made our experience better and left us with the flavour of Kerala on our palate, it was the tender coconut pudding we enjoyed for dessert. Chilled, wobbly, and oh so coconutty! It was a perfect finish to the marathon of a meal, and we felt victorious at the end of it. My quest to explore the South Indian cuisines in Bangalore felt worthwhile. The way Chef Pillai has created exciting dishes with authentic flavours from his state is inspirational to other chefs who wish to promote their regional cuisines. The service at chef Pillai’s restaurant is commendable. As a chef-centric restaurant, his ode to his roots and respect for it is evident from the many pictures of him adorning the wall. One particular image is unmissably inspirational of Chef Pillai with his mother, who I am sure, has played a significant role in making Chef Pillai what he is today. He is a culinary Maverick, a prodigal chef, and one with great respect for the culinary traditions of where he comes from. i.e. God’s own country, Kerala.

Sidharth Bhan Gupta, Founder of 361 Degrees Hospitality, is a Hospitality / Food and Beverage / Restaurant Consultant, Travelling across India on a Cultural and Culinary Exploration.