Akshar Chalwadi serves concoctions crafted with exacting precision
SINGAPORE (Oct 21): When you order a gin and tonic at Nadodi in Kuala Lumpur, there is a tinge of citrus, a light earthy taste to the cocktail that is slightly bitter, and a floral fragrance. The drink goes down smoothly, perhaps too quickly for the amount of work that goes into it.
Before it ended up in your cocktail, the tonic was painstakingly brewed by Akshar Chalwadi, head of beverage programme at Nadodi, for three days. At a demonstration at Salted & Hung in Singapore recently, Chalwadi showed Options what goes into his cocktails. For this particular one: cardamom, lavender, orange, lime and lemon peel, lemongrass, allspice, citric acid, salt, vanilla and Cinchona — the bark of a tree sourced from Java.
He carefully measures out the portions for each, puts it into a bag with water, mixes it, vacuum seals the bag, then lets it sit for three days. Each day, the bag has to be shaken for five minutes. After three days, it is filtered and strained two to three times before sugar is added to the mixture, forming the syrup that would later — with the addition of sparkling water — become the tonic in your G&T.
Chalwadi and his team, including chef de cuisine Sricharan Venkatesh, were in Singapore for two nights for a four-hands collaboration with Salted & Hung’s chef Drew Nocente. They presented a nine-course dinner menu on Oct 2 and 3, with the two chefs working together to create a compelling, flavour-driven food menu, showcasing the synergy between age-old South Indian culinary techniques, such as fermentation, and modern-day interpretations by Salted & Hung.
Nadodi specialises in contemporary South Indian cuisine. It opened in March 2017 and its name means “nomad” or “wanderer” in Tamil and Malayalam. Nadodi draws inspiration from the comforting, unique flavours and ingredients that South Indians, who settled in the Malay Peninsula and Singapore in the 10th century, have contributed to the region’s culinary diversity.
Nadodi was set up by three individuals who either grew up or lived in South India. Venkatesh spent his formative years in Chennai, an agricultural hub known for its vast paddy fields. Brand director Kartik Kumar comes from Pondicherry, an area in South India with a heavy French influence. Chalwadi, from Mumbai, moved to Bengaluru in his teenage years to further his education. Together, this young team — aged 28 to 33 — has managed to gain acclaim for offering a groundbreaking culinary experience to global diners in KL.
Alongside the dinner in Singapore, Chalwadi held a cocktail masterclass showing the delicate work that goes into his drinks. He has it down to a science. “We don’t infuse the flavours directly into the tonic water because it starts fermenting quickly,” he says.
He filters the mixture so there are no active particles in it, and uses a bag to steep it instead of boiling the mixture so the flavours are gentle. He also uses a sustainable approach, using ingredients that would otherwise have been discarded from the kitchen — for example, using citrus peel or leftover rice that is turned into crackers as cocktail toppings.
The same approach is applied to all of his cocktails, whether it is his signature Wagyu Cocktail — a savoury concoction with wagyu fat, rosemary, peppercorns and garlic — or Rasam, a reinvention of the traditional South Indian soup, with seven-day lacto-fermented tomatoes and topped with warm rasam foam and a black rice cracker.
Chalwadi works closely with his chef so there is collaborative synergy between the kitchen and bar. Frozen Lake Cocktail, for example, is a combination of umami
smoked salmon-flavoured gin, fennel and basil-infused vodka and a splash of sweet-herbaceous fennel and basil sugar syrup. In the Tamarind Earl Grey Cocktail, a rye whisky-based tamarind and Earl Grey tea cocktail is served with a tamarind-flavoured, edible fruit leather butterfly and wood sorrel petals.
This collaboration means the drinks go well with the food. At Nadodi, customers have the choice of three menus, wine pairings and cocktail pairings. Apparently, the latter is extremely popular on the weekends. Focusing on how each beverage may enhance the gustatory experience, Chalwadi incorporates small shot or sip formats that complement the meal rather than overwhelm the diner.
Nadodi can seat 48 people and has two private rooms. One accommodates 12 diners and has a view of the chefs in the kitchen; the other can host up to six people for a more intimate dining experience. Complementing the restaurants’ storytelling experience in the main dining room is a collection of evocative black-and-white photos, curated by the team, that reflect life on the Indian subcontinent.
Kok Xinghui is a journalist with a keen interest in social issues and politics