The Kandyan Restaurant review in Besant Nagar in Chennai

the kandyan restaurant review in chennai besant nagar

February 23rd, 2022

There are surprisingly not that many Sri Lankan restaurants in Chennai. Given that Colombo is just an hour away from Chennai by air and there are so many links between the two places you can be forgiven for assuming that but it is not the case unfortunately. But I was in Chennai and having had a lot of phenomenal South Indian cuisine already I jumped at the recommendation to visit "The Kandyan" restaurant for some great Sri Lankan food - a cuisine I don't get too many opportunities to eat enough of sadly.

The Kandyan is located in Chennai's Besant Nagar neighborhood, an upscale locality within Chennai that is known for its pleasant beach and is also the location for some Chennai's famous cultural institutions like the Kalakshetra dance school. The restaurant itself is a little away from the more crowded spots in Besant Nagar along side a wide road cutting somewhere along the middle of Besant Nagar in a compound it shares with some restaurants offering western eats including New York style pizza.

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A mural depicting a Kandyan Royal procession

It is on the top floor of the two storey building with a metal stairway to the side pictured in the photo above. We had to shoo away the dog lying there to climb up, don't get me wrong I love dogs but do have my concerns about catching something from street strays. It seemed to have expropriated the staircase for itself though and was back again when we returned.

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There were interesting paintings and murals inside as well

But getting back to the focus of this post which is a review of the Kandyan restaurant and the absolutely delicious Sri Lankan food on offer, I would like to highlight that there are some pretty nifty Sri Lankan murals around and inside The Kandyan. The most impressive mural is the one covering the entire wall alongside the stairs all the way up to the entrance, featuring a Royal procession, presumably of the Kandyan Kings in Sri Lanka filled with elephants, royal umbrellas, Kandyan dancers - the iconic cultural dance of Sri Lanka, including some donning the "Raksha" mask or a devil mask, another popular cultural style common in Sri Lankan traditions.

Even before entering the restaurant and sampling the food I was feeling nostalgic about visiting the island where it has been quite a few years since my last visit.

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The restaurant itself is cozy with only a few tables. We arrived a little late in the afternoon shortly before it was about to close lunch service and there was only one other table with diners left and they too were done and would leave before we got our food. So we could enjoy the nice ambiance and the murals inside all by ourselves. The main dining area overlooked the street outside with murals on the enclosing glass itself. Besides the murals on the walls themselves the inside rooms also had similarly themed paintings hanging on the walls.

The menu was simple but touched the broad basics of Sri Lankan cuisine. There was a section for the rice varieties ranging from Idiyappams - string hoppers - a noodle like rice cake would be a close description to regular Appams which are a kind of Dosa or rice crepe. Another section for the obligatory Sri Lankan curries including their famous "devilled" ones and another for Sri Lankan Sodhis - coconut milk based gravies.

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The fiery Kotthu Roti

The menu also had other bread and rice varieties including the Kotthu Roti which I am a huge fan of. Kotthu Roti isn't strictly Sri Lankan and as a dish it is common in South India too, being poked and chopped roti with a variety of fillings meat, vegetables, eggs and spices depending on the type. It is fun to watch Kotthu Roti being made in roadside stalls with the cooks making a show of chopping the food on a wide pan.

The prices were extremely reasonable, especially considering the quality of the food after we had tasted it. The menu also had a sprinkling of Indian items of which I was happy to ask for a sweet Lassi because I knew I would need something to counter the fiery Sri Lankan spiciness of the food.

We ordered the Kotthu Roti as I mentioned being excited about it just before. It was fantastic though as a dish on its own, it was dry. Good thing we also ordered a potato sodhi separately to go with the rice and it made a great accompaniment to the Kotthu Roti. The Kothu Roti I requested it be made "Sri Lanka Spicy" and it extracted several tears of joy from me...literally. I was crying and loving the spice at the same time.

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Sodhi and Appam

The devilled curries were delicious and some time later during my trip we would again order these through delivery for a home dinner. The rice and dal, simple and humble though they were, were nonetheless flavored fantastically and offered a noticeably different taste to the south Indian preparation style. Lastly before the desert we also had Sri Lankan Appams, Sri Lankan cousins to the classic south Indian Dosa which also went very well with the creamy deliciousness of the coconut milk based sodhi.

I was even more thrilled to see Watalappam on the menu for dessert. A classic Sri Lankan dessert made with jaggery and coconut milk blended with spices like cardamoms among other things, it had been many years since I had eaten one and yet again brought me back memories of my last trip to Sri Lanka where I would always end every meal with a scoop of Watalappam for dessert. The Kandyan did justice to the Watalappam and I loved every bite.

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The Watalappam Dessert

All in all I enjoyed my meal so much and I cannot recommend this little neighborhood gem highly enough for Sri Lankan food if you are looking for that in Chennai.