Further down on the East Coast Road, Mahabalipuram (60 km) and Puducherry (160 km) – or, as they are fondly called, Mahabs and Pondy – make for the perfect getaway from Chennai if you are short on time. We have got you covered on where to eat.
Start early morning from Chennai and drive for an hour and a half to reach Hotel Mahabs by forenoon. Head to the Shore temples and lighthouse ruins to get your share of history. Once you have worked up an appetite, make your way to Othavadai Street. The cafés, shacks and curio shops are reminiscent of Goa.
Pro Tip: Park your car somewhere near the ATM at the entrance to Othavadai Street. Getting out from the narrow street can be a nightmare, as there is a dead end at the beach.
Santana, Othavadai Street
Although you have quite a few options to choose from, keep walking till the end of the street and head to Santana. Climb onto the second floor, and you will see why this is the place to eat. The terrace offers sweeping views of the Mahabalipuram coastline, with the Shore temples on one side and the long, winding beach on the other. Order some beer and fried calamari to go with the view. You cannot go wrong with seafood here – the homely fish and prawn curries with rice make for a satisfying meal. Service is snail-pace, so make sure you order quickly and schedule for a relaxed lunch.
Get back on the road and drive straight to Puducherry, which should be another two hours from Mahabalipuram. Spread out close by are the major attractions: the promenade and adjoining lanes, which have been admirably preserved to reflect their French heritage. Try to get a hotel as close to the promenade as possible. Cars are barred in the evenings to aid pedestrians. Park at the hotel and take a walk.
Le Café, Puducherry promenade
Impossible to miss, Le Café is located bang in the middle of the promenade. This is perhaps the most visited café in Puducherry – grabbing a cup of coffee here is obligatory for your Pondy trip. Brave the crowds to get a table in the garden; a bit of sea-breeze will occasionally fly in as the Bay of Bengal crashes into the breakwaters. Do not bother with the food: Le Café gets enough business on account of its location to serve mediocre food and still make a lot of money.
If you have sampled fine French cuisine before, you might be disappointed with what Puducherry has to offer. Lamentably, the conservation efforts have not been as successful with the food as they have been with the architecture. Most restaurants serve more or less the same array of steaks, French onion soup and roast chicken alongside biryani and kababs.
However, as long as you do not go looking for camembert soufflés or duck confit, you should be fine. On the bright side, the eateries are often situated inside colonial French bungalows with gorgeous covers, perfect for a candlelit dinner paired with some wine. Head to DisDis & Co. on Rue Romain Rolland, which does a nice coq au vin and ratatouille with lovely al fresco seating.
Dessert at Gelateria Montecatini Terme, Goubert Avenue
A recent addition to Puducherry, this place run by Adriano Natalini who hails from Montecatini Terme in Italy, and serves legitimately good gelatos with fresh, high-quality ingredients. Try the chilli chocolate and guava; it is pretty economical to boot. Grab yours, sit down at the promenade and slurp away.
Breakfast at Baker Street, Bussy Street
If there is one place worth driving down all the way to Puducherry for, it is Baker Street. Started by a French baker who shuttles between Paris and Puducherry, Baker Street takes great pride in the quality of its breads. It is best to land there at 8 am to get them fresh out of the oven. Jostle among regulars and hotel staff eagerly waiting to get their daily stock and order some excellent flaky croissant, pain au chocolat and French hearts to go with your coffee. Their crusty baguettes & tuna sandwiches are great grab-and-go options for your trip back to Chennai. Do remember to stock up on the great selection of French cheese and pâtés before leaving.
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A self proclaimed food geek and coffee nerd, Amit Patnaik enjoys his time in the kitchen as much as he loves dining out. He runs the food blog Pursuit of Yummyness and contributes to The Hindu in Chennai.