Cover pic for this post, with Meena Tai in the logo saying, "Baseline mangta..."

Irfanvertising | Meena Tai’s, Meena Tags

Irfanvertising LogoAs an ad guy and a branding- and logo-lover, I not surprisingly find myself scrutinizing the same in ads I view. And as an ad consultant, I often find myself emphasizing the need for this to potential clients. However, perhaps because the potential clients at my level and stage of working – I started out on my own just about a year ago, that too in an Indian metro not really known for its ad industry (Chennai), compared with the earlier metro I was in, which is considered the Mecca of Indian advertising (Bombay / Mumbai) – are “relatively small”, I find them not quite getting the necessity of having a baseline to emphasize their promise to their potential customers, or at the very least, to accentuate their branding.

So, when I get a chance to come up with the baseline / tagline of a brand, that too of a category I love (food / hospitality), that too for a restaurant I have been to, loved and blogged about, how can I pass up the opportunity?

The logo for Meena Tai's, the newly opened Maharashtrian restaurant in ChennaiThus, when the relatively new upscale Maharashtrian restaurant, Meena Tai’s, announced a tagline contest on its FB page, I dove right in. Into my scribbling pad. I sweated and swotted over it for a few days, then as the end date approached, decided to go for gold by not just putting it in the comments section of the post as most folk seemed to be doing, but creating a PPT for it. Complete with a ToC, notes, routes (Maharashtra-based, Tai-based, Maharashtra- and Tai-based, Marathi-based), and yes, even an end Thanks slide. Any surprise then… that I ended up winning!?! That, and the fact that I love the restaurant, and was born and have lived in its source state for the better part of my life.

Below are some of my entries, the one that won, links to the blog posts I’ve done on it (from a vegan perspective, of course) and the site’s own links. Check them out while I go do nom-nom. The prize is a dinner for two.

A few of my entries for the Meena Tai's tagline contestThe acknowledgement post for my winning entry for the Meena Tai's tagline contest

The first of my two blog posts on Meena Tai’s, this one a prologue: Meena Tai’s – Prologue

The second of my two blog posts on Meena Tai’s, this one the main post: Meena Tai’s – Vegan / Friendly

Meena Tai’s on FB: MeenaTais

Meena Tai’s on the web, or should I say, bheb: meenatais.com

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Cover pic for this post with the Meena Tai's logo and the text 'Bhegan-phrendly?'

IrfindingVegan | Meena Tai’s | Vegan / Friendly

IrfindingVegan Logo

Read the prologue of this piece here: Meena Tai’s – Prologue

So, last Friday, at dinner time, I found myself at the portals of the three restaurants. This time, the manager was different. (Last time, it was a Bengali-speaking guy, and it later struck me whether Pricol was aiming for national and international integration: Maharashtrian, Parsi, Bengali, and African.) This time, it was a guy with a Christian name, that too a Biblical one, Gabriel, and I became certain of the integration bit. Gabriel was pleasant, like all hotel / restaurant managers, I guess. But he didn’t need to guide me about which cuisine I was interested in. Maharashtrian food was calling this man born in one city of Maharashtra (Nagpur) and stayed in another city of the ‘Great Land’ for the longest time (Bombay / Mumbai). Meena Tai’s it was going to be. The Parsi dudes would have to wait for another time.

Interiors of Meena Tai'sMeena Tai’s is trying for homely – so they don’t have Bombay’s famous street food ‘Karan-Arjun’, vada pav and misal pav. And homely is the feeling you get when you step in. It’s peaceful, quiet, like you stepped into a home in a Maharashtrian village, with mellow Marathi songs playing in the background. A few ditties down, even the other tai, Asha, shows up on the playlist. The relaxing atmosphere is enhanced by blue accents all around and the homely ambience accentuated by the jars of spices and pulses in a recess and various cooking instruments of yore displayed on the walls.

A server in another restaurant wearing the traditional Marathi kurta and topi

I take my seat, the server comes with the menu and wearing the rustic Marathi manoos outfit – white kurta and topi – and I wonder for a minute if I could speak with him in Marathi. Then, I look at the name on his tag, and am not sure. ‘Sasti’. That doesn’t sound Maharashtrian (in fact, that means ‘cheap’, or to be less c-rude, ‘inexpensive’ in Hindi), but from the little I know, that doesn’t sound Tam either. So, I let out very slowly, “Are… you… Maharashtrian…?” “No, I’m local,” he offers. And since he does so in English, I proceed to speak in that common language.

He makes the standard Indian restaurant query, “Are you veg or non-veg?” The restaurant – tasteful, refined and all, so far – looks like it could stand up to the IrfindingVegan test, and I decide to chuck my roundabout way of asking so (“Does it have any milk, cream, butter, curd…”) and go straight up, “Actually, I’m vegan… You know what that is?” He takes a moment before responding, “Yes, you don’t have dairy…” “And honey,” I complete. Sasti at once points me to the bottom of the page on the menu, which has icons for Dairy, Gluten, Nuts and Chilli. I. Am. Impressed. And also think, Clever strategy. Show which items have dairy, thus helping out both lactose-intolerant and vegan patrons. So, while not vegan, vegan-friendly for sure, at least in their communication.’

The veg starters' menu at Meena Tai's

Note the legends for gluten, nuts and dairy below

I think of asking him for suggestions, but decide to go with, um, my gut feel. I’m not too hungry. So, decide on a drink (sol kadhi, coconut milk with kokum) and a starter (mini matar karinji, deep-fried stuffing of peas). I check with him whether the karinji will be too oily. He replies in the negative. Cool. I ask him to leave the menu behind in case I have the appetite for dessert: I saw a couple of items with no dairy icons.

Kollywood director, Mani Ratnam, and his actor wife, SuhasiniAnd while I’m waiting for the food to come and flipping through the dessert section, in step a couple of folk that will have my Chennai friends and acquaintances envying me for a long time: Mani Ratnam and Suhasini Maniratnam, arguably Kollywood’s leading power couple. However, they decide to party with the Parsi boys and so take the stairs. That’s ok, I think; I’ll be loyal to my Maharashtrian history.

However, the food was taking a bit – I guess they also believe in not rushing things (believers of slow food?) – so I decided to go and speak with Gabriel, especially about the power couple that had just ascended the stairs. Gabriel smiled even more and shared, “This is a VIP neighbourhood, and you have lots such folk coming in. Why, Dhanush too stays close by.” OK, not too hot about that one. I decide to put him through the vegan test too, and he too passes. In fact, he does one better. When I tell him I also plan to hang out with the Parsi boys next time, he feels uneasy for me, suggesting I won’t find anything there. I reassure him: “I will find at least one or two items there, don’t worry, and what I don’t, I’ll check if they can make vegan.” And if not, I can always come here again, right? Well, that is, if the food too ends up scoring like the ambience and the people (somehow, ‘staff’ seemed too coarse for such genteel ‘staff’).

I go back, the food comes, and the Parsi bawas can wait: I’m visiting Meena’s again very soon, with a bigger appetite. The sol kadhi is obscenely good. In fact, it almost tastes like curd. So, I summon Sasti. “Are you sure there is no curd in this?” He reassures me. To be doubly sure, I have a sip in front of him. I again get that curdy feeling. “Sure?” “Absolutely. But the taste could be due to the kokum.” “Hmm. OK.”

 

This is a bit of a moot point. Some vegans look for vegan substitutes for non-vegan foods and so some product-makers go to the extent of making some vegan food taste like non-vegan food, especially meats, and in this case, curd. However, I’m not sure any vegan wants their food to taste like something they’ve given up for very strong reasons.

I have the kadhi with some more assurance now, and clarity attained, it seems to taste heavenly: it’s playing a perfect orchestra of sweet, sour, heavy, light, smooth, silky. OK, not the last one.

A plate of karinjisI proceed to pick up the first of the six karinjis that await me. They don’t look too deep-fried, as Sasti had assured me. These folk seem true to their word, I see. I take a bite, and Meena Tai appears in the chair opposite me, looking on as I savour her made-from-the-heart karinjis. The karinjis are packed with all the right flavours: light savoury, medium spicy, hint of sweet (thanks to the peas and onions), and the crust perfectly crunchy-crumbly. One karinji, one sip. One coolant-snack combo, one heavenly trip.

My tongue is lilting with all the right flavours, I don’t want to ruin the taste, or better put, I want the taste to linger, plus am a bit full, so decide to not engage with dessert. I ask for the bill. As Sasti comes with the mini-clipboard that bears the bill, I gush, “The food is awesome… Next time, I’ll come with an appetite…” And it’s his turn to complete, “And with your family.” Wow, vegan-friendly. And friendly.

To know more about Meena Tai’s, check out their FB page: Meena Tai’s on FB

Cover pic for this post, with the logo of Meena Tai's and Meena uttering, in Marathi-style, "Bhegan?"

IrfindingVegan | Meena Tai’s | Prologue

IrfindingVegan LogoThe signage of Pricol's three new and upcoming restaurants in ChennaiFirst, the boys moved in. Next, came the lady. And soon, there will be something that aims to get them together. We aren’t talking of a PG accommodation here or community living (if the first were the case, the lady would have come at the beginning, right?), but the sequence in which Pricol, the South Indian automotive major, has been making its entry into the hospitality space. It first launched the cleverly-named Batlivala and Khanabhoy, a Parsi restaurant, the boys in the opening lines (and Parsi men, and men in general, always remain boys), and then Meena Tai’s, a Maharashtrian restaurant, the lady from above. Next up is Abyssinian, an Ethiopian (yes, a first not just for Chennai but perhaps India) restaurant that will come up in about two months’ time, its logo being the mezob, the Ethiopian community-eating table. Meena is on the ground floor, the Parsi bawas on the first floor, and I guess Abyssinian will come up on the second floor, though on the signage at the front of the premises, it’s in the reverse order: Meena on top, the boys in the middle, and Abyssinian bringing up the bottom.

The logo for Batlivala & Khanabhoy, the newly-opened Parsi restaurant in ChennaiI first came to know of B&K and then MT’s through reviews in The Hindu, and of Abyssinian when I went visiting there. (I ended up being the first person to like its FB page. I had already liked B&K and MT’s pages earlier.) The two restaurants, which opened up within a month of each other, are fine-dining restaurants, so they were closed at the time I went there, which was about mid-evening. My appetite stoking, I decided to come back soon enough, at the right time.

The logo for Meena Tai's, the newly opened Maharashtrian restaurant in ChennaiHowever, my craving for the two restaurants was also incited by their logos, both of which I love (though maybe B&K just a bit more – two typically quirky- and happy-looking Parsi men, what’s not to like?). Logo-loving me dove to find out which agency had done them, and I wasn’t surprised. Chennai’s very own Banana BrandWorks, who I’ve known to do lush, delish design work.

The logo for Banana BrandWorks, the Chennai-based agency that did the logos for Batlivala & Khanabhoy and Meena Tai'sBut my fervour was kindled to the max when I met with Mukund V, founder, director and creative director of Banana BrandWorks, at the recently concluded Maddys (the Madras Advertising Club Awards). I have known Banana’s work for some time, and inquisitive me had gone through their FB page and come to know of Mukund. So, when I saw his team and he come up to receive a few awards, I knew I had to speak with him.

Mukund comes across as quite affable and so seemed fine in engaging in a longish chat with me and also to excuse a personal-cultural gaffe. (I make enough of those in Chennai, and no, I’m not sharing that one here.) I told him I loved the restaurants’ branding, enough to really want to visit them now. We spoke at length about this, and in winding up the conversation on this, he suggested, “You should try out the two restaurants. They are really nice.”

Three voices speaking in favour of the restaurant. Dare I refuse?

So, did Meena Tai’s live up to the clamour of the three voices, and to vegan mine? Find out in tomorrow’s post.