Svatma hotel, Thanjavur in Southern India
relaxed and refreshed after a morning taking in the treatments and spas of Svatma hotel. Aaharam is the hotel restaurant — you don't need to be staying here to make a booking, but you'd be daft to be in Thanjavur and not stay here. The restaurant serves homestyle vegetarian Tamil cuisine.
Our first impression was… that we'd wandered into some time capsule of post-colonial Indian civility. Outside the walls of Svatma, all is tuktuk-tooting chaos — in here, sanctuary. Around 150 years ago, this building was home to a British trader; after sitting empty since the time of Indian independence, it was recently restored, filled with beautiful antiques and converted into a fabulous hotel.
The restaurant fits the tone, with a gorgeous tiled floor and wooden colonnades, while the chairs around the tables are of different shapes and styles - sourced from all around South India before being restored. It's all in keeping with the post-colonial tone and the sense of wandering around an eclectic antique shop.
We started with… little bowls of sun-dried beans that had been soaked in spiced buttermilk. They were a magical, crunchy joy of light spice and tang - I could have buried my face in a trough of them. Accompanied, becuase we're in India and it's really rather hot outside, by a great big bottle of glorious Kingfisher lager. Perfect.
The highlight was… I'll take the memory of those buttermilk beans to the grave with me, but if you're going to have thayir saadham, a South Indian dish of seasoned rice run through with yoghurt, then you won't find a better spot than this one. The idli (little savoury spiced rice cakes) were a delight and the kai kari (basically local veges simmered in coconut sauce) rocked my world.
Among the delicious and fiddly thali arriving on brass platters, the table welcomes the subtle flavours of banana flower fritters, meaty roasted yams and cottage cheese done a gazillion ways. It's all delicious.
a beautiful tangy halwa made from carrots, melon and mung beans. There's icecream if you're less adventurous.
Come here if… You want to experience incredible South Indian vegetarian cuisine at the source. "If you stay here for 10 days, you'll never eat the same meal twice," proprietor Sanjay Umashankar tells me.
The bill… For $26, there's a set menu that will be the best Indian vegetarian meal of your life. You can stay at Svatma as part of Adventure World Travel's two-day tour of Tamil Nadu, with prices starting from $820pp twin share. If you're travelling independently, you'll find them at svatma.in.