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There’s a reason the area around Lebuh Ampang seems like a foreign country to me, and that’s because I have never walked through it. But a recent involuntary trip resulted in the happy discovery of a Chettinad restaurant I would otherwise never have stumbled across, located on the first floor of a series of Indian retail stores and eateries, each one apparently as anonymously homogenous as the last.
It’s obvious however that a lot of care was invested in the décor of Betel Leaf, and the gurgling water features and powerful air conditioning are particularly efficacious in salving frayed nerves and reducing the madness of the road outside. The desire to please extends to the menu, where a mammoth variety of Chettinad cuisine from north and south India means that ordering can become a hazardous task, especially if you’re hungry and indecisive. Because dishes are all cooked a la minute, don’t expect your food to appear at the table two seconds after you’ve ordered.
The adroitly named chicken lollypop is juicy in a way that only meticulously marinated meat can be. Because coconut milk isn’t prodigiously employed, the focus remains on the spices instead, and that serves to yield flavours that are intensely aromatic and dangerously more-ish. Instead of the bog standard butter chicken masala, try instead the rabbit masala for a leaner, cleaner option. The rabbits – together with goats and fish – are bred on proprietor C Mohan’s farm in Mantin, as are the vegetables that are used to make such dishes as the exemplary vendi and equally delectable gobi Manchurian, both of which are feisty and perfectly cooked. Unfortunately, the naan bread was more lumpen than I cared for and had more than a passing semblance to the thick crust of a fast food pan pizza.
The seriously comprehensive menu at Betel Leaf means that unless you come with a massive group of friends and have more than two hours to masticate your way through a mountain of food, you will barely make a dent in it. Do remember however that unless you live or work within shouting distance of the restaurant, don’t visit on weekdays because you’ll be in a straitjacket before you can locate a car park. Instead, go there for Sunday brunch or early dinner. It’s worth making the effort. Fay Khoo