Journalist. Cook. Author.
“I have the deepest respect for my Achacha,” says Samyukta Nair, entrepreneur and co-founder of Mayfair’s Jamavar and Bombay Bustle restaurants of her grandfather. “He was a captain in the Indian army before starting work in the textile industry, and didn’t open his first hotel – the Leela, now a Mumbai landmark – until the age of 65. He was not an overnight sensation, but legends take time to make.”
She remembers him as a “larger than life” arbiter of style who could out-dress the average twentysomething. He was especially fond of a loud canary yellow trouser suit, she recalls. Someone who knew the rules so well that he could break them with aplomb, with none of the self-consciousness that often afflicts the young. It’s her admiration for his presence, work ethic and discipline that informs her own business style today, an ever-burgeoning empire that takes in everything from food to fashion, including the Mumbai concept store, Clove, she opened to huge acclaim in 2017.
As a former military man, Samyukta’s grandfather appreciated traditions and a family Sunday brunch was one of those. He was always first at the table, followed shortly by her and she cherishes those moments when it was just the two of them going through the weekend papers: “He never lost his edge even towards the end – he would impart no-nonsense wisdom with a hearty chuckle I can still hear today.”
So what sustained a man who built an empire? According to Samyukta, while she was happy to indulge her sweet tooth with Western pancakes spread with Nutella and bananas, for her grandfather it was appams, delicate bowl-shaped South-Indian pancakes made from a fermented rice flour batter. Appams are cheap, versatile, blank slates for any upscale or modest taste, any stratum of society. But Samyukta laughs as she recounts how her grandfather ate them: topped with eggs and caviar. “His brunch choice says it all,” she says. “Here was an aesthete who loved the finer things in life.”
“I look back on my visits with him with profound gratitude,’ she reflects. “Most people don’t get to know their grandparents all that well. I reached adulthood while he still lived, and in the years before he died, I crammed in as much wisdom from him as possible. I was aware that that privilege could not last and felt every moment spent in his company was a blessing. I still remember him every time I sit down to a plate of pancakes.”
150g self-raising flour
1 ½ tablespoons light brown sugar
45g good-quality cocoa powder
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
125ml whole milk
2 eggs, separated
150g firm ricotta, drained
60g dark chocolate, finely chopped or chips
Butter for frying
Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream to serve
4 small bananas, thickly sliced
100g light brown sugar
100ml coconut milk
250ml double cream
100g light-brown sugar
2 tablespoons golden syrup
200g good-quality dark chocolate
Fat pinch of salt
To make the chocolate fudge sauce, combine the cream, brown sugar, golden syrup and butter in a saucepan. Stir over a medium heat until boiling. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, for five minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate until melted. Add the salt and whisk until smooth.
For the coconut caramel bananas, combine the brown sugar and coconut milk in a frying pan and stir over medium-high heat until the milk just starts to boil and the sugar dissolves. Add the bananas and cook, turning occasionally, until caramelised and just tender (three or four minutes). Keep warm.
To make the pancakes, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder and bicarbonate of soda in a bowl, and mix to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, buttermilk, egg yolks and ricotta. Fold in the chocolate, then mix the wet ingredients into the dry to make a batter. Whisk the egg whites into stiff peaks, then fold into the batter.
Preheat the oven to a low 150ºC. Heat a large, non-stick frying pan over a medium heat and add a knob of butter. Add a ladleful of pancake batter to the pan and cook until it starts to bubble on the surface. Flip over and cook for another three minutes or until brown and cooked through. Repeat with the remaining batter and keep the pancakes warm in the oven until you are ready to serve.
Serve a stack of pancakes, topped with bananas, a scoop of ice cream and fudge sauce.