best vegetarian restaurant in chennai for continental food

Celebrating three decades, the founders of Eden Vegetarian Restaurant explain why they have never changed their decor, core menu or recipe for roasted vegetable crepes

Celebrating three decades, the founders of Eden Vegetarian Restaurant explain why they have never changed their decor, core menu or recipe for roasted vegetable crepes

At the Eden Vegetarian Restaurant nothing has changed for 30 years. Literally nothing.

Now a landmark on Second Avenue in Besant Nagar, Eden has been functioning from the same location for the past 30 years.. The decor, seating arrangement, furniture and cutlery have remained the same all these years, providing the customers a familiar sense of belonging.

“Just a few days ago, a young NRI, who used to be a regular here through his school and college, dropped in for dinner. He was a bit emotional when he told us that our ambience and the taste of food is the same as he remembered,” says Aparna Venkatesh, one of the restaurant’s founders. “He brought his wife and children along after a few days. We often come across young men and women who drop in to relive their younger days, and it makes us happy to know that we have been part of good memories of many families,”

Co-founders  of Eden Vegetarian Restaurant Subadhra Raju, Venkatesh MB and  Aparna Venkatesh

Co-founders of Eden Vegetarian Restaurant Subadhra Raju, Venkatesh MB and Aparna Venkatesh
| Photo Credit: Johan Sathyadas

On October 6, 1992, Aparna Venkatesh, Venkatesh MB and Subadhra Raju, all graduates of Institute of Hotel Management, Taramani, and best friends, launched Eden Vegetarian Restaurant in Besant Nagar. Back then, it was probably the only place where they served continental vegetarian food in the city.

Paneer methi kofta

Paneer methi kofta
| Photo Credit: Johan Sathyadas

“It was the nascent stages of the IT era and that was when international travel picked up. There was increased awareness and interest in continental food and the culture of eating out also became popular,” says Venkatesh, adding “We put together a menu that catered to their interest and curiosity of the diners.” In the 90s employees from TIDEL Park frequented restaurant, but the mainstay were the families from the neighborhood and expatriates, living in the locality.

Those were the days when continental food was available mainly in luxury hotels, and Eden offered its own style of fusion continental, which went down well with the patrons. Says Subadhra: “Our version was mildly spiced up with some Indian spices and we excelled in fusion. For example, our risotto was made with basmati rice and had a slight Indian touch, so we named it Madrasi Risotto. It was so tough to get herbs and sourcing basil and mushrooms was hard. There have been times when we had added cilantro leaves along with basil and that was also widely appreciated by patrons..”

Bharwan paneer at Eden Vegetarian Restaurant

Bharwan paneer at Eden Vegetarian Restaurant
| Photo Credit: Johan Sathyadas

Venkatesh and Aparna got married a year after the launch. While Venkatesh was completely in charge of administration, Aparna and Subadhra focussed on recipe development, and began work on developing the menu for the catering section, a venture they started a few years later. At this time, Eden also became one of the earliest restaurants to offer home delivery.

For the first few years, all three founders worked as chefs through the day at different city restaurants. In the evenings, they worked at Eden, which functioned until 10 pm. “Funding was not easy in the 90s, especially for the food business. Three of us put in all our savings and hours of hard work to make it happen,” says Venkatesh. “At that time women chefs were a rarity. Aparna and I worked at the AVM Dasa, where we had to multitask and learn the nuances, and it was this exposure and experience that helped us to run Eden,” adds Subadhra.

We made everything from scratch, we did all the work and it was real hard work, but we were happy to see our satisfied customers repeatedly walking in for our food,” says Aparna. A few years later, they gave up their day jobs so they could focus on Eden.

Corn on toast

Corn on toast
| Photo Credit: Johan Sathyadas

The trio, who can be spotted at the restaurant most of the time, say they know almost all of their guests. “We have seen two generations in this neighbourhood, and invariably we have been part of their celebrations. Young couples who frequented Eden in the 90s are now bringing their grandchildren. Our biggest strength is our loyal customers and our staff, most of whom have been with us since 1992,” says Venkatesh.

They launched their first branch at Nungambakkam in 2004, which was closed in 2020 due to the pandemic. Aparna says they now plan to focus on the flagship in Besant Nagar. “We have no plans of expansion. Moreover, our daughter Nayantara Venkatesh who has completed her culinary training at Le Cordon Bleu, London, will be bring in her ideas into the restaurant. She has specialised in desserts, gluten free baking and health food,” says Aparna.

Although the lockdown hit business, they weathered it by focusing on catering. “We adapted to the new normal. We began to cater packed food for smaller groups. We sent out food boxes for events and conferences that were held online. For the International Women’s Association annual meeting which was online, we sent out over 400 boxes to different locations in the city,” says Aparna. “Ours is customized catering. We don’t have pre-set menu but we curate a menu based on our interaction with the hosts,” adds Subadhra. Their live crepe counter and dosa counters are popular.

At the restaurant, ordering is simplified with a deliberately short menu. “Once in five years, we launch new dishes, and we recently included a couple of vegan options such as tofu coriander cutlet, spicey rice bowl,” says Subadhra, adding that they now have signature locally-inspired dishes such as curry leaves rice with coconut cashew chutney and a Milagu sevai Shashlik. “The scenario might have changed with so many restaurants in the city offering continental and north Indian veg food, but even today guests come in for our corn on toast, corn florentine and chilli cheese toast,” says Aparna.

“During the weekends, we serve butter dosas, mushroom uttapams and idiyappams with stew,” says Venkatesh., adding however, that their popular staples remain the same: roasted vegetable crepes, smoked beetroot and aloo chutney wale.”

For the co-founders, it has been a beautiful thirty-year journey. “We survived 30 years eating the food we made,” chuckles Subadhra, adding, “We three are always on the same page which is our biggest advantage and we have the tremendous support of our staff and customers, and this is our success story.”

Aparna adds, “Often we would wonder if we must hire professionals to run Eden, but we feel that this arrangement, where three of us are hands-on at the restaurant is the reason why it clicked and we survived three decades and the pandemic.”

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