I had had Kerala on my ‘to do’ list for some time but life, and a pandemic, kept getting in the way. I also had a long-pending lunch date to arrange with a pescatarian friend and, as there were a large number of suitable options on the menu, I thought it would fit the bill admirably. As it turned out the bill was not my problem.
On arrival we were greeted by one of the most pleasant waiters I have ever had the pleasure to have met. We had a lot of catching up to do and so ordering was not a top priority so we just asked for drinks and proceeded to have a good chelp. The order was a large bottle of Cobra Beer and a Coke. Guess which one of us had what. We were put under no pressure whatsoever to get on with it, although I accept that the place was all but empty.
Speaking of the place, it had a traditional Indian feel, the region of Kerala is in the south of the country, and exuded a homely feel, especially after an Asian family arrived with their little girl who took a shine to my female companion.
Eventually we got round to looking at the menu, which came as a bit of a surprise to me as I had perused it on-line and the section relating to Lunch Specials had disappeared. I double checked with the waiter who confirmed that, like other restaurants post-Covid, the menu had been somewhat condensed. No matter, the prices were very reasonable and it was the company which counted.
We decided to get some Poppadoms and a Pickle Tray to help the drinks go down. An entry next to those nibbles intrigued us so we had to order a portion of Pipes. These turned out to be tubes of the same texture as Prawn Crackers but without the fishy aftertaste and in an array of colours. They turned out to be fairly subtly flavoured but very moreish, especially when dipped in the sauces of the pickle tray.
My friend ordered Paneer Masala which was cubes of Indian cheese in a thick curry sauce. She said that it was a touch sweeter than she imagined but delicious anyway, especially as she had opted for the accompaniment of Lemon Rice to give a little sharpness and providing a portion large enough to demand the services of a doggy bag at the end.
I ordered a Lamb Thali, and this is where my education on the consumption of Indian food was enhanced. There was no further description of the dish on the menu but I have had Thali before, although, it must be said, mainly in a street food setting rather than a ‘proper’ restaurant, where it has been served on a tray with compartments containing rice, bread, and a selection of curries. Here, I got the whole shebang of three courses plus nibbles. It also came on a large circular tray containing separate stainless steel dishes in which was the food.
Atop the selection was a huge Dosa, which is a pancake made from lentils and rice, and rolled up like a carpet, had it been unfurled it would have covered half the table! Beneath this behemoth were another Poppadom with a couple of dips and pickles, a Samosa, Raita, two curries and a dessert of Gulab Jamun.
I set about tackling this in the same way that I would have done with the street food variety, i.e. by transferring some of the curry into the rice but, in this instance trying not to let any of it fall into the sweet. Noticing my somewhat unorthodox technique the waiter approached and suggested I try eating it in the way that a southern Indian would, that is by removing all of the dishes from the tray and then utilising it in the same way as one would a plate, tipping out the rice and curry etc. Suddenly everything made sense, or at least as much sense as anything can make with a pint of Cobra inside me.
I have to salute the waiter once again for the way in which he imparted this information to me, I know places where they would have gone into the kitchen to tell the staff that they had a novice in and to have a good laugh before putting me right. Well, that’s what I would have done when I used to work in a restaurant.
I must say that the food was excellent on all counts and tasted even better knowing that I would not be contaminating one course with another. It is a tragedy that there were so few people there on a Friday lunchtime, the place deserved to be bursting at the seems.
You will have noticed that I have not put any prices against the dishes but this was because the lunch was generously paid for by my friend and I am too much of a gentleman to argue with a lady. This means that I did not get the bill to refer to and, as the menu has changed from the on-line version, I don’t want to give you any duff gen. As a guide, the virtual menu shows the Paneer Masala as £8.99 with Lemon Rice an extra £3.99. The Lamb Thali is shown as being £15.99 which would suffice as a lunch even with no extra trimmings.
Whether or not you decide to visit Kerala at least you now know how properly to tackle a Thali, although I suspect that most of you already did and were rolling your eyes when reading that paragraph.
All photographs by Stan Graham