By RAVI VERMA (The Hindu)
I remember mentioning in these columns how my friends from Kerala are always divided when it comes to restaurants that serve food from the region. I, however, don’t have strong views on the subject. I went to Mahabelly some months ago, and enjoyed some of their dishes especially the biryani. A few of my friends were surprised. And one young niece, who now believes she knows a thing or two about Kerala food because her husband is a true-blue Malayali, then held forth on The Toddy Shop, which she thought served food that was close to what her in-laws’ kitchen offered.
I haven’t been to the in-laws’ house in Kerala, but if that’s like The Toddy Shop, I should plan a visit. I went to the restaurant a few weeks ago, and had a very nice meal there, indeed.
Delhi these days has quite a few small Kerala restaurants. There are tiny shops in INA Market, and in and around Mayur Vihar, where you get good mutton fry and pothu fry. I remember long years ago, when –– Delhi-ites thought you were referring to bitter gourd when you talked of a Kerala meal –– there was a small place called Sridharan in Gole Market, which served the yummiest Kerala mutton you could dream of. Then the old man passed away, and a son-in-law called Tyagi took over the eatery, and the food, not surprisingly, changed colour. A long time ago, there was a small eatery called Navkerala, near the old Super Bazar in Connaught Place.
There was a dearth of Kerala food for a while, though Coconut Grove, and a short-lived restaurant near Safdarjung Enclave did sate our appetites for some time. The restaurants, alas, are no more. But The Toddy Shop in Hauz Khas Village can fill the vacuum.
It’s not far from the parking area of the Village. I thought I’d have to go through a treadmill test (many of these eateries are on rooftops, which require a walk up several flights of stairs), but it turned out to be on the second floor, which was a relief. The ambience was warm and arty –– the poet, Jeet Thayil, had just finished reading out some of his works when we reached there, The servers, though none from Kerala, were friendly and helpful. And the meal, itself, was excellent.
We had quite a spread. First there was pothu erachi varattiyathu, an excellent Kerala beef fry (Rs.350) which we had with parottas. Then there was a creamy erachi ishtoo –– mutton in coconut milk (Rs.400) –– which we ate with appams. For the youngster in our midst, there was Kozhi varutharachathu, chicken with roasted spices and coconut (Rs.350). Appams are for 50 a piece, and the parottas for Rs.60.
I loved the pothu fry, which is anyway a great favourite of mine, and the lamb ishtoo, which had the taste of mild spices simmered in coconut milk. The chicken, too, was flavourful, and went well the parottas. We had another lamb dish, erachi varathadu, lamb cooked with shallots and coconut (Rs.320). This one was thick and spicy, and most enjoyable.
It was a very nice meal, and I suppose I have to give some credit to the young niece who is now quite a Kerala expert. Now I have to try out a small place near Saket that our friend, the one who took us to The Toddy Shop has been singing praises of. She lives around the corner, so I hope she’ll lead us there one day soon. And if that’s not a hint, I don’t know what is!