Non-vegetarian’s delight

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!

Lapping the Coast

by Shantanu David
published in Indian Express

At this particular party almost everyone is wearing Banana Leaf.

While restaurants in Hauz Khas Village usually tend to flash their signs and hoardings in the market louder than a garage rock band in a cul-de-sac, The Toddy Shop flouts the norm. Tucked away in a quiet corner of the hipster hub, the sole sign to the restaurant is in the form of a discreet star. Following it like the three wise men (more of the James Blunt variety than the biblical original), we find ourselves in a cool, yellow-lit space sparsely set with framed vintage Indian magazine covers, a photography exhibition by Amit Sharma, a small stage area and a few potted palms.
The menu, a trim single sheet glossy document, laps around the Malabar coast and tends to favour the red dot more than the green — all the better for us. There are family recipes aplenty with traditional stews, fries and sides, clearly marked ‘goat’ (not the generic lamb so beloved of most city restaurants) and seafood preparations dominating the options. At this particular party almost everyone is wearing Banana Leaf, and coconut, of course, is king.
Deciding we’ll sample the vegetarian fare on a Tuesday or any day when so many meats aren’t crying for our attention from so many spots on the menu, we start with Kutty’s Fried Chicken (or KFC, if you prefer) and the Pothu Erachi Varattiyathu, more simply known as the spicy beef fry of yore. The chicken, unlike its conglomerated counterpart, is simple-y winning, simbly winning even, comprising slightly larger morsels of chicken marinated in the owners’ secret spice mix and deep-fried with torn curry leaves. The beef fry comes enmeshed in curry leaves, fragmented coconuts and caramelised onions, the degree of doneness varying from as tender as Amma’s dulcet delivery to as tough as Mammootty’s glare. Though some of the pieces really make you work, the dish is wonderfully flavoured and we dispense with it post-haste.
Having partaken of the bounty of Kerala’s land for our starters, we dive into the sea for our mains, ordering the Toddy Shop Aila Mulakittathu (a spicy mackerel curry) and the elegantly alliterative Kayal Konchu Curry (backwaters prawn curry cooked with cocum in a spicy, thin gravy) along with the vital appams. The mackerel curry comprises a whole mackerel, tail up, in a consommé-thin red gravy and far more brackish than the fish in it, which is soft and flaky though lanced throughout with wiry bones. Though light and spicy, the noticeably nautical flavour of the curry will probably make it more palatable to those who prefer their seafood to actually taste of the sea. The prawn curry on the other hand is pure unadulterated, brow-mopping, tissue-reaching spicy and makes a splash with the appam. The unique flavour of the dried cocum berry, so soil-like in taste and texture, adds volumes to the dish, like a secondary character in a good book. As an aside, the appams at The Toddy Shop are textbook, ephemeral on the outside, substantial and filling in the centre. Stuffed to the gills as we are, we beg off dessert. We’ll be floating by soon enough anyway.