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Fort Kochi: Where to eat great food

Fort Kochi: Where to eat great food

Fort Kochi is the perfect introduction to India. If you’re a first time visitor to the sub-continent, the chilled out state of Kerala, with its palm trees, fishing nets and spice gardens, will gently welcome you with just enough Indian verve to make you feel like you’re somewhere truly exotic, yet with minimal hustle and hassle. If you’re an old hand when it comes to the chaos of India then Fort Kochi will seem like a a long cool drink of water. This historic, bohemian town – shaped over time by the Portuguese, the Dutch, Catholics, Hindus, Jains, Jews and so many more – is a hub of local artists, colourful cafe culture and fascinating local life. It’s difficult to find bad food in Fort Kochi but you can be a little overwhelmed by choice. Here’s where to head to first.

Dal Roti
This stripped back, simple restaurant is super popular and for good reason. The North Indian food is excellent, the portions are generous and it’s ridiculously cheap. We ordered the chicken biryani and the mutton thali – both of which were incredible. I’m always a bit wary around mutton as it risks being tough and chewy, but in this instance it just fell apart. The biryani was huge and easily one of the best I have ever eaten – and believe me when I say I’ve eaten a lot. Decent lassis, warm service and a full belly for less than a fiver? Winning.
Dal Roti, Lilly Street/Elephanstone Road, Fort Kochi

Kashi Art Cafe
Like almost every tourist, we took up almost permanent residence in Kashi Art Cafe. Tucked away down pretty Burgar Street, this garden cafe cum art gallery is hot property. Their breakfasts are legendary – you can choose from the likes of French toast, turbo-omelettes, homemade granola and even cinnamon breakfast cake (yes, breakfast cake!!!) – as are their chocolate brownies. A good mix of Indian and Western dishes is available all day until 10pm. Go for the art, the vibe and the food; stay for the lovely staff, the wifi and the excellent masala chai.
Kashi Art Cafe, Dist Ernakulam, Burgar Street, Fort Nagar, Fort Kochi

Oy’s Cafe
Also located on Burgar Street, Oy’s is boho, artsy and perhaps wouldn’t be too out of place in the likes of Shoreditch – only there’s no London prices or hipster wankers here! This vibrant jewel of a cafe serves up excellent all-day breakfasts and a limited, yet incredibly delicious, evening menu cooked by local Indian women. Lounge against colourful cushions, admire the art on the walls, sip on one of their powerful ginger concoctions (Cochin is known for its ginger) and pimp your social media feed at this Instagram-friendly haunt. Don’t miss out on one of their super-naughty, super-decadent milkshakes!
Oy’s Cafe, 1/390 Burgar Street, Fort Nagar, Fort Kochi

Kayees Rahmathullah Hotel
We would never have found this place had we not asked our tuk-tuk driver to take us somewhere for a good biryani. Hidden away down the labyrinthine streets of Mattancherry is Kayees; a spit and sawdust restaurant that’s home to (allegedly) the best biryani in town. We were the only foreigners in the place, which was packed with Indian families – always a good sign. Expect no frills, maybe a few curious stares and plates piled high with THE most delicious biryani. I looked at mine and thought “there’s no way I’m going to even make a dent in this and then I’m going to look so wasteful” but funnily enough I cleared my plate. Our tuk-tuk driver asked me to marry him.
Kayees Rahmathullah Hotel, New Road, Mattancherry, Fort Kochi

Teapot Cafe
Another gorgeous gem of a cafe – Fort Cochin really does spoil you! This peaceful, saffron-coloured retreat is housed in a crumbling, high-ceilinged old building liberally decorated with different teapots from across the years. What would be twee in the UK somehow manages to be quirky in Fort Kochi. The softly-spoken, smiling staff guide you through their fabulous food and drink menu. The tea selection is extensive, and you can also get “tea bites” like Indian rarebit alongside more substantial offerings such as the local fish moilee (a green, coconut-based curry) or Kerala fish curry. A yummy cake selection is available too.
Teapot Cafe, Peter Celli Street, Fort Nagar, Fort Kochi

Fusion Bay
It’s a known fact* that you cannot visit Kerala and not eat a fish curry. Kerala is known as the Land of Spices due to its historic spice trade routes, and curries here are flavoursome rather than face-meltingly hot. Coconuts grow in abundance in Kerala so they are frequently used in cooking, giving a milder, creamy feel to dishes. And of course, fish is a food staple around the coast. Fusion Bay feels a bit like an old fashioned curry house found in the UK but they do a mean – and great value – fish curry. Go for the fish masala or fish moilee and mop up the delicious sauce with appam – spongy bread made with fermented rice and coconut milk.
Fusion Bay, Santa Crus Basilica Junction, KB Jacob Road, Kunnumupuran, Fort Kochi

*In my world

Tayyabs

Tayyabs

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First dates are the worst.  I particularly hate first dates that involve going to a restaurant because I get so nervous that eating – such a simple thing – becomes impossible.  So a first date that involves not just food, but very spicy food, really is the stuff of nightmares for me.  On the plus side, however, this date took place at Tayyab’s.  Despite the fact that the relationship eventually crashed and burned, I will be forever grateful to him for introducing me to this gem of a restaurant.

Tayyab’s is a Punjabi restaurant tucked away down a side street in Whitechapel.  It is something of a local institution, with people prepared to queue down the street for a table. Tayyab’s made queuing for a restaurant a thing before those pesky, oh so trendy, no-reservations restaurants were even a twinkle in Time Out magazine’s eye.  It is worth persevering with the wait though, because the food here is something else.  Seriously, forget all about going down the road to Brick Lane because Tayyab’s is the real deal.

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My friend and I visited on a wet Saturday evening, getting in just before the queue got too crazy.  The sound and scent of sizzling meat was all around us, transporting me right back to when I visited the Punjab.  Tayyab’s is rightly famous for its mixed grill, particularly the lamb chops which pack a real punch.  However, on this occasion we ordered the karahi chicken and the karahi lamb chops, with rice and a tandoori naan.  A karahi is a large, circular pot used in traditional Pakistani and Indian cooking.  Karahi dishes are similar to stews, where the meat and spices are slowly simmered together for a really robust flavour.

If I had to use one word to describe our meal it would be this: decadent.  Now this may not be a word that you would usually find when reading about an East End curry house, but every single mouthful felt indulgent.  The meat fell apart, the sauces were rich and silky, the bread was soft and oozing with melted butter.  Eating this meal felt like I was wallowing in a velvet-covered room while being gently massaged by someone wearing fur gloves.  And, of course, the spicing was spot on.   My former flame made sure that I continued to appreciate Punjabi fare over the course of our relationship, mainly via his mother’s cooking.  For the first time, I began to understand the delicate balance between heat and flavour – something that I constantly struggle to obtain with my own cooking!  Tayyab’s totally nail it.

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For me, Tayyab’s is a restaurant of discovery.  I discovered great food off the beaten track in east London.  I discovered Punjabi cuisine and learned that it is complex and flavourful, something that I will keep coming back to.  I discovered that I love a mango lassi.  I discovered that you can experience luxurious cooking for next to nothing – Tayyab’s is exceptionally reasonably priced.  But, perhaps most importantly, I discovered that it’s a really bad idea to eat very very hot food on a first date because that face-melting look is never sexy.

Tayyabs, 83-89 Fieldgate Street, E1 1JU
£30 for two people including soft drinks

Tayyabs Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Dishoom, Kings Cross

Dishoom, Kings Cross

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I’m always slightly wary about venturing outside of Tooting for a curry, but last Saturday I found myself in the freezing wilderness of a redeveloped Kings Cross and on the hunt for something that would warm the cockles.  Cue a queue free Dishoom.  Stepping into the cavernous converted warehouse was like entering another world.  Tiled floors, lush palm plants, ceiling fans lazily spinning; it was as if we had gone back to a more elegant time.  We had to wait for around 10 minutes before a table was free, but this was hardly a chore as we relaxed in the sophisticated lounge chairs and perused the menu.

The main restaurant is up one floor on a mezzanine and resembles a cross between an old fashioned railway lounge and a colonial gentleman’s club.  First things first: a glass of masala chai.  There are few things more wonderful on a cold day.  This was sweet, but not overly so, with a big hit of cardamom which made me think it would be the perfect cold remedy.  My dining partner does not drink alcohol and often struggles to find a decent range of soft drinks when eating out.  Not so in Dishoom.  The range of lassis even tempted me away from the booze!  I settled on a rose and cardamom lassi, while my friend chose a mango and fennel one.  They tasted amazing.

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Both of us decided on a biryani – I went for the chicken, while my friend chose lamb.  I’m very difficult to please when it comes to a biryani, having been spoiled for so long by my absolute favourite from Masaledar in Tooting.  However, the Chicken Berry Britannia may well top the charts as the best biryani in London (well, that I have tried…).  Laced with cranberries, this Persian take on a classic was a delight.  We accompanied our dishes with okra fries and a garlic naan.  The okra fries were moreish with a subtle spicy heat, while the naan was loaded with garlic – just the way I like it.

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Unsurprisingly I was feeling rather stuffed after all of that, so I eschewed dessert in favour of a naughty Bailey’s chai.  My friend, who has the appetite of an elephant, decided to try the pineapple and black pepper crumble with custard.  A strange combination perhaps, but it works!  Not too sweet but with bags of flavour.  The Bailey’s chai was a little strong for me, so I couldn’t finish it, which was a shame.

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As seems to be the norm with most new London restaurants, the service was a little intrusive and over-eager, with plenty of attempts to upsell.  However, I mellowed towards our waiter somewhat when he came over to tell us that his shift had finished and introduced us to the waiter who would now be looking after us.  A nice touch.  Both my friend and I are notoriously difficult to please when it comes to dining out, but we left Dishoom singing its praises.  A beautifully designed space where you are spoiled for choice when it comes to delicious food and drink.  I can understand why people queue for so long just for the chance to dine here.

£54 for two people, including drinks.

Spice Village, Tooting

Spice Village, Tooting

Was it the screaming baby right behind me?  Was it the two drunks next to me who only stopped slurping cans of Carling to pass out?  Was it the food so smelly that it assaulted my nasal passages and walloped my sinuses?  Or was it the person playing their music so loudly that I’m sure they were only wearing headphones as a fashion accessory?  It was shaping up to be the journey from hell, and by the time I arrived in London I was feeling about as festive as a turkey on Christmas Eve.

Returning to an empty kitchen and having already made myself sick after gorging an entire box of Quality Street in one sitting (it was a small box!!), I was in the mood to eat the least Christmassy food that I could find.  And in Tooting that means one thing – curry!  Now, I have lived in Tooting for five years but, embarrassingly, I tend to divide my time between only two of the neighbourhood’s famed curry houses.  So, as the title of this website declares, I am determined to break the habit of a lifetime (or of five years at least) and venture forth into new territory!  With this in mind, I boldly strode into the first restaurant I came to, which happened to be Spice Village.

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I vaguely recalled hearing good things about Spice Village so I felt fairly confident that I would be fed well, despite the fact that there seemed to be more people at the humongous Chicken Cottage next door.  Maybe they had been dazed by the oversized “crystal” chandeliers that adorn the ceiling of Spice Village and stumbled into Chicken Cottage by accident, who knows….?  However, the chef at Spice Village is definitely better than their interior designer.  I began my feast with the “world famous” masala fish – cod that had been marinated in masala spices then deep fried.  As it was a starter, I had imagined being served delicate little goujons of fish that I could elegantly nibble on.  Not so.  I was unceremoniously presented with a huge fillet of fried fish.  It may have looked like something you would find down the local chippy, but it sure didn’t taste like it.  Moist, flaky white fish coated in delicately spiced crispy batter, with just enough heat to keep things interesting.  I gobbled the whole thing down in record speed.

For my main course I had ordered Afghani lamb karahi, with an onion kulcha and raita on the side.  A karahi is a cooking utensil similar to a wok, but is used for slow cooking.  Therefore Afghani lamb karahi is basically a lamb stew, or as the waiter described “it’s a bit dry, a bit saucy, it’s dry-saucy”.  It was big chunks of lamb on the bone, slow cooked so that the meat fell apart, coated in a rich sauce.  It had a little bit of heat, but not so much that it obliterated all the other flavours.  I ate it with the raita to be on the safe side, which I was pleased to note was “proper” raita with bits of cucumber and tomato mixed through the yoghurt.  The “dry sauce” was mopped up with the onion kulcha – a large flatbread stuffed with minced onions and topped with sesame seeds.  I wish I could tell you exactly what was in the lamb karahi (other than lamb!) but the waiter wasn’t able to share that information with me – apparently it’s top secret!

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Spice Village has apparently been voted the best Indian and Pakistani restaurant in Tooting by the local residents.  In an area with so much competition, this is praise indeed.  I was impressed both by the food and the service, but do I think it’s the best in Tooting?  I’ll have to try a few more restaurants before I decide…..

£19.99 for one person, excluding drinks.  Salad, chutneys and a jug of water were provided.  Service not included.

Spice Village Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato