I began my reviews of Golconda Bowl Express and Oh Calcutta by noting that back in the day there weren’t any Hyderabadi or Bengali dining options in Delhi as such. This is not exactly true of Malayali/Kerala food. In the early 1990s there was a restaurant by the name of Malabar in Hauz Khas that we used to eat at from work quite regularly and it had some Kerala stuff on the menu. And then there was the excellent Coconut Grove in the Ashok Yatri Niwas (a budget hotel in the Janpath/CP area). Then came the infamous tandoor murder case wherein a Youth Congress leader shot and killed his wife and tried to dispose of her chopped up corpse in the tandoor of the Baghiya restaurant in the same hotel. This understandably put a lot of people off the idea of eating in the hotel, and the Coconut Grove migrated to the nearby Hotel Janpath for some time and then disappeared (at least I think it’s gone–I haven’t really looked for it in a while)–its place in the Hotel Janpath being taken by another outpost of the now ubiquitous Swagath. The Ashok Yatri Niwas itself is also gone (it changed its name and was completely renovated and may have turned into a Ramada or something).
Food from Kerala didn’t disappear from Delhi with the Coconut Grove, however. There seem to be a number of places to eat it at now, but my friends recommended Kerala Express in Nehru Place.
In the US the notion of eating in a mall, especially in a food court is not usually compatible with the notion of eating well. In India, however, there is no such stigma as malls are exciting and (relatively) new and signifiers of modernity and excitement. All this to say that Kerala Express is in the new(ish) Epicuria mall in Nehru Place (next to the metro station, and a hop, skip and jump from Oh Calcutta). This is really a large food court, with a particularly postmodern assemblage of restaurants: it features such names as Dunkin’ Donuts, KFC and Starbucks alongside outposts of Karim’s, Moti Mahal and Sagar Ratna as well as places with names like Gelato Roma, L’Opera and Smoothie Factory (!) and even something called Uncle Tom’s Steamed Hot Dogs.
But the Delhi foodie interest re Epicuria is is all about Kerala Express, or to give it its full name, Joey Mathew’s Kerala Express. Joey Matthew is an ex-supermodel type turned TV food personality. Sort of like Padma Lakshmi if she were actually an accomplished chef (yes, yes, I know she’s “written” a cookbook). Anyway, the beauteous Ms. Matthew can apparently be found behind the counter of Kerala Express from time to time; over which counter she has been known to leap, clad in shorts to chat with diners about the food; but she wasn’t there when we visited.
The counter was instead manned by two personable young men who don’t have much to do as the menu is minimal. There is just a very short list of things available a la carte. We opted to get thalis. Of these there are vegetarian, fish and meat thalis to choose from and we chose the fish and meat. I also added on a mutton chilly fry and a Malabar porotta. It then transpired when the food arrived that the meat thali included a goodly portion of mutton chilly fry. When I asked personable young man 1 why he hadn’t apprised me of this fact when I was placing the order he gave me a smile that somehow suggested both that he is a halfwit and that he was proud to have got one over on me. Anyway, the food was all quite good but you shouldn’t expect anything fancy: it’s comfort food.
(As always, click on the thumbnails for a slideshow of larger images.)
This is the fish thali. It comprises a nice sour and spicy fish curry, a rather anonymous and uninspiring piece of fried fish, a dal and a thoran (a genre of “dry” preparations of chopped vegetables). To mop it all up there is an appam of far better quality than you would ever expect in such a setting.
And this is the non-veg thali. In place of the fish curry there is a mutton curry (mutton=goat in India), the previously mentioned mutton chilly fry and the same dal and thoran as is in the other thali. The thoran, by the way, was made with green plantains and was rather good. So were both mutton dishes.
A very nice quick, and very reasonably priced, meal on the whole (just a little above 600 rupees, I think). There is no point making over large claims for places like this, but if Comrade Matthew were to open up a real restaurant this suggests the results would be good.