The review first appeared in Bangalore Mirror. This is a retelling that appears here after much delay. I do have a reason for it – was traveling, but it also matches Vembanad’s generic theme of delaying everything.
Vembanad, the kaayal, would conjure up a host of beautiful images for those who have been there – Mallus or otherwise. For the former, the streaming images might also have a soundtrack. I’m way under equipped to review it, so I was happy to review a restaurant named after this famous Kerala ‘watermark’. Vembanad is part of The Paul Hotel, a luxury five star hotel on the Intermediate Ring Road, near Mother Earth. Here’s a map. The signboards are pretty helpful. It’s a fine dining restaurant that claims to specialise in southern seafood cuisine, but though the coastal slant is evident in the menu, the focus is clearly on Kerala dishes.
I usually don’t make a mention of the guests here, but making an exception this time for Bijoy Venugopal, whose humour helped us tide over the long waiting time, and little Mythili, my other guests’ child, who semmed to have a love for pappadams that I completely identified with.
Vembanad’s décor is quite classy, and the furniture does lend a Kerala touch in an elegant manner. The walls are adorned with interesting curios. A comfortable setting, but I wonder if I missed anything because of the really dim lighting. A couple at another table was using their mobile flashlights to read the menu and later, the bill.
If you’re the kind who unabashedly likes coastal food, you would appreciate the menu. The starters section makes this point quite clearly with its complete lack of fowl play. The vegetarians are reasonably well looked after and have no cause to complain. The Koondhal Varattiyathu (squid) had an awesome pepper masala that made it an excellent starter. The Meen Nirachathu – seared fish with a raw mango stuffing was just about okay. The crispy Parippu (dal) Vadas were good too, though you would find the price hard to digest.
The main course section makes a show of ducking the sea of issues and providing some other relief in the form of beef and chicken. The Kozhi (chicken) Mappas, a classic Syrian Christian preparation with coriander and a mild coconut flavour, and the Pachakari (vegetable) Kurma, saved the main course. The appams were fantastic, though the delays meant that we were forced to ask Eppam?! (when) Cold appams are never a good deal and thanks to delays, that was exactly what happened. The Beef coconut fry, which is quite a holy cow in Kerala cuisine, proved really disappointing, and some portions were undercooked. We agreed with Bijoy when he said that it would require quite a meen chef to serve an underwhelming Fish Moilee, but the hardly-there coconut milk ensured just that. The desserts left a lot to be desired. The Ela Ada (coconut jaggery filling inside rice dough and cooked in banana leaves) wasn’t sweet enough and the Parippu Payasam failed to deliver too.
While coastal cuisine is arguably a good hook, what sinks it is the inordinate amount of time taken to serve the food! “Oh fish” would be an apt expression for our experience. Mythili practically slept off on a hungry stomach. The starters were taking a really long time and when I enquired, I was told that they had forgotten to pass the order on, but If i was okay, they could serve the main course dishes! Bijoy aptly described the service time as ‘meenwhile’, a fishy unit that included the time taken to bring the catch from the Vembanad lake. The waiter was definitely helpful and even suggested dishes, but that hardly solved the other weighty service issues.
In terms of cost, we Malayalis would pronounce it ‘coastly’, and deservedly so. A seafood starter, two non veg main course dishes with appams/ Kerala Parathas and a dessert would set you back by Rs.1500.
For some reason, if you happen to have a (mostly) Kerala coastal cuisine craving and want it delivered in a star hotel setting, you might consider the place. Otherwise, the city provides enough options to have equally (if not more) tasty food at a fraction of the price. Hardly anything can be worth the wait we endured!
Vembanad, The Paul, 139/28, Domlur Layout, Off Intermediate Ring Road, Bangalore – 71. Tel: 40477777
Menu at Zomato