(This review was first published in Bangalore Mirror)
Malabar is the northern part of God’s Own Country, lying between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea. For those not familiar with Koramangala’s official language, ‘Malabar’ is derived from the word ‘mala’ meaning hill in Malayalam and ‘bar’ has nothing to do with Kerala’s increasing alcohol consumption of late. Until the middle of June, the premises were occupied by what keen observers of the cuisine would identify as one of the last bastions of authentic Malayali food in this part of Bangalore – Kairali. That awesome Beef Roast may now exist only in fond memories, but otherwise, with daily specials beefing up the regular menu, Cafe Malabari does promise to be a worthy successor.
Cafe Malabari is just a couple of buildings after GK Vale and underneath Krishna Cafe, on the same road as Yana Sizzlers, ‘Flambe‘, China Pearl, Vicky’s Tava Lounge, Oye Amritsar, The Esplanade etc. (map) Park as soon as you enter the road, and walk up.
The regular menu does not acknowledge the existence of starters, so make sure you ask for the week’s special menu.
There were six starters available the week we visited, with the Gobi/ Mushroom/ Paneer 65 being the sole vegetarian representative. The ‘Prawns Kombail Korthuthu’ is a specialty and quite deserves the tag. It’s satay-like in presentation, but has a crisp exterior and succulent inside, flavoured with a spicy masala. The Kunthal (squid) Varuval wasn’t as much a favourite as the masala hadn’t quite seeped in, but it was reasonably tasty. The Travancore Chicken Dry Fry is just another name for the item that’s commonly found in menus across Kerala – Poricha Kozhi. Purists might frown at the presentation, since the dish is not famous for garnishing, but it did make a pretty picture. The chicken was crisp on the outside and tender inside, just the way it should be done.
In the main course, the Cafe Malabari Chicken Curry, a signature dish, has an onion-based, mildly spicy gravy that works well with the excellent Kerala Porotta – crisp, yet not flaky, on the outside and soft inside. And you must Meat Kappa Roast, well boiled tapioca mashed together with a spicy and thick meat gravy. For the vegetarians who would like to get a taste of this eternal favourite of Malayalis, try the Kappa Ularthu. We were given an excellent red chillies and onion-based chutney along with the starters. It goes very well with the kappa, so make sure you ask for it. The Kurumulagu Peralan Mutton had only a subtle pepper flavour, but did prove a good combination with the appam, though the latter was reheated and was of the flat variety as opposed to the more favoured appachatti version. The spicy tomato-based Egg Roast was also a good side dish for the appams. The Puttu (steamed rice cake) hit that exact mid spot between pasty and powdery, and had just the right amount of grated coconut, though its trusted combination – the Kadala curry – was rather insipid. The Chilly Gobi, which is waging a battle along with its Manchurian cousin for the title of Kerala’s most preferred dish, was moderately spicy and a tad too colourful. The Chicken “Ishtew” got the coconut milk flavoured gravy right, but the country chicken was bent on putting up a good fight in its afterlife. The ‘Cafe Malabari Special Gift’ is meant to be a meal in itself with Kappa, Fish Vattichathu, Appam and Avoli (pomfret) fry but except for the spicy second item, which went well with the Kappa, it was a bad show. Another mala-barb was the Meen (fish) Varutharacha curry, in which we could find no trace of the fried coconut flavour that makes it special. Ghee Rice it was called, but only the rice could make it for dinner. But the biggest heartache turned out to be the non availability of the Pathiri (a thin ‘pancake’) and the Moplah Mutton Biriyani, the latter being a favourite wedding dish in Malabar.
Payasams for dessert, a different one every day. I dreamt up Ada Pradhaman, Semiya, Palada, and received a reality check for my efforts when I was told they had run out of it. Meat frenzy has its drawbacks. You win some, you lose payasam.
An average meal for two would cost Rs.400-500. The service is cheerful, and obviously, you get a free smile if you order in Malayalam. Cafe Malabari sets the Malabar high by doing a good job on quite a few traditional Kerala dishes. You’d do well to make an early start to your dinner though, just so that you don’t miss out on the specialties.
Cafe Malabari, No: 143, 5th Block, Munireddy Kalyana Mandapa Road, Next to Anand Sweets, Koramangala Ph: 25507373