New Delhi, India
October 8, 2013
Enté Keralam sits on the ground floor of a triple-storeyed building that houses a few other restaurants, including a teppanyaki joint. Enté Keralam itself is entered through a simple little wooden vestibule-pavilion (with a couple of broad benches for anybody who’d like to sit in case they have to wait for a table). Inside, the restaurant’s décor epitomises simplicity: the creamy-white walls have a few quiet and tasteful reproductions of the paintings of the legendary Raja Ravi Verma, but other than that, there’s none of the fussiness that tries to scream "This is a South Indian restaurant!" The chairs are upholstered in a subdued pattern of stripes, and the sideboards are of dark wood. On each table is a quarterplate-sized shallow brass bowl filled with water, and with cheery pink-orange-red roses floating in them. Beside that is a small wooden model of one of the famous Chinese fishing nets of Kochi. All is dignified, warm, yet stylish in its own way.
We were greeted and seated at a comfortable table (the restaurant, incidentally, looked pretty full, a good testimony to just how popular Enté Keralam is), and a waiter brought us the menu. This consists (as the name of the restaurant would indicate) mostly Keralan food—and covering a wide range of dishes, all the way from the food of the Syrian Christian community, to the Muslim Moplah fisherfolk. There is, as is common in Kerala, a lot of seafood. There were loads of dishes that sounded very tempting, but we finally settled for erachi cutlet (a croquette made from spiced minced beef) as a starter, followed by—for the main course—‘prawn roast’ and ulli thiyal, the latter a curry of which the star ingredient is ‘pearl onions’, rather like tiny shallots. To accompany the main course, we ordered appams, pancake-like breads made from a fermented rice flour batter. To drink, we chose keraleeyam, described in the menu as a ‘tender coconut punch’.
While we waited for our starter to arrive, the waiter brought us something to nibble: a small brass bowl with a few bite-sized morsels of a fried dough covered with a dried glaze of palm sugar. Very nice, even though I’d have classified this as an after-meal dessert substitute rather than pre-meal munchies. Another small bowl contained a classic Kerala favourite: banana chips, made by slicing raw bananas very thinly and then deep-frying them in coconut oil: the result is every bit as addictive (if not more!) as a really good potato chip.
Also served up with these snacks were our drinks, which turned out to be glasses of tender coconut water, spiked with the merest hint of ginger, a squeeze of lime, and some very finely chopped mint. Sublime.
The erachi cutlet, five pieces of teardrop-shaped croquettes arranged on a plate with wedges of lime and some sliced raw onions, was simply delicious. The beef had been minced finely, cooked with spices (just enough to make it interesting, not fiery), and then crumb-fried. Although they served a little bowl of tomato ketchup along with that, I personally didn’t think the cutlets needed any embellishment at all—they were perfect as is.
After a first course as good as that, the main course needed to be excellent in order to deliver—and it did. The prawn curry, in a spicy terracotta-coloured gravy, had a generous sprinkling of slit green chillies, but if you steered clear of those, the curry itself wasn’t too fiery, but had loads of flavour—and the prawns, plump and juicy, were super. A very different dish as the ulli thiyal, which came in a lot of dark chocolate-coloured gravy, thick with sliced pearl onions. This had a wonderful sweet-savoury-tart flavour, the sweetness derived from the slow and careful caramelisation of the onions. Both the prawn curry and the lulli thiyal were so good, and the accompanying appams so perfectly cooked—crisp and golden on the edges, soft and spongy in the centre—that we couldn’t resist the temptation to order more appams.
As dessert, Enté Keralam offers a few traditional specialties, including different types of payasam, milk puddings, such as the paal ada payasam, made with rice flakes simmered in milk. We passed that up, though, and opted for our favourite type of payasam: elaneer payasam, strips of tender coconut in a lightly sweetened mix of cooked milk and coconut milk. While I thought the elaneer payasam at Sana-di-ge was better than its counterpart at Enté Keralam, this one was pretty good too: cool, refreshing, and light.
We paid Rs 1,912 for our meal, inclusive of all taxes and service charges. Very good value for money, and definitely recommended.
From journal Eating and Sleeping in Bangalore