A November 2005 trip
to Kerala by MichaelJM
Quote: Eating out is always a special part of any holiday, and here are some of the restaurants that we experienced.
This was the first restaurant we dined in on Lighthouse Beach. It’s an upmarket beach shack with great views over the ocean. We arrived just after a power cut, not that lack of electricity made much difference, because the restaurant seemed to rely on candles, with the electric lamps giving out very little. I guess you’d call it subdued lighting!
We’d been persuaded earlier in the day to give the See Bee a try, and when we returned, we were welcomed like royalty. We started off with a Kingfisher beer, and because these were unlicensed premises, the half bottle was placed surreptitiously under the table, strange because our glasses were in full view. Guess it creates an air of intrigue! Red tablecloths decked plain wooden tables and blue velour throws disguised plastic garden chairs.
For our starter we had eight onion pakoras--they were absolutely delicious and arrived piping hot at the table and were served with tangy chilli and spicy tomato sauces. A great start to the meal, and we nibbled as these to the strains of traditional Indian music being played through the hi-fi. The restaurant is crudely decorated with primitive wall paintings hung on the bright blue painted breeze block-wall, but somehow there’s a charm attached to this beach shack eatery.
Our main course consisted of vegetable Biryana, vegetable Marsala, coconut rice, and nan breads (cheese and Kashmari). We’ve been used to only raisins in the Kahmari nan, but this one was crammed to overflowing with bananas, pineapple, orange, mango, and raisins, a feast in its own right. The Biryana was moist and the marsala was beautifully aromatic with its subtle blend of exotic spices. There was plenty to satiate our appetite, and this was a most pleasurable and unstressed meal experience.
We never intended to bother with a pudding, but we were enjoying the experience of people-watching, the sound of the waves tumbling onto the beach, and the free light show (as the lighthouse beam flashed rhythmically and lightening from a distant tropical storm illuminated the sea). Another diner had invited the local legend, “the sunglasses man” to join him for a drink, and the tailor in the adjoining shop could not resist trying to tempt us with his wares. All very lightheartedly, and he knew when he needed to back off. We opted for banana fritters and chocolate pancake. Naughty but nice, as honey was drizzled over the fritters for added flavour!
This was a ridiculously priced meal (440 rupees, including drink), and when we finally asked for the bill, the waiter asked if we were in a hurry. We’d been there for over 3 hours and he was anxious that we hadn’t enjoyed ourselves. “Perhaps you are ready for bed,” he said with a smile. He was right--we were still suffering from our 12-hour flight to Kerala.
Dining out in India is unrushed and inexpensive--what a treat!
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on December 19, 2005
Sea Bee Restaurant
Like all restaurants on Lighthouse Beach, we had a terrific view of the waves crashing onto the beach against a border of lush green vegetation in front of the blackish sand. The small dots of light on the horizon confirmed the industriousness of the local fishermen who were out in force.
This was a small restaurant with around 15 tables. As seems to be the norm, the wooden tables were draped with a couple of cloths and the plastic garden chairs covered with green and white towelling throws. It’s a strange presentation, but by the end of our stay in Kerala we’d got used to this idiosyncrasy.
Kingfisher beer was sold openly in this non-licensed restaurant, and as we sipped our beer, waiting for our starter of cheese pakkoras, there was a constant flow of beach hawkers trying to peddle their wares in our direction. The cigarette boys (although most were well into their 30s), the young lad trying to sell wooden flutes to a nonreceptive audience, and the youth with flashing earrings, light strips, and yo-yos. It truly seemed a thankless task, but they retained a pleasant disposition and a broad smile as they walked the length of the beach.
The Velveet Dawn Restaurant was somewhat stylised in appearance (but trying to make the best out of a shack restaurant), with two huge nubile bronzed wenches acting as column supports for the ceiling. Poor-quality paintings adorned the wall with an ever-hopeful “for sale” sign hanging over the top of them. You can’t afford to be in a hurry here, as freshly prepared, piping-hot food takes time to deliver. Just enjoy the surrounding and the hubbub of the beach.
The pakkoras had a bit of a kick and, combined with a tangy sauce, resulted in that pleasant warming glow to the lips. Nothing unpleasant, you understand, just a gentle reminder of the power of exotic spices! For our main courses we opted for vegetable jalfrezzi, vegetable cashew, and tomato-fried rice with a buttered nan and kulcha. Now we sat back and pondered what on earth a kulcha was! It turned out to be a cross between poppadom and a nan, slightly crispy and inoffensive to the taste.
The rich, glossy, and bright appearance of the vegetable jalfrezzi belied a dish with a fierce bite back, leaving tingling lips by the end of the meal. In contrast, the vegetable cashew, with its silky texture, calmed the ferocity of the jalfrezzi. The tomato rice was a bit of a disappointment; although it did have fried tomato in the rice, it somehow lacked real taste, but the buttered nan made up for it, delightfully rich and sensationally textured, virtually melting in the mouth.
Velvet Dawn makes a real effort to offer quality food, and in their terms they’ve pushed the boat out with the décor. It’s not a classy restaurant, but the ambiance is great and the views superb.
The Café de la Mer is an extremely popular two-floored restaurant, and we decided early to reserve a table at the front of the upper floor for later in the evening. The view from up here was absolutely superb, and as this eatery is about bang in the middle of the bay, it offers a full panoramic view, only interrupted by the towering palm trees, one of which leans threateningly towards the outside staircase to the first floor. The sea is lively tonight, and we have a first-class view of the white surf blasting out from the darkness. There’s a cacophony of noise wafting to our vantage point: the pounding of the sea, the distant sounds of the solitary flute seller, the local carollers, barking dogs, and the hubbub of chattering tourists as they pass on the promenade below.
We were chuffed to have chosen to eat upstairs, as we were well catered for with only a handful of other discerning diners (the downstairs was packed). The candles flickered and the coloured lights cast eerie shadows as they reflected down onto the faux marble pillars and the terracotta tiled floor.
I opted for the vegetable sizzler, which was an immense dish served on a cast griddle. As it was brought to the table, a volcano of steam erupted from the cabbage leaves, which held its contents of carrots, peppers, tomato, cauliflower, green beans, onion, and potato chips, all resting on a mashed potato base, which held the surprise of a spicy kick. With some difficulty, I moved the meal onto my plate and placed the slice of fresh pineapple onto the griddle. The pineapple sizzled violently as the griddle continued its job nicely and cooked the fruit nicely for me. That done, I transferred it back to my main course, where it acted as a perfect accompaniment to the vegetable sizzler. Sizzlers are a local speciality, and I strongly recommend you try one. I nicked a bit of my wife’s Kashmiri nan to mop up the stray juices--it was tasty but a little too over-baked for its intended purpose.
My wife had opted for a mixed vegetable Marsala, which she claimed was the best she’d ever tasted, with Kashmiri rice (served on a bed of sliced oranges, with cherries and a range of other fruit). The only down side to the rice was that it was laced with cardamom seeds, cloves, and cinnamon, which need to be picked out or subtly spat out.
To finish off, we opted for “fruit chapparty and curstard” and hot chocolate pudding, both absolutely scrumptious and a great end to a superb meal.
The restaurant has an extensive and varied menu and is perhaps my recommended restaurant of the holiday (we went back for a second visit and it was as good!). Its only letdown is the plastic chairs covered with towels, but this is almost standard for Kovalan restaurants.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 19, 2005
Cafe de la Mer
The Fusion Restaurant caters for all tastes and is perhaps the classiest eatery on Lighthouse Beach. It's situated above shops, and you'll need to book or get there early if you want one of the seats on the edge overlooking the sea. There is no menu at the foot of the external staircase, but an indication of its success is that there are no restaurant touts at the bottom trying to persuade you to eat there. The menu is extremely varied, and, as the name suggests, some of the dishes are a fusion between East and West. You can also eat pure Indian or European if that is your preference. From pizzas and ravioli to baked potatoes, roast chicken, curries, biryani, and seafood, all are available. (We saw a fusion speciality, crayfish, being served to the next table, and it looked beautifully presented.)
The restaurant is divided into several bays separated by orange painted concrete, and bamboo curtains and pot plants decorate the open sides. The menu is elaborately set in a wicker case, and we sat in comfortable wicker chairs next to a marble table. Not your bog-standard Kovalam restaurant, this place is clean and modern, with a touch of elegance. The candles are set in smart terracotta holders and even the serviettes are displayed on each table in the terracotta head of a Hindu deity, a bit bizarre really.
This place clearly has a drink license, as the menu offers wine and cocktail and there is no subterfuge if you request a beer. Having placed our order, I asked to retain the menu (as has become normal since I’ve been writing for IGOUGO), but the waiter was totally resistant to this request and demanded that he take it away. Thereafter he viewed me, and my notepad, with absolute suspicion!
We were now accustomed to the speed of service, and whilst waiting, we nibbled on a couple of poppodoms. I was off spicy dishes at this stage of our holiday and opted for the tomato, aubergine, and cheese casserole with a crusty cheese topping. It was served with a French baguette and was absolutely delicious, and there was loads of it. My wife went for a pineapple curry with fluffy Basmati rice. The rice had a hint of coconut, and there were the inevitable curry leaves liberally sprinkled in the rice. It passed the test but could have done with being a bit spicier.
For pudding I had banana with hot chocolate sauce, very rich, but it rounded off the meal extremely well. We ate well here for just over 400 rupees for both of us; considering the setting, this was no more expensive than any of the other restaurants on the beach. Indeed it was nice enough for us to return and have another meal here. We were not disappointed on our return, and Fusion would be one of our top tips.
This is a large fronted beach shack restaurant, with the front row having a magnificent view onto the sea. A small crescent moon low down on the horizon gave an eerie reflection on the water as it rippled relentlessly onto the beach. This rest restaurant has around 20 well-spaced tables and there were plenty of people eating, usually a sign of quality. A well-placed slab of fish displays their fresh products and a willing headwaiter encouraged us, not too vigorously, to consider eating there. We don’t need too much persuading and found a table at the front of the restaurant overlooking the sea.
The tables are not only well spaced, but they are larger than normal, giving plenty of room to spread out. However, I don’t think that this is a place you’d want to scrutinise in daylight. The canopy has seen much better days and some suspended coloured lights (red, green blue, and yellow) bring back distant memories of school dances. Candles were stuck into old processed cheese tins in an attempt to give a romantic ambiance, whereas in reality it was shabby and uncared for. The beer, on these unlicensed premises, was wrapped in newspaper to disguise its existence, although a standard glass beer glass openly displayed the alcohol.
We ordered a starter of vegetable pakkoras, with a main course of lemon rice, eggplant marsarla, aloo gobi, a peshwari, and stuffed nan. Whilst waiting we are treated to a bizarre rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Christmas,” performed by a group of enterprising locals. A strange-shaped Santa writhed rhythmically alongside his red-and-white-capped helper, whilst the rest of the group sang passionately in pigeon English. It’s the 3rd of December and this group has truly introduced us to the fun and frivolity that Christmas can bring.
The vegetable pakkoras could not be described as hot, but despite that they were a tasty starter, with a variety of finely sliced vegetables battered and deep fried. It was not an attractively served starter, but the appearance mattered little after a few seconds. The marsarla was deliciously rich and quietly spicy, whereas the aloo gobi was rustic and solid. The cauliflower was tender and the spices ensured a deep robust flavour and colour. This was served with the delicately flavoured rice, which in my view was ruined by an excess of curry leaves--I don’t care for these, so I have to pick my way through the dish and discard them. The accompanying breads were superb, freshly baked and fruity to the taste. Traditional Indian music serenaded us throughout the meal.
There’s a basic wok kitchen on open display at the side of the restaurant (don’t scrutinise too closely!), with a more conventional one discreetly placed out of sight, but despite two kitchens operating, this was perhaps the most dilatory of all the restaurants that we ate in. The attentive staff was in no hurry! It was a very casual and unhurried meal.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on December 22, 2005