When it comes to experiencing the varied cuisine of the South-Western Coast of India, we’d like to go out on a spindly limb and declare that no place does it better than Karavalli. For 25 amazing years they have been consistently bringing authentic specialties from the home kitchens of Kerala, Mangalore, Karwar and Goa to their guests, in a vintage Bengaluru setting, just off Residency Road.
We haven’t really eaten these dishes in our grandmothers’ kitchen, but it doesn’t need a stretch of imagination to conjure up vivid images of how they could have been prepared. A lovely old traditional kitchen, crackling wood-fires, ancient pots and pans filled with well-seasoned curries simmering placidly away, the rhythmic thuds of masalas being pounded, and spicy, savoury aromas lingering in the air, is the picture that springs to mind, as we listen to Chef Naren Thimmaiah talk to us about the kitchens that are so close to his heart.
We’ve been to Karavalli a while back, for a seafood wood-fired grilling experience that we really enjoyed. This visit was even more special, since they were going to serve handpicked classics from the top twenty-five in the iconic Karavalli menu. Having arrived a little early, we wandered around the restaurant, admiring the beautiful and unpretentious decor. Karavalli is all about dark wood panels and pillars, weathered tables, cobbled pathways, interesting shiny brass and copper accents and golden globe lights. The display of fresh seafood on a bed of crushed ice in the garden area subtly nudges you to check out the outdoor grilling station.
A lump of jaggery in the tiniest bowl ever is how you start your meal here. There are papads to munch on, and pickles and chutneys to get your taste-buds warmed up. The iced tea with kokum is a delicious twist, and the chef is quick to share that kokum is one of six souring agents that are used in the kitchens here. We’re now quite done with the preliminaries and can’t wait to get started on the goodies.
The starters arrive in quick succession, but the taste of the Tiger Prawn Roast that is served first is unbeatable. The tangy onion-tomato masala clings to the perfectly cooked prawns and leaves us hungry for more. The next feature is the very different Meen Eleittad, fillets of Black Pomfret, dressed in a spicy marinade and grilled in the folds of a banana leaf, ensuring that the fish retains its delicate juiciness and flakes at the touch of the fork.
Then comes Kane Kaidina – whole ladyfish with Mangalorean spices, deep-fried to a crispy finish..delicious but a little hard to eat due to the fine bones in the fish. And there is the Koli Barthad – succulent chicken chunks pan-roasted with Coorgi spices, nicely balanced with a touch of vinegar.
The vegetarian starters that we enjoyed included a super delicious raw-banana fry dish from Kerala – Pachakkai Varathathu – crescent-shaped slices of banana, deep-fried and then tossed in a perfect blend of spices. Another appetizer is Oggaraneda Aritha Pundi – tiny rice dumplings tossed in a powdery lentil ‘n coconut blend with a light crunch. Also served is the classic Pathrode – colocasia leaf rolls layered with a spicy paste, then rolled, steamed, panfried in ghee and served with more ghee to offset the irritating effects of colocasia on the throats of diners.
An array of curries is served along with a platter heaped with steaming coconut-speckled idiyappams, all made from scratch. The fish curry – Allapuzha Meen Curry – has seer fish poached in a smooth coconut and chilli curry that isn’t as hot as the dramatic red colour might indicate. The vegetable stew with a silky coconut milk base is mild and pairs perfectly with the appams served hot and fresh from the live counter. We love the spicy chicken and veggie curry (Kozhi Malliperilan) and this tastes wonderful mopped up with the Kerala-style Malabar paranthas. Another favourite is the mango curry – Mavinakkai Mensukkai, tangy and sweet, with succulent mango pieces that were preserved in brine.
Two dry dishes that we tried were a classic baby potato roast with really tiny potatoes in a chunky onion-tomato masala. The roasted lamb with fennel was the only dish that we didn’t care too much for since it was a little on the dry side.
In a world filled with a multitude of pages of the same-old multi-cuisine and fusion menus, the home-style fare at Karavalli is something one can contemplate eating even a few nights in a row without getting weary of it. Exactly like in grandma’s own kitchen.
If you haven’t already, head to Karavalli to enjoy a relaxed evening over dishes from the 25 years of Karavalli menu and savour the taste of a time almost gone by.Address: Karavalli @ The Gateway Hotel, Residency Road
Accepts Cards: Yes