Had this crazy craving for some authentic Kerala food last night, and well to be honest was surprised that the internet search revealed no great results. From the limited opinions I got from some food bloggers – I zeroed in on the place called Malabar Hotel. Simply because everyone wrote good for their biryanis, and I’m a sucker for biryanis – any and every kind.
Well it was not an easy choice, cause the location was marked as Sarai Jullena (marked as Julliana on the menu cards – probably to make the location sound exotic) and I’m sure not many of us know where that is – even I had only heard of it, never ventured inside that area. So the hunger pangs rose to an alarmingly high level and off we went to sample some malabari food.
Since I was going with my wife, who is a vegetarian – concerns like cleanliness, crowd type (don’t judge me by this, we do think about this don’t we?) safety, veg food options were also issues looming around in my head. But they were to be dismissed soon.
Took some direction help from the local rickshaw committee, who addressed it as Madarasi ka hotel – not the most racially correct title but nevertheless they helped. They offered some sound advice, “Gaadi escort hospital ke gate No.2 ke bahar laga ke saamne wali gali mein paidal chalke jaana” – translation Park your car at gate No.2 of Escorts hospital and walk into the opposite bylane.
It’s a small walk into the lane opposite gate No.2, you come across Malabar Jewelry House – which is owned by the same establishment. It looked like a swell jewel shop within the residential cum local business area. Take a right after about 100 meters in the lane and viola – you are greeted with Malabar Biryani.
Now the real meat (paneer for veggies) of the story, the place is a no fuss interiors, with super clean tables, glass doors makes for good corner seating with practically no view outside but jokes apart the best part of the place was it was super chilled. The aircon seemed to be of another planet – it was in all probability the sister of the refrigerator separated at the last Khumb mela.
The place houses about 10 tables with varied seating, so lets say a good house of 50 can fill it full. When we entered it had a couple who preferred to be seated at the corner table (full-on privacy), 4 friends who looked a bit high or probably it was the prolonged stare and a guy who came with his companion the newspaper (Malayalam).
The menu cards are placed at the billing counter, so you either pick one up if you are in a hurry or show your decency and ask for one. The servers know bare minimum hindi, like something to save their lives if required, otherwise keep it to broken English or point at the menu trick along with hand gestures of the number of plates required. If it is going no where make a clueless face and in comes the manager with a smile so wide it seems on first instance like the guy who wants to dupe you with double rates at Janpath market – reminding you of those calls “Sarrrrrr, good quality – please pick up, only for you my friend, Rs.100 market price 500 – my friend, you want hashish” anyways…
To say the least first impression of the manager was not the last impression, he helped us so politely and with a smile that can put all the hospitality fakers to shame and some lesson for all the hotel management grads who do not take their work seriously. He knew very well the moment he approached us that we have come in for the first time so he told us to go with basic options and after some “what is this, how is this made, with what ingredients, what is this…” we ordered.
Veg stew – thick coconut milk gravy with veggies like carrots, turnip, potatoes, cauliflower, green beans etc. the gravy had a smooth texture, the veggies were boiled to death though but the coconut gravy was so flavorful that I ignored the limp veggies. Mildly spiced. Was served in a bowl good for almost two.
Egg roast – Interesting dish. It’s a thick masala (tomato and onion) gravy with 3 boiled eggs. Spiced well with curry leaves flavoring. It would be an awesome pick for drinkers bored of roasted chicken & the likes. Decent quantity served.
Malabar Parota – we simply said parotta (please pronounce it paranthaa once to see the angst on the servers face – this will be enough reason for you to get you an outcast tag) and they served us 3 of these. Not that we complained. Now I like the crispy ones which are freshly fried/baked, this seemed it was pre-done and heated before serving. So not high marks for that but the dough flavor was good and coupled with stew or egg roast this got some life.
Finally, the Malabar special Chicken Biryani – for starters this is not at all like Mughlai degh cooked biryani, this is the quickie cousin, the rice was of the smaller grain variety not the ones used for south Indian cooking usually and the flavor from the rice alone was the enough to know what more is in store. This dish was a winner from the moment it arrived our table. Not because it was the only non-veg dish but because of the uniqueness it offered. The plate came with a rice (in cake formation) topped with a fried papad and mix raita n achaar (this was good). The presentation won me over and the rest was done by the taste. The rice are filled with two chicken pieces and some sort of semi gravy concoction. The flavoring was mild, coupled with raita and achaar it was a mesmerizing. I think I’m drooling while writing this also.
I wanted to order more but my partner in crime gave up, well she did get to savor three items. For me ordering more was more for the gluttony than the hunger, after the Biryani miracle I wanted to see if they do justice to other non veg dishes – so would need to make another trip for this soon.
By the time we finished our meal the place was packed. Well I wasn’t surprised a place where they serve with a smile, even served us extra papads at no extra cost and the food was super yumm why they wouldn’t fill up even if it was a weekday.
The only bummer was we asked for coffees, which they couldn’t serve since their coffee was out of stock.
Okay, now the climax – we asked for the bill and it was – drum rollsssssssssss…..
Rs.211/- YES, believe it!
I had to ask twice and then finally ogle at the bill to believe it.
Chatted up with the manager and told him what a brilliant job they are doing and how good the food was – on inquiring came to know they have been located here since the last 8 years and have now opened another one in Gurgaon (Med city). Well the business strategy was clear with this revelation – medical tourism from the South of India to Delhi for better medical services is really high, and that most of the staff at hospitals are also from South – so the target audience here are the medical students, resident doctors and medical travelers (who mostly travel with accompanying family members) – now that explains why some of the dishes were mildly spiced and the pocket friendly prices.
An absolute VFM meal and high scores on taste, must explore if you are a food wanderer on the constant search of that elusive food paradise.
Written by Varun Chaudhary