Madras Cafe – the delightfully quirky purveyor of Presidency cuisine, is currently running a Onyumm Kerala Food Festival to usher in Onam. I was invited to sample some of the dishes from their festival menu.
We were welcomed with a refreshing coconut and ginger drink (Inji Tanni) and a basket of banana and jaggery chips, papad, and jaggery and sweet potato bites. During my earlier visit, the crab soup had blown me away. This time I got to try the veg variant – Takkali Murangakai Rasam, which was essentially Rasam poured over few pieces of tomato. The rasam was spicy and worked quite well as a soup, but the dish did feel a bit one dimensional. Next up was Palkatti Chuttadhu – a Paneer starter with a fried marination of red chilly and ginger-garlic. This taasted like something that I’d expect to see in Telengana rather than in Kerala, but I enjoyed the high heat levels. Unfortunately, the frying process had made some of the paneer pieces dry and chewy. If high heat levels scare you, then the next veg starter – Sakaravali Kalengu – should probably be your pick. It is a a sweet potato tikki with a hint of heat. Next up were some chicken (Pacha Melagu Koli Veruval) and fish (Meen Polichadu). The former was a mouth watering preparation of pepper chicken, while the latter was fish cooked in banana leaves with a rich tomato marination. The piece of fish that I received was a tad too salty, but I still enjoyed both the preparations.
In the main course we tried some soft Appams, flaky Malabar Parotas, Malabar Koli Biryani, light Kerala rice, super fragrant Nei Choru, and rich Malabar Koli Biryani. My favourite was the Nei Choru, which is traditional Kerala Ghee Rice prepared from long grained basmati rices with a generous sprinkling of dry fruits. As you might expect from a Onam special menu, there are quite a few veg gravies. Ullitheeyal, which had been my favourite at the Radisson Blu Kerala Food Festival menu, was prepared here with smashed potatoes instead of baby onions. I enjoyed the more prominent taste of pepper at Madras Cafe, but missed sweet finishing notes. Next up was Aviyal – an iconic mixed veg dish from Kerala with a dominant coconut flavour. I would have loved the coconut flavour to be even stronger, but the dish went really well with Appam. Non vegetarians should try the Aadu Thenga Masala, a rich and spicy preparation of mutton with Chettinad spices and coconut.
We finished off our meal with Pal Ada Pradaman and Pazha Payasam. Both the dishes are variants of the traditional payasam. The former is characterised by the flavour of its rice flour pastry, while the latter is defined by the flavour of banana and jaggery.
The Onyumm festival will be running till August 30, with a special pure veg Sadya thali being available on Onam (28th August). The a la carte items are priced quite reasonably (between Rs. 180 and Rs. 350), and features some brilliant preparations. That being said, none of the dishes had the prominent taste of coconut oil that I associate with Kerala cuisine. While this will make the dishes more approachable to everyone, it will also disappoint some.