It’s always great news when an old favourite comes back. Even though the Konkan Cafe never really went away (it was relocated to a space near the poolside for a few months), we are excited that the restaurant is back in its original location. So a day before it re-opens to guests, we walk in, the entire 2,200 square feet space all to ourselves -- for a dinner treat that could well embarrass a maharaja. Chef Ananda Solomon, who leads the team across Taj business hotels, has laid down a 20-course spread for us. Clearly he thinks we are here to eat through the night.
But we hardly get a chance to tell him. From the moment we step into the refurbished restaurant, we are like awestruck schoolboys, looking up and down in wonder. For the redesignof this 86-seater restaurant, Chef Solomon says he wanted to create an authentic Konkan experience with all design elements sourced from The Konkan coast, from Alibaug to Kasargode in Kerala.
So there are stone pillars with artwork reminiscent of the Vijayanagara dynasty, ornate wooden chairs and tables, terracota on the walls and natural fibres on furniture. The flooring is typical mosaic with Indo-Portuguese influence and the walls have laterite stones, specially procured from the quarries in Dapoli. Even before we settle into our seats, I have gathered enough information to give a lecture on Konkan culture.
Here is where the conversation comes to a full stop. For the food has arrived. If the crockery and cutlery of pure cast kamsya (Bronze) is impressive, then the food that follows is even more so. We begin with the Solkadi, Rasam and Matta, taking a sip before the Chicken Roast, Masala Wada and the Kombli Wadi arrives with an assortment of four chutneys (coriander, onion, tomato and coconut).
The Chenin Blanc goes well with the starters we are told and we love this mild and young house wine, even as the fish dishes start arriving. The Paplet Fry (pomfret) is mildly herbed and can be enjoyed even by a child. The Malvani Chicken, on the other hand, is quite spicy with a healthy dose of gravy and strictly ‘adults only’. It goes well with the Kaal Dosa or the Malabari Paratha though as does the mild coconut-milk infused Mutton Cha Rassa (mutton stew), which we devour gleefully with appams. The Mutton Sukha is an old favourite and this dry, mildly chilly meat dish goes well with appams (as it does with a glass of Shiraz as we discover). The Veg Korma and the Prawn are mildly spiced but soft and slow-cooked to perfection. Chef Solomon insists we try the Moplah specialty, the Mapila Meen Biryani with a cold and chilly raita and we oblige, loving the fact that the chilli makes us gulp a glass of water!
For desserts, there is Elaneer Payyasam and the Adda Payyasam, the latter a warm dessert cooked in jaggery. They are par for the course -- not really exceptional, but by this time, we hardly care. For if we were a maharaja, we would have probably given half my kingdom for this meal we just had.
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