A wonderful opportunity to experience authentic Kerala food presented itself in the suburbs of Mumbai. The Keys (business) hotel celebrated the flavors and colors of Kerala for 10 days through the 28th of July. The Keys Café, next to the lobby on the ground floor, was artfully decorated with flowers and posters with all staff dressed on white shirts and dhotis, thus creating a very warm environment in an otherwise dull neighborhood. I was thrown back in time to the many Onam Sadyas I had during my stay at Mangalore and Cochin in early 2000’s.
The festival presented flavors from multiple districts of Kerala, each with its own well known delicacies catering to sea food lovers, meat cravers and vegetarian aficionados. Chefs from the group’s Kochi based hotel were housed in Mumbai, ensuring an honest and traditional spread. The team added many regular Punjabi dishes to the buffet so as to cater to guests who may not take to the south Indian preparations offered during the festival.
Beginning my tasting with the Non-Veg selection on offer, I tried the Waynadan Chutta Kozhi (Chicken Green Pepper Dry), Pork Piriyan Malagu (Gravy), Koondal Nai Roast (Squid fried in ghee then wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed over charcoal) and Mutton Attirachi Curry (Gravy) along with light brown rice. The chicken was very well cooked – slightly moist in the center, with an aromatic and balanced spice of green peppers well infused with the meat. The taste was delicious and spicy, and unlike anything I had tried before. The squid was cooked along with spices and onions, by enclosing the mix in banana leaf and cooking the pack over charcoal. The squid was well cooked, and the gravy quite tasty but I could do with more peppers or spices to give it a zing. The pork gravy was delicious, but both mutton and pork were slightly hard to chew. The rice was fluffy, light and perfectly cooked. If not for the variety on offer, I would have been very happy with just the rice and gravy on offer – and I mean that as a compliment.
The vegetarian fare was a surprising winner. The coconut rice was full of flavor on its own, and complimented the sambar and the surprisingly fresh and zingy Kadi. Raw turmeric flavour on the Kadi was just about right, with a mouth watering tang of the curd balancing well with the rice. The sambar was balanced very well, having neither too many vegetables, nor being too tangy (as many eateries across Mumbai serve). Another interesting dish was the Vellari Manga – Madrasi cucumber cooked with Mango, a sweet and sour dish easy on the palate with a slight hint of mango to complement the after taste.
After taking a good 15 minute break, where I was served fresh mint water to cleanse my palette, I tried the non-Kerala dishes to check out the usual servings. The tandoori fish tikka was amongst the best I have had in a mid-range buffet. It was not over cooked, soft, fresh and the masala was pure Punjabi. I wish the gravy dishes were half as good as the starters, which would have elevated the experience from pleasure to delight.
Given the price, location and offering, I was pleasantly surprised with a few dishes but longed for a good gravy option for non-vegetarians. The Vegetarians would have loved the main course options available which were authentic and delicious.
Keep an eye out for the next festival or walk in to taste the tandoori fish, you may not be disappointed.
(Disclosure: This review was done at the behest of the restaurant to sample its food festival)
Ratings (out of 5)
Food: 3.5 | Ambiance: 3.0 | Service: 3.0 | Overall: 3.0
Meal for two: 1,100 plus taxes excluding alcohol | Parking: Yes | Timings: 7:30 pm – 10:30 pm
Address: Keys Hotel, Makwana Road, Off Military Road, Marol, Andheri (E), Mumbai | Tel: +91 (022) 4020 2020