At East Indies, the restaurant at the newly-opened Hotel Eight Bastion, expect a fantastic fusion of culinary history and pure gastronomic delight

An interesting way to follow history is through food. Eat the story first, is what chefs at CGH hotel kitchens are encouraged to do before the preparation of a dish. The story behind a recipe often reveals social and cultural histories thus gathering respect and richness . Tales of Indian ingredients finding their way into true-blue dishes have been cues that a hard-fact finding research may overlook.

These often hide surreptitiously in the folds of a recipe that emerged when communities and culinary styles melded slowly over centuries. Well these are the stories that chefs at the newly opened hotel Eight Bastion in Fort Kochi are telling and serving. They are serving foods that follow the Dutch route in South Asia. And coming from a kitchen that stands on the Gelderland Bastion, of the Dutch quarter of Fort Kochi, the menu seems just right.

At East Indies, the restaurant, the food is Pan-Asian-Dutch, from the colonies in India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Keeping to the theme, the décor is in tune. Verenegde Oostindische Compagnie (The Dutch East India Company) reminiscences are direct and the feel is definitely that of a period, a time and an age.

Chef Saiju Thomas almost comes as a historian who’s followed the Dutch trail with a spatula in hand, assisted by anthropologist Burke van der Pol, looking at Dutch histories across the world. “We have collected menus from Surat, Sri Lanka , Indonesia, Malabar, Bengal….wherever the Dutch were present,” he says, bringing in an open faced savoury cheese tart. The tart made from cashew cheese, roasted tomatoes, spinach and tossed in basil vinaigrette was a comfort food common to the colonies. The globally popular chicken satay too fits in the same category. A trio of dosa, which combines beef rendang, dry spice shrimp, Kerala roast potatoes and Kashmiri chilli oil is a recipe that melds the local flavours with European culinary imports.

Chef Dominic Joseph who has designed the menu, along with hotel chefs, speaks of a contemporary take on these age-old popular recipes. One way he says is to present them in a gourmet style. And so we have the popular naadan kappa and meen curry served in an elegant style, appealing to the eye and the palate.

It is indeed a good way to morph as food turns more eye-catching, breathtaking and aromatic, stirring the senses even before it finds its way in.

The young chef has plans for an all-day menu, a separate lunch and dinner menu catering to a variety of demands.

“We are introducing the lamprise, a dish strongly influenced by the Dutch. It is like our podichor, he says, and plans to serve it as rice, meat balls, prawn chutney, egg plant and banana chips all wrapped and roasted in a banana leaf, soaked in flavours and essences. There are strains of Parsi food, like the popular patra ni machi, some Gujarati flavours, mustard from Bengal and coconut from Malabar coast on the menu at East Indies. The shiitake bisque with slight shades of apple is a perfect starter, like the watermelon and ginger salad. The main course is a variety that ranges from mildly flavoured cauliflower risotto to the spicier nadan atterachi roast. The trio of beef sliders is a winner and perfect for diners on the rush. The herb crusted pork chops is wholesome.

Chef Thomas by the end of the mealis still smiling and brings in his speciality, a guava flavoured ice cream. Natural foods, cooked in natural ways, he says, is what they follow at the hotel. In those times, there were not all these fancy cooking apparatuses, he says, and food was organic. We try to keep to that too. A frozen honey parfait and a crème brulee French toast are the other desserts he serves. And we find the food is as good as the story.

East Indies in Eight Bastion is on Chruch Street in Fort Kochi.

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