It's easy to get hooked when the ambience and the flavours blend as well as they do at Bait, the new restaurant at Vivanta by Taj, Kovalam (formerly Taj Green Cove). The restaurant is actually a bit away from the main hotel, on a nearby strip of land, with gorgeous views of the sea on the one side and the gentle ripples of a serene lagoon on the other.
Wooden slats from old railway tracks on the floor, a thatched roof, laterite walls, charming lanterns, wooden beams and so on add a rather rustic old-world charm to the restaurant, with a state-of-the-art interactive kitchen, to give it a contemporary feel. Admittedly, it does take a while to focus your attention from the ambience to the menu itself; finding yourself kicking back and relaxing, sipping the welcome drink – hot and spicy lemon grass rasam – as you take in the mesmerising scenery.
The menu is, of course, predominantly seafood but there is plenty of equally interesting choices for vegetarians too. “It's a global twist to Indian seafood cuisine,” says executive chef Sonu Koithara pointing to the Italian pizza, pizza calzone, clamarari and so on that have been adapted for Indian tastes. While we contemplate on what to order, our friendly waiter serves us an amuse bouche platter consisting of banana chips and fresh veggies with a Lebanese yoghurt-garlic dip and mango-coconut chutney. For a lot of the items in the menu you have a choice of ordering a dish as a half portion or in full, and that really comes in handy when you want to sample different items in the starters line-up, for instance.
For our starters we order half portions of crispy beer battered calamari, tiger prawns and spicy roast chicken. The roast chicken was a succulent, flavourful dream, perhaps because it came marinated in a tangy Mangalorean masala that had a rather fish-like flavour to it. The blandness of the deep-fried calamari was beautifully offset by a piquant barbeque mayonnaise dip. Hardly had we finished than the pizzas came – half portions of spicy seafood pizza and half of a vegetarian one topped with sun dried tomatoes and olives. And this Italian pizza, with its oven baked thin crust – as compared to those bread-base kinds that are mass produced – is the real deal; delicate pizzas, crispy on the rim and soft on the inside.
For our main course we could not help but order the catch of the day (seer fish) marinated in ‘coastal Kerala' spices and roasted on a piece of mango wood in a wood-fire oven, and cottage cheese steaks cooked the same way, the wonderfully smoky flavour of the wood coming through in the dishes. We also just had to order the ‘On the rocks' special – which turned out to be a scrumptious mildly spiced tiger prawns grilled on a pre-heated slab of granite, and served with roasted baby potato and grilled vegetables. Stuffed as we were, the lure of homemade Kulfi dessert, ice-cold and soothing to the palate, was also too strong to let go.
The menu also has interesting dishes such as lamb nalli (shanks) curry, prawn and pink pepper stew, dalchini murgh, makkai methi malai and so on for those not interested in seafood. The restaurant also has a Kerala seafood buffet on Wednesday eveneings, ‘Fishy Friday' buffet on Friday evenings, and a barbeque buffet on Sundays (all Rs. 750+tax). I'm hooked!
Keywords: Taj Kovalam