Fine dining on old world West Asian cuisine at boutique restaurant Villa Maya

It’s not often you come across restaurants where classic blends into the contemporary, where fine dining meets grandeur. You’ll find it all at Villa Maya, the newly-opened boutique restaurant in a restored mansion on the Aarattu road at Eenchakkal, an area dotted with graceful heritage mansions known as Ammaveedus, which in a bygone era were the residences of consorts of Maharajas of erstwhile Travancore. Step into the restaurant, through its seemingly Balinese pagoda style entrance and be prepared to be blown away by its magnificent old-world charm. The three-storey mansion with its white façade sparkles with the elegance of polished wood and stone, sculptures and antiques, the ambience made all the more attractive in the faint glow of strategically-placed lighting, itself mostly fashioned out of antique glass baubles.

The balmy evening seems perfect for al fresco dining and we choose a table in the mansion’s relatively small courtyard, which is dotted with miniature trees and gurgling ponds, instead of the more formal table settings on the ground and first floors of the mansion (there’s even a breakfast-in-bed sort of dining option on the first floor, where a table setting has been fashioned out of a bed, giving a new meaning to the concept of ‘relax and eat’!)

The multi-cuisine menu is a pleasant surprise – the highlights of the menu are dishes from Italy, Turkey, Iran, and Morocco, apart from a few staples of both Indian and continental cuisine. “We wanted to do something different; something authentic in keeping with the old world ambience of the mansion,” says chef Sashi Jacob, general manger of Muthoot Sky Chef, who conceptualised the menu. “The menu has been crafted based on the nations and peoples who have played a part in Kerala’s rich history of cultural confluence. We have taken choice dishes from each cuisine and given it a twist to suit local palates,” he adds.

While we’re perusing the menu, amusing ourselves trying to pronounce the Arabic/Persian names of the dishes (“It’s pronounced messay, not messy,” admonishes my gastronome friend pointing to the mezze platter, a West Asian dish on the entrée list), we’re served a welcome drink of mint-lime and a couple of what can only be termed as ‘deconstructed chaat’ (minuscule crispy fried dough wafers topped with crunchy fresh vegetables).

After quite a bit of deliberation – for each dish sounds as exotic and tempting as the next – we settle on salads, entrees, and main courses. As we wait conversations slowly cease and we immerse ourselves in the ambience listening to a vocalist rendering soothing classical kritis.

Surprisingly, the wait for our salads lasts less than 10 minutes. The smoked chicken salad is light and refreshing with crunchy vegetables and with thick cubes of chicken marinated in apple and cinnamon. So is the Moroccan Fatoush salad, which again has an array of crunchy vegetables, including iceberg lettuce, with slices of feta cheese, green and kalamata (black) olives. The Caesar salad too is wonderfully rich with its fresh lettuce and piquant flavouring. The portions for each salad are fairly large.

In fact, even the portions for the appetisers and the main courses are quite big. By the time we demolished the mezze platter, a combination of kibbeh (succulent lamb cutlet), falafel (deep fried patty of chikpeas), fatayer (meat pie pastry), lavash bread and pita bread, served with dips of Baba ghanoush (made of aubergines and chickpeas), sour cream and mashed chickpea , we were quite full and doubtful if we could even eat the main dishes! Turns out we were right. Tagine (hot melt-in-mouth lamb curry, served with cous cous, so named because of the special earthenware pot in which it is cooked), tenderloin steak with a tasty mushroom compote, and penne pasta with spicy chicken and tomato sauce, were delectable. In fact, it was so tasty and refreshingly new on the palate that we were quite morose about leaving more than a quarter of it as leftovers. That effectively put the desserts out of question though there were tempting uber-chocolaty and/or citrusy items such as Tiramisu on the menu. Well, there’s always another day.

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Eat StreetOctober 9, 2013