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The coast on a plate

Some of the delicacies on offer.  

This is my first visit to Sheraton New Delhi’s Dakshin, and it promises to be a good one. The Karavali seafood festival is on, and I am just in time to sample the impressive festival menu.

There is something incredibly homey and comfortable about Dakshin’s decor. It’s lush and opulent, the silverware glittering in the magnificently lit restaurant. In most places, the effect would be overwhelming, creating a posh, luxurious distance. Interestingly, in Dakshin, the ambience created is that of a cosy meal in a nice, old fashioned place. Perhaps it’s the colours, or the warm, courteous management and staff. It could also be the delicious smells that float towards you as soon as you walk in, carrying hints of curries and spices; of things frying and roasting and boiling. It’s the smell of good food, and I can't wait.

Turns out, I don't have to. The menu and a platter of a variety of poppadoms and chutneys appear almost immediately, and I’ am grateful to munch on something while perusing the list of tempting options. The festival, designed to celebrate the seafood delights of the south-west coast of India, offers a range of dishes. It covers Malayali, Mangalorean, Coorgi and Portuguese cuisines and promises you a little taste of the coast. “Karavali” translates to the land by the shore and stretches from Kerala’s coastline to Goa’s beaches. A treat for the eyes, and when its flavours translate to the plate, a treat for the stomach as well.

I begin, then, with a portion of neitha kori (Ghee Roast Chicken), mamsam pepper masala (tender lamb tossed in a spicy onion, tomato masala with freshly ground pepper and shrimp balchao (Shrimps spiced with peppercorns and malt vinegar). The service is quick, and the food arrives apace. I taste everything and declare a favourite, or two. The mamsam pepper masala is spiced beautifully, the mutton tender and melting. It’s one of those dishes which makes for the perfect starter, the kind you can’t stop reaching out for. The shrimp balchao, in its thick peppercorn masala is interesting too, carrying a wonderful freshness that makes a seafood dish a success. The chicken ghee roast, though, pales slightly in front of its sea-dwelling companions. By itself, the dish is not bad at all, but it lacks that special punch which would make it memorable.

The next round brings the lobster puli munchi (Fresh lobster meat cooked in spicy and tangy chillies masala), manji kolavaithina (Fish marinated with green chilly, ginger lemon and wrapped in banana leaf and steam baked) and Karavali meen gassi (rawas fish curry) to the table. The portions are generous, and the kane rawa fry is this round’s winner. The Karavali meen gussi curry is delicious, its fiery orange colour beguiling, the burst of perfectly blended flavours urging you to keep digging in.

The fish itself is fresh, the soft white falling apart as you break into it. With the accompanying neer dosa (dissatisfying in its smallness but making up for it with the soft, excellent texture), I wipe off the remaining curry, and turn my attention to the lobster. This is a tricky dish, the first bite delicious, but as you eat on, it loses charm. There’s a sameness of flavour I find monotonous. A pity, because the lobster itself is very fresh, and beautifully cooked. The manji kolavaithina proves to be a bit of a disappointment; the balance of the spices is skewed, and the overwhelming taste of the paste masks the fish and its own flavour.

I end this meal with a round of desserts, two small portions of kasi haluwa (made with white pumpkin; and saffron flavored) and ananas kesari bath (fine semolina cooked with pineapple juice and cardamom ghee). I find the kasi halwa a bit too sweet, almost overwhelmingly so, but the kesari bath is just right, and as I tuck in enthusiastically, a glass of steaming, fragrant filter coffee shows up. This has turned out to be a good night indeed.

The Karavali seafood festival is on till 13th June, 2015 at ITC Sheraton, Saket

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Printable version | Apr 23, 2021 5:50:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/karavali-seafood-festivalthe-coast-on-a-plate/article7302326.ece

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