Kerala and Bangalore

Saturday, January 29th , 2011

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The last week or so was spent in India, mainly in Kerala with a short stay in Bangalore. This was really a winter sun rather than a foodie holiday, but I did get a chance to try the various hotel restaurants, which this being the Leela chain (I have stayed many times before with them in Goa in particular) included some good meals, including the best paratha I have even eaten. Kerala is in the south of India and has some lovely beaches. The Leela Kerala has a particularly spectacular cliff-top setting, with a couple of restaurants, one (The Terrace) considerably better than the other (Tides). There is some sightseeing (pictured) to be done by boat in the “backwaters” (which is hardly a great marketing term, but I suppose beats “swamp”) including sightings of kingfishers and red kites.

After this we stayed briefly in Bangalore, which has perhaps the best climate of any India city. In the days of empire some prosperous British built “bungalows” (read lavish residences in extensive grounds) though only a few of these lovely buildings are left now. Bangalore (Bengaluru in its modern spelling) is by some measures Asia’s fastest growing city, from under 3 million people in 1981 to perhaps eight million now. Known as the “Garden City” due to its 200 parks and extensive trees (sadly now being encroached upon by road widening schemes), the city has somewhat limited tourist attractions. However there is the interesting Maharaja’s Palace (still occupied by the Maharaja but you can do an audio tour) and some temples (pictured) to see. Traffic has not yet reached Mumbai gridlock proportions, though it is not good, but they are at least building a metro. Bangalore’s growth has continued through the recession in the US and Europe through relentless demand for outsourcing services, despite rapidly increasing wages here and labour shortages. One technology firm had a sign in its lobby “trespassers will be hired”. It is a visibly wealthier place than other Indian cities I have visited, and the relatively cool climate counts for a lot.

We stayed at the Leela Bangalore and tried two of its restaurants, the Jamavar and Zen (moral: when in India, stick to Indian food). The Jamavar here was really impressive, and served me the best biryani (and indeed rice dish) that I have eaten, as well as the best kulfi I have encountered. I had originally intended to try a restaurant outside the hotel on my second night here, but the meal at Jamavar was so good that I cancelled and went back. If you are ever in Bangalore, this is well worth a visit.

Just before this trip I fitted in a lunch at The Sportsman with the knowledgeable Ulterior Epicure, who had travelled all the way from Kansas for a few weeks of serious eating around Europe. It is a tribute to the Sportsman that, despite its location, this is the only restaurant he bothered with in the UK leg of his journey before heading off for serious 3 star fare in Europe. As ever, the meal and hospitality at the Sportsman was excellent.

The Michelin UK guide came out in the 18th January. No change at the three star level, and promotions to two stars for Helene Darroze and Nathan Outlaw. New one star places in London were: Kitchen W8 (fair), Petersham Nurseries café (bizarre), Viajante (why this but not Bacchus when it was open?), Galvin La Chapelle (consistent at least), Petrus (fair), Seven Park Place (fair) and Gauthier (well deserved). Outside London there were stars for Curlew, Pony and Trap, Adam Simmonds at Danesfield House (deserved), The Black Rat and The Paris House.

The places that lost their star were Nahm (a long overdue correction) and Roussillon in London, Deanes in Belfast, Achitibuie in Scotland and Drakes on the Pond, The Goose (closed), West Stoke house (closed), The New Angel, Harry’s Place and The Star Inn.

Overall, a fairly quiet year; I was surprised that Koffmann’s did not get a star, but given he had three at Tante Claire I don’t suppose he will be overly fussed.