Karavalli has been operating since 1990 in the gardens of the Taj Gateway hotel. It serves the cuisine of southern India and specialises in seafood dishes from coastal states like Goa and Kerala. It was created by a lady called Camellia Panjabi, then an executive director of the Taj Group of hotels. The Hindustan Times describes Karavalli as “the most famous South Indian restaurant in the world”. As a side note, one of its former executive chefs, Sriram Aylur, who did much to build the reputation of the restaurant, was sent to London to open Quilon, which gained a Michelin star. The chef in charge of the kitchen here is Naren Thimmaiah, who was head chef under Srimam Aylur and succeeded him when he departed for a London. He has worked here since the restaurant opened. He wasn’t working this evening though when I asked if he was around he did contact me by phone to check how the meal had gone, which was rather sweet.
There is an attractive garden path that winds its way to the restaurant, with some separate tables outside as well as a bar. The dining area is divided into two sections, with a small station by entrance at which a chef makes some if the breads to order. The room that we were in had a polished wooden floor, white walls and wooden chairs with blue upholstery. There were also overhead lamps and a grandfather clock in the corner.
The menu was lengthy, and had quite a lot of textual background of various aspects of the cuisine of Mangalore, Goa and Kerala. There was a wine list, though vintages were not listed. Some example labels were St Clair Sauvignon Blanc at ₹5,500 (£59) compared to its UK retail price of £16, Kendall Jackson Pinot Noir Vintner’s Reserve at a chunky ₹9,000 (£97) for a bottle that will set you back £19 in the high street, and Gaia Ca’Marcanda at ₹12,000 (£129) for a wine that will set you back £36 in a UK wine shop. Kingfisher Ultra beer was a more reasonable £2.70 per bottle.
Mini popadoms were unusually delicate. We started with black pomfret pan fried and served in a banana leaf. This was excellent, the fish beautifully cooked and tasting of its Malabar masala marinade (15/20). Cauliflower florets were deep fried with curry leaves and green chillies and retained their texture well (14/20). Mini masala dosas were fine, made from lentils and rice flour, but were not quite in the same league, though they did have, in addition to the usual spiced potato filling and spicy coconut relish, some cashew nuts to add an extra texture (13/20).
A main course of prawns cooked with coconut, chilli and tamarind were well cooked with a spicy chilli sauce with a hint of sweetness from the tamarind, resting in a hot and sour curry sauce (14/20). I tried sorpotel, a Goan festival dish made with pork, pork offal, spices and a healthy dose of vinegar. This was excellent, up there with the best version that I have tried in Goa. The sauce was dark and rich with a distinctive kick of chilli, the sour note of the vinegar potent but not overwhelming (16/20). Paratha was exceptionally good. This is not an easy bread to make well, as it tends to either be too greasy or dried out and flaky. This was exactly right, light and crisp and buttery, the thin layers of the bread delicate, hot from the oven. It was so good that I ordered another, just to be sure (17/20).
Portions were generous and we did not make it as far as dessert. The bill came to ₹8,623 (£46) per person including plenty of beer. Service was good, with no delay in getting additional drinks and bread. Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this meal, the menu being interesting and the execution of the dishes being very capable indeed. I would highly recommend Karavalli.