In the unlikely setting of the Holiday Inn Kings Cross, weary travellers looking for a cheap hotel must be bemused to find a Keralan restaurant. Still, this is a proper Rasa, one of a mini chain, and it looked like there were some non-hotel stayers like us as well as some lone hotel guests. There are the characteristic Rasa set of unusually shaped and assorted popadoms, plus half a dozen interesting chutneys e.g. lemon chutney (13/20). This restaurant's menu draws from the menus of other Rasa branches but also has a few meat dishes in addition to the usual vegetarian fare. ”Maracham” means pepper, so there are several dishes that feature pepper. For example there is an unusual pepper soup parippu, made from three types of lentils, generously seasoned with pepper but also with plenty of lemon to give it a refreshing taste (12/20).
Notes from a recent meal now follow.
Rasam soup was a very spicy concoction with a base of lentils and tomatoes, garlic, tamarind to add a little sweetness pepper and other assorted spices; chilli was very much in evidence, and it was interesting that there was no compromise whatever for Western palates in this lively dish, though the chillies were so dominant that they tended to obscure everything else (11/20). Mysore bonda was as good as ever, the potato balls deep-fried with a light batter of chickpea flour, enlivened by ginger, coriander and black mustard seeds (13/20).
Uthappam was similarly up to the mark, the base of rice and lentil batter cooked on a griddle, topped with tomatoes, onion, chillies, curry leaves and, of course, pepper (12/20). Channa had chickpeas that were a fraction more mushy than ideal, but had plenty of garlic and spices to liven things up (12/20). Paratha had very good texture (13/20). Stir-fried cabbage was excellent, the fresh coconut with it refreshing and balancing the earthiness of the lentils and cabbage well (13/20). Service was friendly and the waiter even remembered specifically what my wife had ordered on her last visit some months before, which is impressive - how many Michelin starred places would have this level of recall about a customer?
What follows are notes from a meal in April 2008.
The starter of Mysore bonda was excellent, three balls of potato, fresh ginger, black mustard seeds, curry leaves and coriander dipped in chickpea flour batter and deep-fried. These were superb, the batter light and the filling delicious, served with a creamy coconut chutney (13/20). Chicken samosas were less inspiring, with a light batter but a rather dull filling, the minced chicken not really having a lot of taste, nor a lively blend of spices (11/20). Maricham chicken Thalassery (a town in India) consist of cubes of chicken in a thick gravy of onions, green chillies, ginger and tomatoes. This sounds nice, but the chicken itself was cooked OK but not of very high quality, while the sauce itself tasted of the chilli but was otherwise rather dull (11/20).
Kappayaum Meenum is king fish cooked in a sauce of onions, turmeric, ginger and chillies, which unfortunately just tasted rather dull (round up). An accompanying dish of cassava in turmeric water was just tasteless, which is pretty much an inherent issue with cassava. Much better were the vegetarian dishes: spicy potatoes, cooked with peas, peppers, tomatoes and onions, the potatoes retaining their texture and the sauce nicely seasoned with pepper (13/20).
A dish labelled as Savoy cabbage but actually just regular white cabbage was stir-fried with lentils, cooked with onion, coconut and mustard seeds, and was excellent, the cabbage working really well with the spices, the texture of the cabbage still just crisp enough (13/20). Paratha was excellent, chapattis less so (13/20 paratha, 11/20 chapati). Also good is uthappam, the South Indian version of pizza, with a rice and lentil batter topped with tomatoes, curry leaves, chillies, pepper and onions (12/20). The trick here seems to be to avoid the meat and seafood dishes, which tend to be the least successful ones: the vegetarian dishes are generally great.