Spiceberry is dead; long live Spiceberry.
Well, almost. The recently closed restaurant in Caroline Street has long been a favourite, a kind of best-kept secret among local diners. It was the kind of place you either loved, or hadn’t tried yet. Previous visits made a big impression while Pramod Nair was head chef, here and here.
Things change: Pramod went on to find acclaim at the excellent Chaiholics. And Spiceberry never got the credit its excellent food deserved- perhaps its Chippy Lane location didn’t help.
So now the Keralan Karavan rolls into town. And happily, it’s good. Very good.
The feel here is very much that of home cooking, rather than the elegant presentation and stylish plating which were such characteristics of a Spiceberry sitdown. It’s a kitchen takeover, after all: a real change of direction from the fare usually served at Truffles Cafe.
We ordered generously: you’d expect no less. Poppadoms were tiny, curled puffs served with a mango chutney liberally spiked with the raw heat of fresh ginger. Highlights from previous menus- the beautifully flaky yet buttery parathas, for one- were a given, but there are several new dishes more suited to this informal setup.
Beef Podi Masala got us off to a flying start. Marinating, pressure cooking and then stir-frying these chunks of beef meant a sudden flare of heat lurked beneath the initial tenderness. Coconut, black peppercorns, cardmamom, cloves, cinammon and fenugreek were some of the ingredients in the masala and you’re immediately back in Spiceberry’s Keralan territiory
A prawn starter, the spicing medium-high but with rich coconut flavours balancing the heat, got us off to an impressive start. I could easily have eaten a bowlful, as with the beef: further proof, if any needed, that I’m more gourmand than gourmet.
It’s a neat trick to offer many of these dishes in ‘starter’ or ‘main’ sizes, so you can go starter and main or opt for a less formal spread for sharing.
A classic thoran- shredded seasonal vegetables, tossed with green chilli and mustard seeds and grated coconut- is a reminder that it’s Indian food which rules the roost when it comes to the near-Herculean task of Making Vegetables Interesting.
A chicken Thattukada, thick and dark and sweetly rich with onions, carries an unmistakable heft of heat which lingers. And lingers. The chicken, in Spiceberry’s house style, is on the bone and faultlessly tender, with a resounding wallop of Kashmiri chillies. It’s excellent.
Another prawn dish (‘Adi Podi’) had the telltale tang of tamarind and shellfish served tail-on (hurrah!) with a thick, rich sauce.
There’s the intriguingly named ‘Aunty Maria’s Beef Curry’ which hits those home-cooking notes and is full of big flavours- fennel, cinammon, star anise, garlic, ginger, black pepper, chilli- to blow away the dismal greys of seasonal Welsh skies.
Despite limited publicity, the place was full on a Wednesday evening, with walk-ins as well as longstanding friends who had come to show their support. After the meal, our table wondered aloud where you could find a meal of this quality and flavour in the town centre of an evening. There weren’t many contenders: for all the options available, there’s a dearth of choice in the city centre options if you’re after the big flavours on display here. How good is it? Well, its memory is currently consoling me as I write this in a place I am reliably informed is called ‘Wam Bam Boomerang’, which is a circle of Hell even old Dante would have balked at.
It’s good to have them back. Every woman, every man: join the Karavan.
I was invited to to eat at Keralan Karavan, and so food was complimentary; however, this did not oblige me to write a positive review. I write it as I see it.
Booking advised, cash only.
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.