Mattancherry stands out on Canton’s lovably scuffed drag. I’m unsure what the technical term for the dominant blue here is- cerulean perhaps?- but it’s the bike mounted above the door which draws the eye. Inside it’s all weathered desks on wooden floorboards, metal chairs, Bollywood Film posters. It will be a familiar look to many.
Mattancherry (the suburb of Kerala’s Kochi) is what David Brent would probably call ‘a melting pot’, a home to Hindus, Muslims, Latin and Syrian Christians and many migrant communities, with a history steeped in Portuguese traders, English influence and Dutch conquest: Jew Town holds India’s oldest open synagogue. There’s far more detail and insight in the relevant chapter of Anand George’s essential ‘The 5000 Mile Journey’, but let’s head straight for the nub. It’s a vibrant intersection of cultures and their food, a port town famous for its spice trade, a small area home to different cultures and food traditions with fish central to the local cooking.
Hence Mattancherry (the restaurant) and its ‘India in 3 Square Miles’ tagline above the door. It’s a new project from some of the people behind the original Mint and Mustard, with much of the menu familiar from the Chai Street days, but with a nudge toward the sea.
Squid as ever is a good barometer to judge a kitchen’s lightness of touch. If they balls this up you may as well walk out: nothing good will come out of a kitchen which can’t cook squid. Thankfully it’s decent, well seasoned though lacking a touch of crispness in the coating. The tawa fish is impressive, flesh flaking away nicely and coated in a masala in which chilli and ginger linger.
Both Chickens 65 and lollipop will be familiar to previous customers and are as good as ever- as you’d expect with the continuity in the kitchen- but the latter seems to have tweaked to make it more fiery, coated in a full-bodied sauce which goes heavy on the chillies, speckled seeds and all. The mango lassi would be recommended anyway, but you might want to make sure it’s to hand. There’s a recurring theme with the salad which makes several appearances.
There are several Thalis to choose from, which come in both express and standard size. From smoky lentils which remind you how effective a comfort food dhal is, to robustly spiced potatoes and bhaji and rice, to a creamy moilee-type curry with both swordfish and squid (well cooked, these, both meaty and just meaty enough respectively) it’s a substantial thing for your £11.95.
The dish you’ll come back to- and for- is the porota with beef. A lovely thing, this: a standout, flaky buttery breads the perfect medium for a steaming karahi aromatic with curry leaf, ginger and roasted coconut. It’s a generous portion: at £8 it’s a must-order.
A new opening mainly in name then, but some welcome familiarity in strange times. Fans of the old Chai St menu will find much to enjoy again: and there are enough attractive tweaks to the menu to draw in newcomers. Canton continues to be one of the more interesting and diverse areas to eat out in South Wales.
153 Cowbridge Rd E
YOU MAY ALSO ENJOY:
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.