Last night, Vidya and I dined at the new kid on Hyderabad’s Kerala block, Utupura.
We had heard about the place from many different people, and the reviews had been uniformly good. To me, most Kerala places are good, since they serve porotta and beef roast. The real test is whether it would stand up to Vidya’s vegetarian scrutiny. We were hopeful on that front too, as one of the glowing reports was from a vegetarian friend.
Finding the place was not too difficult, nor was it easy. The closest description of where it is located is “in the lane opposite Rainbow hospital, on Road no. 10, Banjara Hills, just before it hits the City Center junction.” However, it turned out to be in the lane just before. So, a more accurate description of the lane would be as almost, but not quite, opposite Rainbow hospital.
The restaurant is really a converted house – it is on the first floor, reached by a spiral staircase. Once you are inside, the cane furniture and smell of appams take you right to the southwest. We were greeted by Jagadish, the friendly maitre’d from Alappuzha, who was delighted to find that Vidya could speak Malayalam. The menu, titled Trial Menu, was not very extensive – it had maybe thirty items in all – but it had the most extensive fish menu I’ve seen in any Hyderabad restaurant. They had karimeen, pearl spot, mackerel, seer fish, anchovies and sardines. The last two are typically Keralan, called nethily and mathi, and I have yet to see them on any other Hyderabad restaurant menu.
The menu also included beef fry and roast, discreetly called meat fry and roast, in deference, I am guessing, to people’s religious sentiments! All the staples of Kerala cuisine were represented – appam, porotta and puttu.
I cannot but talk a bit about the porotta here. The Keralan porotta (also called barota in Tamilnadu) bears very little resemblance to its North Indian cousin, the paratha. The basic difference is that while the paratha is layered horizontally, the porotta is layered spirally, making it both soft and crisp at the same time. Of course, it contains way more oil than is healthy for any two people put together, but that’s what makes it so tasty! This, in combination with the Syrian beef curry is definitely on the table of my culinary heaven.
Coming back to Earth, and zooming in to Utupura, Vidya started off with a couple of appams and egg curry, while I had a couple of porottas and appams along with beef roast and an omelet. The appams were soft and sweet, while the porottas were crisp, but could have been fresher – they had clearly been made earlier and reheated. The beef roast was delicious, strongly spiced and spicy to boot, while the omelet was typically oil-dripping and delicious. (Of course, it cannot hold a candle to the one conjured up by the cooks at Chennai’s Nair Mess, but that is another story for another day). Vidya found the egg curry disappointing – “Sweetish,” she said dismissively when asked.
For seconds, Vidya had puttu and kadala curry, another typically Kerala combination. While she did not particularly fancy the puttu (“Lumpy”), the kadala curry scored a lot of extra points to redeem the combination. For my part, I had a plate of fried anchovies, the nethily of Kerala fame (though Jagadish called it netholy). The fish was really fresh and tasty, spiced well and not at all oily for something deep-fried. Vidya topped everything off with a ‘chaaya’ – Malayalam for tea, while I washed my meal down with a Sprite.
At the end of the day, the operative question that determines a restaurant’s success, “Would you go back?” has varying answers. While I would go back any day (the beef and fish keep beckoning!) Vidya is more careful with the answer, and says she will go back for the Onam sadhya (the traditional many-splendoured spread that is the pinnacle of Keralan cuisine that happens once a year), but will not return otherwise till the vegetarian menu is expanded.
We had a good dinner, and Jagdish’s friendliness and service had a lot to do with it. If you are not a vegetarian, the place is a definite must-visit.
Utupura Kerala Restaurant,
Road No. 10, Banjara Hills,