Arty Meals: Ten Places At Which To Eat And Drink (Coffee) In Kochi During The Biennale

Arca Nova, Fort House Hotel, Kochi

Arca Nova.

If you’re planning a trip to Kochi for the ongoing biennale, then consult our list of places to eat and stop for coffee. We deliberately stayed away from restaurants serving tourist-oriented cafe fare, choosing to gorge on the terrific Kerala food that Kochi offers.

Xandari Harbour, Bazaar Road, Mattancherry. Open daily, from 7am to 10.30pm.
One of Kochi’s many posh restaurants, 51 is notable chiefly because of the gorgeous view it offers. The restaurant and Xandari Harbour, the hotel in which it’s housed, overlook the sea. We visited in the evening when the waters and boats were half lit by the fading light and half in shadow. They do refined Kerala food – it’s enjoyable but won’t enslave your tastebuds. We were fairly pleased with the prawn moilee, fish pollichathu and fried calamari. Meal for two, approximately Rs1,500.

Arca Nova
Fort House Hotel, Calvathy Road, Fort Kochi. Open daily, from 7.30am to 10.30pm.
This al fresco restaurant in Fort House Hotel is a great dinner place. It’s a quiet joint by the sea where all you hear is the low hum of conversation and the lapping of waves. They do fine Kerala staples such as prawns in raw mango curry and squid olarthu (a stir-fried preparation made with onion and curry leaves). The beef fry was moist compared to most others versions of the dish we tried but tasty nevertheless. Meal for two, approximately Rs1,000.

East Indies
Eighth Bastion, Napier Street, Fort Kochi. Open daily, from 7.30am to 10.30am, from noon to 3pm, and from 7.30pm to 10.30pm.
They had us at “shrimp sausages”. This restaurant in the boutique hotel Eighth Bastion displays its menu on wooden slats tacked to the walls facing the street for passers-by to see. It’s a good move for we were intrigued enough by the shrimp sausages to visit. More expensive than other restaurants in Kochi, where food is generally pretty reasonably priced, East Indies is for the occasional holiday indulgence. As the name suggests, East Indies serves food inspired by ingredients and cuisines of former Dutch colonies such as Indonesia and South Africa. (Between the Portuguese and the British, Cochin was colonised by the Dutch.)

The fare is an uneven mix of hits and misses. The shrimp sausages, which came in a pool of plummy sauce, were indeed delectable. Sadly the portion, even though it was a small plate, was rather measly. The orange-glazed beef salad was light and refreshing. The crab cake and frikkadal (an Afrikaans-style lamb and beef meatball) were unremarkable but the Indonesian pork with udon bowl contained a flavourful, nourishing broth that brought life back to our bodies, which were limp with exhaustion after walking around in the sun. We were fully back in form after a hit of the crème brulee French toast, a decadent, caramelised dessert. Also get the watermelon juice, ginger and coriander drink. Meal for two, approximately Rs1,500 to Rs2,000.

Pepper House Cafe, Kochi

Pepper House Cafe.

Hotel Seagull
Calvathy Road, Fort Kochi. Open daily, from 10am to 10.30pm.
Seagull serves wine and beer and it has a grand view of the sea. This makes it one of the liveliest spots in Kochi’s dining scene, despite the slow service. The mid-week night we visited had a spirited crowd occupying tables filled with bottles of Kingfisher. We only had drinks but hear the place does tasty seafood. Rs200 for a 650 ml bottle of Kingfisher.

Kashi Art Café
Burgher Street, Fort Kochi. Open daily, from 8.30am to 10pm.
This café is a pleasant place to stop for a coffee in between hopping from one art show to another. It’s also one of the biennale venues. The entrance is decorated with posters by Scottish artist Charles Avery that pun on philosophical ideas. Kashi serves a good cup of coffee and a towering slice of chocolate cake smothered in chocolate sauce that’s quite delicious. If you’d rather have a cold beverage, order the coffee with coconut milk and honey. Rs100 for a cup of coffee.

Koder House, Tower Road, Fort Kochi. Open daily, from 7.30am to 10.30pm.
Menorah is housed in a two-storey hotel called Koder House, which was once the home of the Koders, a Jewish family living in Kochi. Now only five Jews remain in the city as most have immigrated abroad, mostly to Israel. The current owners have kept the name. There’s nothing Jewish about the food, a mix of tourist-friendly café fare and Kerala specialities. The fried beef here will have many diners weeping with pleasure, especially Mumbaikars who are starved of the real thing. The small chunks of beef tossed with onion and pepper are best had with tava paratha. Menorah is also worth a visit as it serves wine and beer. Not many places do, perhaps because of Kerala’s changing Prohibition law. Meal for two, approximately Rs1,000.

Pepper House Cafe
Calvathy Road, Fort Kochi. Open daily, from 10am to 7pm.
One of the main venues of the biennale, Pepper House has a library, store and a café that overlooks a courtyard currently scattered with artist Praneet Soi’s sculptures. While the food is average – we tried a couple of their open sandwiches – they make good coffee and refreshing cold drinks such as iced tea. The best thing about the café though is the laid-back atmosphere that goads you to linger on the wooden benches reading or watching people come and go. Meal for two, approximately Rs500.

Teapot Cafe, Kochi

Teapot Cafe.

Chullickal, Mattancherry. Open daily, from 11am to 10pm.
We wouldn’t have gone to this place if it weren’t for our auto driver, who took us there. Swaadh looks like a canteen; it’s clean, characterless and you’re unlikely to spot any of the hip tourists in town for the biennale. But the food has so much personality, we went twice in two days. If we had any songwriting skills, we’d compose a ballad dedicated to the prawn masala, a semi-dry preparation of the shellfish tossed with onion, curry leaves and pieces of coconut. It goes incredibly well with Swaadh’s flaky, buttery Malabar parotta. We tried modha, a local fish that Swaadh serves boneless. The chunky fish came submerged in a curry the colour of lava. It blazed a fiery path down our alimentary canal but we’ll remember it for the delicious smokiness of the chilli-based gravy. We also ordered the chicken biryani. Instead of the heavy, masala-filled dish we were expecting, we were surprised by a light yet flavourful preparation. It came with an enrapturing onion chutney. Meal for two, approximately Rs350.

Teapot Café
Peter Celli Street, Fort Kochi. Open daily, from 8.30am to 9pm.
We only tried the coffee at this café marked by a vine-covered façade and filled with teapots. It’s a cosy spot and the coffee is good. Rs60 for a cup of coffee.

The Drawing Room
Cochin Club, St. Francis Church Road, opposite Parade Ground, Fort Kochi. Open daily, from 11am to 11pm.
This pretty restaurant by the beach does a mix of Italian and modern Kerala food. No one in their right mind should eat pasta in Kerala. Since we were in full control of our faculties, we ignored the Italian and were rewarded. The kosambri was a lovely, light salad of carrot and cucumber tossed in coconut oil and grated coconut. The fish nadan curry was hearty, immensely flavourful and came with a buttery tapioca mash. It’s the sort of dish that you want to linger over and savour but can’t help scarfing down as it’s so good. Meal for two approximately, Rs1,000.

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