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Fort Kochi is the new Indian Restaurant in Northampton and the only one specialising in South Indian food mainly from the state of Kerala. Kerala is situated on India's South West coast and its commercial capital is Kochi or Cochin in English. The food of Kerala is vastly different from that of North India and reflects the diversity of its people who are a mixture of Christians, Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Muslims and Jews (although the Jewish inhabitants now are just about in double figures). Its only comparison to that of Northern Indian cooking is the use of spices; however they are very much more subtle and aromatic with an abundance of coconut garnished with the very unusual fresh curry leaves which give a unique taste. Kerala as well as being named Gods own Country is also known as the land of coconuts
Fort Kochi opened its doors very recently taking the place of what was The Spice Mahal. It is situated just off the town's main shopping area almost up a side street, probably not the most fortunate location in respect could it attract the boisterous clientele of the 10 pints of larger and let's go for the hottest curry in the house brigade? The other question is does it serve authentic Keralan cuisine or was it just another Bangladeshi curry house trying a different marketing ploy and cooking food from a relatively unknown region and getting it drastically wrong. I had perused their menu online and it did look very authentic to food that I had sampled whilst in Kerala with most of the dishes given Malayanum (Kerallas language) titles, but only a visit would confirm this.
We decided to visit on a Saturday night and arrived at about 8.45 pm. The area was fairly quiet and not rowdy and raucous as the town centre can get on a weekend, probably because it's just off the main run. Conveniently there is a public car park next to the restaurant which was far from overcrowded, so far so good. We were warmly greeted and politely shown to a table in the restaurant which was half full of very respectable clientele. The interior décor was of a light, airy and of minimal design with a few pictures denoting various Keralan scenes such as the Kathakali dancers, the backwaters, the snake boat race of Alaphusa (Allepy) district plus 61 elephants parading at The Arattupuzha Temple at Trissur. The tables which were all a respectable distance apart were laid with crisp white linen and the attractively folded cotton napkins; gleaming glasses and polished cutlery complimented the appearance of the surroundings.
We ordered drinks and the menus were then presented. Now if you expect to find the usual Bhuna, Madras and Chicken Ticka Masala you will have come to the wrong place, most of the dishes on offer will be completely alien to those you will find on a standard Indian restaurant menu and it was clear from the menu that this establishment was not a one sauce does all ladled over pre-cooked meat and vegetables, this appeared to be a more than authentic choice. Between the four of us we ordered Erachi Olarthiathu (I see different spellings of this dish and their spelling was no exception) a dry lamb fry encrusted with spices and coconut chips, a Keralan Lamb Curry (for want of a better word), Nadan Chicken curry which is cooked in a slightly green masala and a beautiful dish of large fresh prawns in an aromatic coconut milk gravy called Chameen Moily. For side dishes we chose Beet Cheera Pachadi (fresh beetroot and spinach in a yoghurt and roasted coconut sauce), Cheera Paripu Curry (toor dhal with spinach), Cabbage Thoran (a dry dish of cabbage and coconut lightly tempered with spices). Some of these were main dishes but they agreed to serve them as a side dish. We also chose Coconut Rice, Chapattis and Appams which are a spongy rice pancake type bread. These were served after a reasonable wait and every dish was fresh, tasty and more than authentic and every dish was of a very different flavour to the others. The spices did not mask the integrity of the main ingredient which is what Keralan cooking is all about. The atmosphere of the restaurant is superb, the toilets immaculately clean and the staff are polite, obliging and know their native food intimately. The menu didn't give a large choice but was an authentic and manageable choice, they also offered to cook me Avial which is a Malabar vegetable masterpiece which was not on the menu. I declined this as I decided to save it for another time and it won't be long before my next visit. The meal was concluded with various dishes from the dessert menu plus coffees and masala chai (tea)
If you like seafood do try their fish dishes which dominate Keralan cuisine as most settlements centre around the coast and the inland waterways. Also sample the Dosas which are a South Indian speciality which have also been adopted by the Gujaratis some 1700Km away. Keralan cuisine is fresh and healthy eating using very little cooking oil and not being masked in heavy over-spiced gravies. There are very few Keralan Restaurants in the UK and the ones that we have are mostly located in London. Northampton in approximately 1950 or slightly before boasted one of the first Indian restaurants outside of the capital and perhaps this is another pioneering benchmark for the town. Let's hope that Northampton embraces this new additional cuisine with the same passion as it did some 60 years ago
Fort Kochi is very much worth a visit, it is not as opulent as some of the recent Indian establishments but its lines are crisp, clean, light and airy with the food being vibrant and of a fine dine nature without the price tag. In fact the complete bill for four of us including a nominal amount of drinks was only £62. My next visit is already planned
Paul rated this 10 out of 10.