അ (Aah) at The Postcard Mandalay Hall radiates a love of local flavours, nostalgia and passion for fusion.
By: Smitha Sadanandan
Posted on: July 13, 2022
LF Says: ★★★★
When Kapil Chopra of The Postcard Hotel acquired Mandalay Hall – designed by architect Tony Joseph with artworks curated by Bose Krishnamachari – he envisioned it as a retreat where you could unwind in the historic part of Kochi. The boutique art hotel quietly huddles in the cobbled by lanes of Mattancherry, Kochi, in a 200-year-old landmark building that was once a residential Jewish quarter. Artworks and murals catch your eye as you walk into The Postcard Mandalay Hall. The hotel has its own cosy boutique store where coasters, t-shirts, rattan and fabric bags hold an easy appeal for tourists looking to take home souvenirs. The courtyard beckons you to take a moment and explore the space.
Mr. Chopra, as the founder and CEO of The Postcard Hotel, has a knack for hospitality – and has turned അ (Aah), the fine dining restaurant, into a culinary expedition into unorthodox Kerala cuisine.
The boutique art hotel quietly huddles in the cobbled by lanes of Mattancherry, Kochi, in a 200-year-old landmark building that was once a residential Jewish quarter. Artworks and murals catch your eye as you walk into Mandalay Hall.
The restaurant has just one letter for its name. അ (Aah) is a symbol representing the first letter or sound of the Malayalam alphabet. This fine dining restaurant at The Postcard Mandalay Hall specialises in contemporary Kerala cuisine. The dishes on the menu and the respective recipes have been researched and conscientiously curated from travels to various household kitchens from northern to southern districts of Kerala, observes Dinuj Viswanathan, Manager at Mandalay Hall.
The interiors feature Malayalam letters interlocked to form a décor accent on the wall. If you know how to read Malayalam, it works as a perfect ruse to keep your eyes busy – the letters form a pattern, but don’t quite mean a thing. And you’ll be amused to see diners unwittingly spend considerable time trying to wrap their heads around the maze of letters. Nevertheless, it is a clever use of the script as a design element.
The food at Aah has equal amounts of intrigue as its clever design. The raw mango slush chilled in a glass is tempting. A lick of spice and salt on the rim makes the fresh, tangy slush perfectly balanced. “In Kerala, raw mangoes represent the beginning of summer. It evokes one’s childhood memories of having the sweet and tangy fruit in the hot season with a sprinkle of red chilli and salt,” says Mr. Viswanathan. “At അ, our effort is to translate the same delicacy into a refreshing summer drink. We call it the Green Mango Slush; chilled raw mango juice infused with a hint of ginger and green chilli. Raw and lightly ripe Moovandan mango that is native to Kerala is used to prepare this drink.”
The red chilli powder provides a modicum of heat. This is a summer drink you’ll love, and I have a strong feeling that it’ll become a house drink. Whether it’s for a weekend crowd you entertain at home or for yourself; take notes and fix yourself one of these when you are back home.
King Fish Curry at Aah
Peri Peri French Fries, Crumb Fried Chicken, Sandwiches are part of the ‘All Day Eats’ while Naadan Beef Roast, Chicken Ullarthiyathu, Kerala Konju Moilee (prawns), Kuttanadan Neimeen Fry (King fish), Ulli Theeyal, Parippu Manga Curry, Kerala Parotta, Idiyappam and red rice take you into the culinary heartland of Kerala.
The menu has some all-time household favourites and some new ones rustled up with a twist. Kick off your food quest with kappa fries and chamanthi, a combination of steamed and fried tapioca fries paired with assorted chutneys. Don’t shy away from getting food on your hands; very much a way of savouring food in Kerala, and very much encouraged at അ. Up next are Chemeen ada or steamed rice pancakes with spicy prawn filling and Kilikoodu (bird’s nest). Not a bird’s nest as you’d assume by its name – this dish has soft-boiled quail eggs encased in spiced chicken filling, dredged in a nest of semolina, then deep-fried until crisp and golden. It is what I’d describe as a savoury naadan take on the English Scotch eggs.
Kilikoodu (Bird's Nest) is a savoury naadan take on the English Scotch eggs
The Parotta (a flaky, layered Keralan flat bread) tacos with meat and veggie fillings illuminate the moment that a traditional flaky flatbread can be our answer to Mexican tacos. Beef fried in Keralan stye or koorka (Chinese potatoes) with fried onions salad, coconut sour cream dribbled over the filling wrapped up in small parottas are scrumptious. It is a hodgepodge of textures. These deeply comforting tacos with beef or koorka aren’t just an appetizer or vegetarian option, they’re a star attraction at അ.
Vattayapam sliders made of fermented rice pancakes reminded me of the menu at Bao in London. Their bao buns were cult food. Thankfully, Mr. Chopra’s team makes sure that you arrive hungry, but leave happy, because the offering is boisterously flavoured pulled duck roast, or quietly accentuated humble banana blossoms – finely chopped and roasted – and sandwiched between sweetened steamed rice cakes. Soft and spongy, these could easily become a cult food in Kochi. This dish is captivating flavour-wise.
Vattayapam Sliders at Aah are soft, spongy and captivating flavour-wise
You can roll through for lunch with biryani made in the traditional Malabar style or the regular Kerala style. The crispy fried onions crackle as you spoon up the perfectly cooked, fragrant rice and beautifully cooked succulent meat that is finely spiced. It reminds you that basmati rice absorbs multiple flavours, allowing you to discover each one clearly. The alternative Kaima rice grain is short and pearly unlike the basmati rice; this version is a definite home run if you prefer to take the Malabari spice route.
Payasams are the traditional desserts on the menu. Chakka ada, steamed rice pancakes wrapped up with sweet jackfruit filling, are easy on the palate. However, I’d pick the Kayi beragiyathe – caramelised plantain topped with cashews and raisins, and served with homemade tender coconut ice-cream that keeps your sweet tooth in shape. Also, it’s just plain tasty. Go on, you know you want to.
The basmati rice in this Malabar Style Biryani absorbs multiple flavours
What’s interesting is that the food at അ is delicious; it is certainly not pretentious. Freewheeling interpretations, adaptability, refusal to shy away from local ingredients and creating recipes that guard the sanctity of naadan food in inventive ways – I did not expect to find it all at a restaurant in Kochi. But then I did. It’s enough to make me realise that if, even for a moment, അ stopped evolving and experimenting, it would no longer be അ at The Postcard Mandalay Hall.
LF Says: ★★★★
Coordinates: VI/193, Synagogue Lane, Jew Town, Kappalandimukku, Mattancherry, Kochi, Kerala, India