December 2011 | Antoine Lewis

Karavalli - The Gateway Hotel, Bengaluru

Karavalli's delectable Indian cuisine and rich yet rustic ambience has been delighting diners for over two decades

One of the best-known restaurants in the city, Karavalli is an unexpected oasis of tranquillity in the heart of Bengaluru’s commercial district. It is just a stone’s throw from the congested and gleaming thoroughfare that is Residency Road, but this restaurant still manages to evoke an older, quieter, more relaxed Bengaluru.
 
Inspired by a traditional Mangalorean house, Karavalli has a rustic air about it. A pebble-stoned passageway leads into a brightly-lit, thatch-covered, courtyard-like main dining area. The pale lemon walls, dark wood chairs and polished tables, and traditional artefacts make you feel you have entered a home rather than a restaurant. Outside, in the garden, are tables for those who prefer alfresco dining, while an enclosed room offers a different set of comforts.
 
Not only does Karavalli look exactly as it did 21 years ago, when it opened, it has managed the rare feat of serving almost the same menu all through while maintaining consistently high standards.
 
At Karavalli —which means ‘land by the shore’ in Kannada and Tulu — the effort is to recreate traditional dishes from the cuisines of Mangalore, Goa and Kerala. The emphasis is on home-style cooking and the aim is to prepare dishes that make the guests feel that someone’s mother or grandmother has cooked the food.
 
The restaurant has managed to achieve this by carefully picking its cooks (and all the important ingredients) from the regions themselves. The palm vinegar for the balchao and sorpotel come from Goa; all the coconuts come from Kundapur in Mangalore; kudampuli, a souring agent in Keralite fish curry, comes from Kerala, as does the ada (flakes of rice pancake) for the ada pradhaman (a rice-based dessert). Additionally, most of the recipes have come from housewives who also imparted additional training to the cooks. That the majority of the kitchen team has been at Karavalli from the time the restaurant opened has helped ensure a consistent quality.
 
With a number of stellar contenders on the menu — like kori gassi, Coorg fried chicken, Alleppey fish curry, pachakkari stew and avial — it might seem a bit difficult to choose one dish that qualifies as a standout, but that makes Karavalli all the more alluring.
 
Signature dish
It has to be the tiger prawn Malabar style, the first among equals at Karavalli. Though the preparation of tiger prawns sautéed in a peppery masala is quite simple, the combination of fresh-flavoured spices and the distinctive taste of the prawns makes this dish perfectly delicious. Served as a starter, it is best eaten by itself or with plump, freshly-made appams.
The chef
Naren Thimmiah, who has been the face of the restaurant for over a decade, started his culinary career in the Karavalli kitchen. Hailing from Coorg, Chef Thimmiah has travelled extensively through the south of India and is intimately familiar with the region's ingredients and different styles of cooking. When competitors began to copy Karavalli's menu, he introduced lesser-known food from Managalore's Konkani kitchens and from the Syrian Christian heartland of Kerala.

This article was a part of a photofeature on Taj Hotels published in the December 2011 issue of the Tata Review. Follow the links below to go to the other parts of the photofeature:
Photofeature: Featured are five of the best that the Taj group has, with a sampling of their signature dishes and the opulent ambience in which they are laid out

Thai Pavilion – Vivanta By Taj-President, Mumbai
Wasabi By Morimoto – The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai
The Quilon – 51 Buckingham Gate, Taj Suites and Residences, London
Prego – The Taj Coromandel, Chennai