Aquafest as the name suggests, is the celebration of the produce of the water and is an annual feature that showcases an abundance of seafood on the special menu, at the Karavalli restaurant at The Gateway Hotel
This is a tradition of sorts, that has been going on for the last 26 years, ably orchestrated by the executive Chef Naren Thimmiah, who has commendably been with the hotel for the same period of time.
Being a lover of seafood, I could not say no to the call to the celebration. An invite to Karavalli makes Caro Velly happy (and even though I do not like being called Caro, it does suit the wordplay here 😀 )
Karavalli is situated in a nook at the back of The Gateway Hotel.
The cuisine here is from the South West coast of India and spans the states of Kerala, Karnataka and Goa.
Nestled amidst lush greenery, there is a certain coastal rusticity in the decor, with its stone floors, tiled roof and waterbodies fringed with giant shells. The heavy wooden furniture, brass serving and dining ware, large glass lampshades and woven table mats, just complete the picture.
Apart from the indoor seating, the al fresco portion is also a great place to dine with the accompanying babble of the water that splashes out of the mini fountain. One can choose to dine in the shade of the gazebos and canopied tables, the dense shrubbery providing a sense of privacy.
The open air bar is at the far end and one can also opt to sit on its high stools.
Chef Naren kept us company while explaining to us the essence behind the concept. He has always been passionate about staying with classic and tried and trusted “grandmother’s” recipes, and has strived to maintain the traditional tone in his menu, without dabbling in fusion.
However, in order to give his guests a taste of novelty, he does conduct a couple of food festivals through the year, wherein he can offer something different from the usual … a menu from which he then picks out a few favorites and incorporates them into the regular offerings.
The Aquafest is one such food festival and takes place in the second half of November, which is when the fishing season restarts after the usual annual ban on trawling due to the rains and breeding season from July to September.
Several new dishes make up the special menu, that includes varieties of fish that are not usually available at other times, like silver fish, clams, sole etc. and guests can indulge in this bounty for a whole 2 weeks.
In an attempt to have us taste most of the specials from the menu, the chef fished out an entire ocean for us and the resulting fest was pure seafood heaven 😀
A nice, hot, tangy rasam cleared the way for the starters which were an assortment consisting of Konjan nadan chuthathu – fresh rock lobster shallow fried with shallots, Aripodi chemmeen – prawns coated with rice flour and fried to a crisp, Kuttanada karuvapilla konju – tiger prawns fried with onion, tomato and curry leaves, Neitha denji – Sea crabs smothered in a ghee laden Kundapur spice mix whose fiery red color belied its subtle, creamy flavor, Malvani surmai fish fry – slices of king fish coated in Malvani masalas and rice flour and deep fried, Bolanjir rava fry – crisp bites of tiny, whole, semolina coated, deep fried silver fish and Choora porichathu – crispy fried tuna tossed with dry shrimp and roasted coconut.
Everything was finger licking good, including a creamy tomato chutney and coarse mango coconut chutney that we dunked the fried fish into. The tongue tingles, as the fingers type 😀
This of course was like an entire meal (or several meals) in itself but we had to try the mains because however full I am, I cannot leave a coastal restaurant without gorging on Appams (I love appams as much as I love seafood). To dip them in, we were served the Nagli ambat, a tangy curry with Ladyfish.
Other accompaniments to the gravies, that were available were, Sannas, Red rice, Malabar parottas, Idlies and Neer dosas.
There is a limited but sufficient choice for vegetarians (in case they come by mistake to a seafood fest 😛 ) and this covers starters and mains.
One can order their choice of drink and though I was recommended the white wine, I chose to go with the coconutty Pina colada. A light tender coconut water or buttermilk is suggested for those who do not want alcohol.
While sweets are not a priority for me, there are a few desserts that I cannot say no to. The Elaneer payasam is one, with its tender coconut bits immersed in creamy coconut milk. Though it was on the menu, this was not available but the ensuing array of Bebinca, Ada Pradhaman, Tamarind ice cream and Ragi manni, made sure that we did not miss the Elaneer !!! Ragi manni is one of my favorites and is a pudding of sorts made from finger millet flour cooked with jaggery and coconut milk.
This is a feast where one can satiate all their desires for the traditional seafood preparations of the South West coast and is not to missed by lovers of these cuisines.
The festival is on from Nov 16th-30th and is served from an a la carte menu. Connect with them here The Gateway Hotel
For more pictures see My Facebook – The Gateway Hotel-Aquafest 2017
Nov 22nd, 2017