By and large, eating out in Fort Kochi (and in Ernakulam) is extremely reasonable. However, it’s not uncommon for cafés and restaurants to mellow spicy local flavours to make them agreeable for tourist palates. Also, thanks to Kerala’s prohibition laws, it isn’t as easy to cool off with a chilled beer as it once was. Only a few select establishments in Fort Kochi serve alcohol—and only wine and beer at that.
David Hall Gallery Cafe
Located in the David Hall Gallery—one of the exhibition venues during the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, which ends on 29 March—this alfresco café is a great spot for coffee and quiet contemplation. While the menu includes generic cafe staples such as salads, sandwiches and quiches, it’s the wood-fired pizzas that enjoy a reputation locally.
David Hall Gallery Cafe, 1/264, opposite Parade Ground, KB Jacob Road, near Bishop House, Fort Kochi (tel. 0484-2218298). 10am-9pm daily. Davidhall.in. Coffee starts from approximately Rs50.
The Drawing Room
A relatively new addition to the Fort Kochi dining scene, The Drawing Room exudes a laid-back, tropical vibe, with large bay windows that overlook the ocean. Seafood is the mainstay of the menu, which also includes modern renditions of classic Kerala dishes. For instance, the Kosambari Salad features long ribbons of carrot and cucumber, simply dressed with grated coconut, mustard seeds, curry leaves and moong dal. Our vote goes to the Pal Kappa and Naadan Curry—a classic pairing of boiled tapioca and fish curry—which has creamy chunks of bland tapioca with a nutty tempering of mustard seeds to accompany a tart and perfectly spiced fish curry. The salt-baked fish comes highly recommended.
The Drawing Room, Cochin Club, opposite Parade Ground, Fort Kochi (tel. 09048666922). Noon-10pm daily. Meal for two, approximately Rs1,200.
Arca Nova, Fort House Hotel
The alfresco section of this waterfront restaurant may be uncomfortably warm for a mid-day meal, but it is perfect for a leisurely dinner after a long day of walking. Breezy and dimly lit at night, the restaurant offers elegant versions of Kerala classics such as appams, slightly sweetened with toddy, paired with a fish curry with green mango, and beef fry in coconut oil.
Arca Nova, Fort House Hotel, 2/6A, Calvathy Road, Fort Kochi (tel. 0484-2217103). 7.30am-10.30pm daily. Hotelforthouse.com. Meal for two, approximately Rs800.
Kashi Art Cafe
The Kashi Art Gallery may be part of the biennale, but the café attached to it is popular through the year. With much of the seating arranged in open courtyards, with a green canopy overhead, the café is an especially picturesque spot for coffee or a light meal. While the breakfast omelettes are not particularly impressive, we lingered over a pot of French press coffee, and a sumptuous serving of the café’s signature chocolate cake, enough for two-three people.
Kashi Art Cafe, Burgher Street, Fort Kochi (tel. 0484-221 5769). 8.30am-10pm daily. Kashiartgallery.com. Breakfast for two, approximately Rs500.
Pepper House Cafe
One of the main exhibition venues, Pepper House is a heritage property that once served as a spice warehouse. The café consists of just a few benches and tables laid out to face an open courtyard, where some exhibits are displayed. With a small selection of open sandwiches and salads, Pepper House Cafe’s food menu is not particularly inspiring. But the tall, chilled passion-fruit lemonade, a balanced blend of sweet and sour flavours with a welcome hit of fizz, was a refreshing way to soak in the unhurried pace of Fort Kochi (tip: pop by the design store).
Pepper House Cafe, Pepper House, Calvathy Road, Fort Kochi (tel. 0484-2215667). 10am-6pm daily. Drinks, starting from approximately Rs100.
Malabar Junction, Malabar House
For an afternoon tipple in an elegant setting, head to Malabar Junction. The menu features mostly European dishes with an Asian or Indian touch—such as Snapper Gravlax with Irumban Puli salad, slices of cured snapper served with thin slivers of tart irumban puli (also known as bilimbi or tree sorrel, a sour tropical fruit). The menu also includes plenty of grilled seafood. Temper your expectations from the “fusion” food and pick instead from the selection of Indian wines, sold both by glass and bottle, or from the smaller selection of beers (the five-course, Kerala-style degustation menu may also be worth a try).
Malabar Junction, The Malabar House, Parade Road, Fort Kochi (tel. )484-2216666). 7am-11.15pm daily. Malabarhouse.com. Meal for two, approximately Rs1,500; wines, starting from Rs350 for a glass.
Although its vantage location by the seafront makes it a great daytime destination, Hotel Seagull truly comes alive in the evenings. As one of the few establishments in the area to serve beer—and at reasonable prices—it attracts large crowds. The Kerala-centric food doesn’t shy away from spice. The dry, peppery beef fry pairs particularly well with flaky Malabar parottas, and the prawn masala with fried coconut and curry leaves is flavoursome without being fiery. The vast menu includes local favourites like Fish Chatti Curry or fish cooked in a clay pot, and Crab Varuthrachathu, or a sour-spicy curry with a roasted coconut gravy.
Hotel Seagull, 2/7, Calvathy Road, Fort Kochi (tel. 0484-2218128). 10am-10.30pm daily. Meal for two, approximately Rs1,200; Rs270 for a 650ml bottle of Kingfisher beer.
Grand Pavilion, Grand Hotel
In the noisy and chaotic heart of Ernakulam, Grand Pavilion, more popularly known as Grand Hotel, enjoys a well-deserved reputation for authentic Kerala cuisine. Our vote goes to the Vazha Ilayil Policha Meen, slices of seer fish coated in a spicy, onion-laden marinade and sealed in a banana leaf before being grilled. The moist, flaky pieces of fish marry perfectly with the warmly spiced masala, and the spongy and slightly sweet appams make for the perfect delivery vehicle. The Kerala ishtew was oddly gluggy and sweet, but the Malabar parotta here was among the best in Kochi.
Grand Hotel, MG Road, Ernakulam (tel. 0484-2380261). Noon-3pm; 6-9pm. Grandhotelkerala.com. Meal for two, Rs1,200-1,500; Rs250 for a 650ml bottle of Kingfisher beer.
If your tastebuds have been dulled by mediocre restaurants, Fusion Bay is likely to jolt them back to life. This nondescript restaurant enjoys a cult following for its faithful renditions of Syrian Christian, Jewish and Dutch-influenced dishes such as Chuttullimeen, a whole fried fish stuffed with a spicy shallot filling, wrapped in banana leaves and roasted. Their other specialities include Meen Moilee, a mild fish curry flavoured with coconut milk, and fish pappas, a hot curry flavoured with fenugreek and kadumpulli or Malabar tamarind.
Fusion Bay, KB Jacob Road, Fort Kochi (tel. 09595345925).Noon-3.30pm; 6.30-10.30pm daily. Meal for two, approximately Rs800.