The vividly distinctive flavours of Kerala, the coastal state of south-west India, come alive at Kayra, run with a sense of joy & authoritativeness by Meriam Alfonso, a Malaysian whose family has roots in Kerala. Meriam's grandfather opened a Keralite restaurant in Johor Baru in 1949, & she's now bringing the time-honoured, treasured recipes of her heritage to this lovely new venue, bedecked with black-&-white photographs of Kerala. Expect an emphasis on grated & roasted coconuts as a key component (Kayra's name comes from the Malayalam-language equivalent of the swaying coconut palms that abound on Kerala's shores), plus a unique balance of spices (brought in from Kerala, a region with a rich history of spice trading) that sets the delicately nuanced cooking here apart from much of the southern & northern Indian fare we're accustomed to in KL.
Lunches are currently limited to thali-style rice platter meals, so it's wiser to visit in the evening, when a complete a la carte menu is unveiled, with an encyclopaedic spectrum of intriguing offerings. We enjoyed the Koddapan (RM12), banana flower & runner beans cooked with grated coconut, curry leaves & mustard seeds, with its gentle dimensions of flavour. The Appo (RM12), mini rice cakes topped with spice powder & coconut chutney, makes for a fun snack, while the Kurumulagu Konju (RM18) features commandingly fresh marinated tiger prawns, deliciously steamed in a banana leaf pouch & garnished with beetroot emulsion. Each dish spotlights an ensemble of well-prepared ingredients that showcase diverse shades & subtleties.
Soups & salads: The Cochin fish soup (RM12) is lightly flavoured with pumpkin, tapioca & raw bananas, though its mildness means it's not the ideal choice for customers who prefer robust recipes; the Caravela (RM10) - chickpea puree with aromatic herbs - proves more resonant & unusual-tasting. If you're a beetroot worshipper, try the Thoran (RM10), comprising succulent, earthy-sweet chopped beetroot with coarse, crushed coconut, chillies & ginger.
And course, curries: The Chemeen Mangga Curry (RM29) is a mellowly piquant prawn curry, simmered in coconut paste & tantalisingly textured with sliced raw mangoes, while Delia's Stew (RM22), creamy-savoury chicken curry, is equally competent, with punchy dynamics - thankfully, neither's too fiery, enabling us to relish the flavours more effectively. Wipe the curries clean with pathiri soft rice pancakes (RM5). If you're seeking a single-plate meal, possibilities include the Kappa & Meen (RM30), rice with curry leaves-seasoned tapioca & thick, smooth & deep-flavoured classic fish curry cooked with cocum.
Wrap up with Vattalapam custard (RM10), made with brown palm sugar, coconut milk & cardamom, partnered with honey-dipped grilled pineapple, & Payasam warm sweet rice pudding (RM10), accompanied by pappadam & bananas, concluding a meal that began with ginger-lime complimentary welcome refreshments. There's still much more to try at Kayra, from squid with onion relish to roasted mutton with gravy, crabs cooked with house-made masala to eggplant with coriander & yoghurt; expect to hear more about Kayra in the months ahead.
Kayra Kerala Cuisine TTDI
46 Jalan Tun Mohd Fuad 1, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur. Currently open for lunch & dinner, closed Sundays.
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