Kayal – Indian – Nottingham – Review by Sarah
[Alec reviewed Kayal in November 2013]
Kayal has never struggled for plaudits or for pundits. A South Indian restaurant in Nottingham on the eve of a draw in a Trent Bridge test match is always going to be popular, so I was somewhat optimistic for a tasty meal in a buzzy restaurant. I did get the latter, but it was interesting to note that the restaurant was not completely full, and that the buzz seemed in part due to some faintly chaotic service, and a lack of capacity in the kitchen to match the numbers of orders coming in. I also did get the former, but boy, did it take a long time to arrive.
The restaurant is a curious mix of Norwegian sauna and paddy shack, decorated with wine bottles and various decorative paraphernalia harking to colonialism and tribalism (some of which collapsed onto a diner while we were there, as if still beating out the old conquerors). The staff are uniformed in orange polo shirts which declare that the wearer is happyto help, and all the waiting staff were indeed friendly and keen to assist. The problem was that there seemed to be a real lack of coordination and, in order to get the griping out of the way now, I will say that at several times during the meal, I had to request that the table was cleared, that cutlery was provided, and that we were still waiting for things that had been forgotten. I don’t know if they simply were short staffed on the night but there was a general air of the Corporal Jones about the whole operation, and the upshot was that our main meals only materialised after an hour and a half. We did have starters, and substantial ones at that, but even a mouse could get through a dosa in ninety minutes.
When we arrived, I was struck by a couple of things about the menu. The wine list is varied and has some genuinely quality options, although I wonder how well thought through the choices are to compliment the cuisine. We opted for the Babich, which was unusually complex for a Hawkes Bay Sauvignon Blanc, but it proved a poor choice as a match for a predominantly coconut, ginger and tamarind-flavoured meal. The food menu has not changed for many years and could probably do with an overhaul, particularly as it is not extensive, and the physical menus themselves are rather dog eared; whilst reprinting them, the owners might look at some of the descriptions of the dishes, which are somewhat opaque.
I want, however, to get this griping out of the way, because there were several real positives about the meal, and since the primary purpose of going was to eat some good food, then we did pretty well. As a table we had a couple of starters, including several masala dosa (£5.99). Dosas are in essence thin crispy pancakes made from lentils, but they are nothing like their Shrove Tuesday, Scotch or Findus namesakes, as you can see below.
You cannot help but smile and feel warmed when such beautiful food arrives, although you would feel happier and the pancake would feel more rightly respected on appropriately sized and designed crockery. The other starters included a Kottayam Egg Fry (£4.79), a battered egg concoction (which did come on its own crockery, designed like an artist’s pallet – so they definitely can do some food-plate matching) which gave the consumer the warm and fuzzies too, rather like huevos rancheros, but with sweet, gentle heat instead of chilli and sharp tomato.
When the mains (finally) arrived, they were uniformly good. However, my order was incorrect; the correct dish came out pretty much immediately, but in a cold dish, which lead me to wonder two things:
– If it could come out this fast, how was it that our meal took so long to arrive?
– How did the kitchen not have any hot dishes for service?
This did not matter too much in the end I was too hungry to think for long, and the dish itself, a Cheera Parippu Curry (£4.99) was rather splendid, especially in combination with the special salad (£5.99) of avocado and mango. Despite seeming like a strange pairing , the deep earthy lentil dish balances so well with the clean acidity fruit dressed in lemon juice, and the use of just under-ripe fruit meant that there were no issues of having a main course like baby food.
Keralan cuisine is truly omnivorous and diners can order on an equal footing from fish, meat, poultry and vegetarian options, which is a real plus for Kayal. Standouts in the mains included the punchy Varutharacha Kozhi (£7.49) and a mixed seafood curry (£14.29), which certainly provided bang for the bucks.
Less successful was Njandu curry (£12.89) which failed to live up to the waiter’s description of, “messy but fun.” The messy element certainly came to pass, but try enjoying separating crab from shell in a bowl of thick stew, particularly when the resulting mouthfuls of fish are disappointingly bland.
So, a mixed bag, with the kitchen generally serving up well constructed and authentic dishes to diners who are getting impatient and feeling uncertain about the competency or availability of the waiting staff, as lovely and well meaning as they seemed. It would really help if someone looked into the design of the restaurant, the movement of dishes and communication between kitchen and front of house, and at the very least gave the place a sprucing up. Food like this deserves to be presented with that touch more pride.
Overall = 6/10
Food = 8/10
Service = 5/10 (but ambiance and restaurant setting = 5/10)
Value for money = 6.5/10