A blend of Kerala-style tradition and modernity


The fish moilee biryani combines a delightful coconut milk laced fish moilee with rich, flavourful biryani. — YAP CHEE HONG/The Star

In coming up with her second restaurant, Meriam Alfonso decided to go down a slightly different route.

Her first eatery Kayra, a traditional Kerala-style restaurant inspired by her roots in the south Indian state and her family’s culinary pedigree (her grandparents opened a Kerala restaurant in Johor Baru in 1949), had become a neighbourhood success after it first opened three years ago in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur.

But after securing a plum location in Bangsar Village 1 for her sophomore eatery, Meriam was itching to do something different.

“I started experimenting with my chef (Kerala native Sal Saveel) to see ways that we could do modern Indian cuisine and plate things up differently. So we did a lot of research and trials. I travelled quite a bit with him to Kerala and other parts of India, just to see what was out there, because the thing is sometimes you can even bring simple street food into a more modern dining experience, ” says Meriam.

The eatery is modern yet retains a rustic quality to it.The eatery is modern yet retains a rustic quality to it.

To fully focus on her new outlet, Meriam closed her first restaurant in TTDI (scheduled to reopen in January 2020) so that she could pay attention to the new menu at her second eatery, also named Kayra.

“When we developed the new menu, it was only my chef and I who knew what was in there. So, we needed to bring the whole team up to speed. And so essentially that is why I had to close it for awhile, ” she says.

At the Kayra in Bangsar Village, expect to sample a whole panoply of meals that allude to Meriam’s rich Kerala heritage but also have modern, inventive touches.

The dosa tacos offer an inventive take on tacos using dosa batter in place of tortilla shells.The dosa tacos offer an inventive take on tacos using dosa batter in place of tortilla shells.

The Dosa Tacos (RM25) for instance, are tacos fashioned out of dosa batter. Each perfectly formed receptacle is filled with fresh tomatoes, capsicum, potato masala, homemade sour cream and fried vermicelli. The entire concoction is the literal equivalent of a flavour bomb. All the elements collude to explode in the mouth, resulting in a riotous, euphoric sensory journey of discovery.

The Waffam (RM23) meanwhile is a brand new invention that Meriam and Sal came up with themselves.

“Waffam has become quite a hit. Basically we have taken an appam and made it into a Belgian waffle and it is served with raw banana koftas, ” says Meriam.

Repurposing appam batter into a Belgian waffle makes for a surprisingly good meal.Repurposing appam batter into a Belgian waffle makes for a surprisingly good meal.

And the waffam is truly eye-opening – petal-soft dough that succumbs willingly in the mouth, accentuated by more softness courtesy of the tender banana koftas drenched in a spicy sauce that add verve and a dramatic quality to this amalgamation.

The Squid Pera Chamandhi (RM23) is another flavour-packed winner that features grated coconut, dried chillies and squid dry-fried together with a dried prawn powder. The resulting concoction is very good – malleable, perfectly cooked squid coated in crunchy, nutty coconut strands in what proves to be a lively union of flavours that epitomise the idiom “the life of the party”.

Crunchy grated coconut and tender squid coalesce perfectly in the squid pera chamandhi.Crunchy grated coconut and tender squid coalesce perfectly in the squid pera chamandhi.

Of course, new inventions don’t always come to fruition quite as well as one might hope and this is reflected in the Vazhappu Cutlet (RM17) which is essentially a breaded deep-fried fritter stuffed with pan-seared banana blossoms, sweet potatoes and spices. The cutlets are a tad dense – each orb a little too starchy perhaps for some people’s liking.

Meriam also came up with a range of meals designed to be eaten quickly by people on-the-go, like the Goodness Bowl (RM18).

“A lot of the times, I myself look for something that I want to eat quickly without having to have a whole bunch of dishes, so I created this dish, which is like the Kerala version of a poke bowl, ” she says.

The goodness bowl is packed with all sorts of vegetarian delights.The goodness bowl is packed with all sorts of vegetarian delights.

In this vegetarian dish, you’ll discover the Indian grain of millet (which Meriam wanted to highlight as she felt it was undervalued) as well as a cucumber onion salad, masala lentils, grilled brinjal, hung curd raita and coconut chamandhi.

Each component has been treated with a lot of love and care – the millet has a pleasant mouthfeel and bite, the brinjal is fiery and tenderly luscious, the coconut chamandhi is vivacious and potent, while the raita adds a hint of coolness. It’s a wonderful meal that is so wholesome that it is wholly deserving of the name “goodness bowl”.

If you’re dining in a party of two or three, definitely, definitely opt for the gigantic platter of Fish Moilee Biryani (RM70). Here, a whole seabass is marinated with a masala base, before being grilled and then topped with a rich coconut milk moilee sauce. On the side is a heaping of biryani cooked in the dum style (the flavours are sealed with a flour band) and perfumed with a range of Kerala spices. This is soul food of the highest order – the soothing notes of the fish moilee pair mellifluously alongside the rich luxuriance of the briyani in what can only be described as a pitch perfect meal.

If you’re after something traditional to go with your biryani, definitely indulge in the Mutton Stew (RM36). Derived from Meriam’s grandmother’s heirloom recipe, this is a dish that is typically served in Meriam’s home every Christmas with appam or string hoppers.

Fresh, slightly crunchy okra and sweet mango swim in creamy coconut milk waters in this okra and mango curry.Fresh, slightly crunchy okra and sweet mango swim in creamy coconut milk waters in this okra and mango curry.

And what a stew it is! Thick, creamy and oh-so indulgent, it has deeply rooted nourishing properties and pliant mutton pieces that promise to entice from the get-go.

The Okra and Mango Curry (RM19) is another vegetable dish that might seem like a sideshow attraction but convincingly steals the show with a power-packed combination of still-crunchy okra and sweet mango slices in a creamy coconut milk sauce that will prove both revelatory and addictive.

To end your meal here, opt for the Vatalappam Brulee (RM19) which is essentially a Kerala dessert of coconut milk, cardamom and palm sugar that is baked and caramelised. Here, a satin soft crème brulee can be prodded apart to reveal pools of melted palm sugar at the bottom, which serves to imbue the dish with lovely caramel undertones, while the pineapple slices atop add a touch of astringency to the ensemble.

Sweet, palm sugar laced nuances are at the heart of the yummy vatalappam brulee.Sweet, palm sugar laced nuances are at the heart of the yummy vatalappam brulee.

Ultimately, Meriam says she thinks the new iteration of Kayra serves a need in the market for creative interpretations of classic Kerala dishes.

“Honestly there is still space to grow in this area. Sometimes people want comfort food but maybe presented in a certain way. I think there is always room for it – I even have customers from India who say ‘Oh, this reminds me of home!’ So essentially this has been a menu of creativity and expression but yet, keeping to the flavours and traditions and family recipes as well, ” she says proudly.

Kayra

F08,1st Floor, Bangsar Village 1

Jalan Telawi 1

Bangsar Baru

59100 Kuala Lumpur

Tel: 03-2714 2932

Open daily: 11.30am to 10pm

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