Sandwiched in the middle of a string of shoplots in Bandar Botanik Klang in Selangor is Daawat. The restaurant has an unadorned, utilitarian look – in many ways, it’s the perfect blank canvas because it gives you no indication of what’s in store. But a glance at the contented smiles playing out on the faces of its customers will tell a far more compelling story.
“We are passionate about food and for us, the most important thing is quality – we do not compromise on quality. After we opened, we put up a sign outside for seven months that said, ‘If you don’t like the food, you don’t need to pay’. But after a while, our customers said, ‘We already know the food is good, so you don’t need to put the board up anymore’.
“I don’t think anyone dares to put up a sign like that, but we know what we’re giving,” says Deepak Menon, one of the partners at Daawat.
Deepak is originally from the south Indian state of Kerala but has lived in Malaysia for nearly two decades. He and his partners were propelled to start Daawat, which means “feast” in Urdu, after despairing of the local Indian fare.
“When we came, we were eating Indian food outside every day and were fed up. We could see that there was no quality in the food, even simple things like masala tea was made from tea dust (the lowest grade for tea),” says Deepak.
Deepak’s quest to open an authentic Indian restaurant serving the fare of his Kerala birthplace led him to executive chef Santhosh Mohanan, a Kerala native who echoed Deepak’s ethos about quality trumping all else. Santhosh brought 10 other people from the state with him and this 11-man team now runs Daawat.
Kerala cuisine is typified by its nexus to spices. Known as the Land of Spices, Kerala has a rich history of trading spices with Europe that dates back to ancient times. As a result, spices like pepper, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon can often be seen in their dishes.
The state also has coastlines and waterways wending through it, and this aquatic quality is evident in the multitude of seafood offerings which permeate its cuisine. Coconut is also a strong, recurring feature in the food, and you’ll find it in many permutations.
At Daawat, Deepak and his team are both proud and especially cognisant of their rich culinary culture, so all the spice mixes in the restaurant are sourced and ground into powders in Kerala. This includes garam masala, Kashmiri chilli powder and coriander powder. The pepper used in the restaurant meanwhile is sourced from Deepak’s own pepper farm in Kerala.
There are a lot of tantalising options to begin your meal at Daawat, but do try the Fish Pollichathu (market price). This Kerala delicacy features fish fried in shallots, ginger, garlic, chilli powder, fenugreek and a special masala (Santhosh won’t say what’s in it) before being wrapped in banana leaves and fried over a tawa (flat Indian frying pan).
The resulting meal is nothing short of stupendously good. The fish is really fresh and coated in a thick spice mixture that has adhered itself so closely to the flesh of the fish, that it feels like a second skin. The mixture is rich, spicy and robust – it’s the sort of meal that is likely to leave a little sparkle in your eyes and a spring in your step.
The Kethal Chicken (RM25) is a weekend offering of tender chicken cooked in spices and buoyed by a fiery sprinkling of dried chillies scattered atop. While the dish sounds simple, it has such a complex flavour profile that oohs and aahs of pleasure are a given.
The same can be said of the Prawn Kizhi (RM23), a popular dish on the Malabar coast of Kerala, which features prawns slathered in a rich masala that has peppery undertones and a fiery underbelly. The flavour balancing here is pitch perfect and although the concoction could do with a few more prawns, the masala is crazy good.
The Mutton Roast Nadan (RM22) is another flavour-packed contender for your affections that includes a laundry list of ingredients like sliced onions, tomatoes, garam masala, ginger, garlic, coconut milk, curry leaves and coriander leaves all coalescing together to form a sumptuously good, hedonistically rich gravy. All this melds well with the mutton, which is delightfully pliant and delicious to the last morsel.
The Malabar Chicken Briyani (RM15) is cooked according to the dum method (where everything is sealed with a flour band) and is one of Kerala’s signature dishes. The briyani is pretty solid, but it’s not extraordinary which means it’s not likely to be the best you’ve ever had.
Daawat also does a range of north Indian offerings, including Paneer Butter Masala (RM10). Santhosh makes the paneer (cottage cheese) in-house and this home-hewn quality is evident – each paneer cube is plump, silken soft and gilded by a creamy curry that is buttery and rich.
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For something sweet, opt for the aptly named Royal Falooda (RM12). Almost like a sundae, this layered ice-cream dessert is sweet, tropical and fruity. It also has a wonderfully nostalgic quality to it, so you’ll feel your mind floating away to memories of carefree, halcyon childhood days when desserts like these prevailed.
To cap your meal here, do not – I repeat, DO NOT – leave without having a cup of the Daawat Special Coffee (RM5). This is quite likely the best Indian coffee in the Klang Valley at the moment – a smooth operator with an almost caramel-like undertone that will prove so addictive, you’ll wonder how such a little receptacle can hold so much power.
Unsurprisingly, response has been great since Daawat opened its doors nearly a year ago (the place is often heaving over the weekends) and Deepak has been inundated with requests to open more outlets, something he is committed to doing once the time is right.
“Many of our customers have said, ‘We’ll invest in new outlets for you, you just set up the restaurants’. But we are not ready for that. If we open somewhere else, we want to make sure the quality is there, but it’s definitely something we’re looking at for the future,” he says, smiling.
8, Jalan Mahogani 1
41200 Klang, Selangor
Tel: 03-3318 0557; 016-365 7527
Open Tuesday to Sunday: 11.30am to 10.30pm