There’s a delicious little haven of vibrant colour, exotic spices and fragrant cuisine just waiting to be discovered. And guess what? It’s on Granby Street.
Herb is a new restaurant dedicated to the food of the Kerala region of India. This area, in the country’s deep south, is becoming increasingly celebrated as a holiday destination as well as for its vibrant, aromatic cuisine. Herb is from the same team as the legendary Kayal and with their track record, you know you’re in for a treat. Their newest venture captures not just the food philosophy of Kerala, but also something of the diverse cultural influences that make this part of India unique.
“Herbal cuisine has a long and varied history springing from Kerala’s cultural diversity and the abundance of fresh ingredients, herbs and spices available locally,” says Herb’s head chef, Ramdas Krishna.
The entire menu at Herb is vegetarian and the vast majority of it is vegan. The few dishes that aren’t already suitable for a vegan diet can easily be adapted by the chefs. Just a couple of years ago, a restaurant serving purely vegetarian food would have been considered something of a novelty, aimed at a niche kind of diner. Now, with the increasing mainstream interest in ethical production and food provenance, Herb’s meat-free menu captures the mainstream zeitgeist perfectly.
Ramdas describes Keralan cuisine as “the most delicious and diverse of Indian cooking,” and this breadth of influences is reflected in Herb’s menu, which explains the heritage of each dish. Hence the pidiyum kormayum, a dish of rice dumplings and paneer cooked in coconut milk flavoured with cumin and curry leaves, is described as “an authentic household festive dish from Kerala Knanaya and Jewish history.” And yes, it does taste as delicious as it sounds.
Amidst this culinary diversity, there are common threads running through the menu. Coconut features heavily – both the flesh and the oil. Curry leaves, mustard seeds and black peppercorns add a comforting heat. Meanwhile, the spices that led to Kerala being described as ‘the spice capital of the world’ – nutmeg, clove and cinnamon – infuse each dish with depth and spice. Unsurprisingly though, it’s the herbs that take centre stage, with fragrant bouquets of coriander and tarragon infusing every mouthful.
The overall impression is of a fusion of flavours that falls somewhere between Indian and Thai cuisine. It’s a combination that’s showcased perfectly in one of Herb’s stand-out dishes, kottayam kanji. A broken rice porridge is served with spicy coconut chutney, steamed green gram dal and poppadums. Although it’s humbly described on the menu as “a simple comfort food”, it’s also a beautifully crafted example of Herb’s signature style.
Herb’s dramatic water features, traditional lanterns and thatched bar transport you deep into the forests of Kerala. Speaking of transport, perhaps you’re wondering why there’s a motorcycle in the middle of the restaurant? Well, it’s a Royal Enfield, a brand manufactured in nearby Chennai and the oldest motorcycle brand still in production. Meanwhile, the wooden cart wheels, stone murals and traditional music represent an earlier age in the region’s history.
I left Herb not just impressed by the food, but eager to visit the region that inspired it. In the meantime, it’s good to know there’s somewhere in the city that offers up a taste of Kerala in all its vibrant glory.
Visit Herb at 96 Granby Street.