In a nutshell:
Directionally & conceptually good eatery that serves South Indian food way beyond the ubiquitous Idly, dosa. The restaurant serves good but not great food (with a few exceptions) & lacks quite a bit on the people’s front.
Address & other details: Zambar
Meal for 2: Rs. 1200 onwards
Cuisine type : Vegetarian & Nonvegetarian
Disclaimer: All restaurants / eateries reviewed by YUMMRAJ were visited by YUMMRAJ himself & he has paid for the full Bill & tips also. http://www.yummraj.com does not have even one featured / sponsored reviews. YUMMRAJ believes in going to a restaurant in anonymity, as a normal guest, experience everything & give a honest account of the same to you.
I rate all the food items & then give a final overall rating which is a simple average of the individual item ratings. What the ratings stand for: 5 = Excellent, 4 = Very Good, 3 = Good, 2 = Fair, 1 = Disaster.
Short Description – in case u r in a hurry:
This review is about a special festival conducted by Zambar – Special Suriani Menu.
So when I came across this new term ‘Suriani Menu’, I went to Googlebaba for advice.
Wikipedia said ‘The first Christian presence in India was that of the Syrian Orthodox Church. The ancient Syriac language was also brought to Kerala by St. Thomas in the 1st century A.D.’Suriani word is the Indian verson of Syriac (meaning from Syria origin).
Googlebaba also directed me to a very interesting book – Lathika George’s ‘The Suriani Kitchen’. It is a cookbook with lots of history, personal anecdotes & food tales.
The book said ‘The four Syrian Christian sects – the Knanaya Christians, the Jacobites, the Marthomites and the Syrian Catholics – have deep-seated differences about the true way to practice their faith. Though all Surianis trace their ancestry to the families said to have been converted by Jesus’ apostle Thomas when he arrived on the Malabar coast in 52 CE, the various groups can’t seem to reach agreement on matters of doctrine and ritual. So it isn’t surprising that when they sit down to a breakfast of puttu (steamed rice cake), each community serves them up with a unique twist. Knanaya Christians for example, eat pidis (fist-shaped steamed rice cakes) with chicken curry, but Syrian Catholic families serve them with sugar or a shallot-and-chilli chutney.
Syrian Christians from Alleppey and Kottayam have duck and karimeen specialities because of the backwaters nearby, but those from Calicut and Cannanore use the abundantly available mussels, squid and oysters,” she said. “Those from the interior farmland and estate areas, on the other hand, use quail and also jackfruit, tapioca, pineapple and breadfruit in their cuisine.’
So excited after reading all that stuff, we decided to try out the cuisine.
I had reviewed Zambar in End 2011. Nothing much has changed in general & hence I am reproducing the same text:
‘The interiors of this restaurant look like a traditional Kerala houseboat. Food is pretty cool, serving staff is OK OK……. moody, inconsistent, sometimes very sweet, very cold at other times.
Went to Zambar last week of july after our first visit about 3 months back. Rediscovered the place. Had heard from someone that they have a good thali. Went for the Thali. Ended up eating something even better + the thali. A seafood platter – A marvellous lipsmacking subtly spiced curry leaf fishfry, a prawn kothmiera (green marination) & a prawn vepudu (red marination)+ a fish baked in banana leaf – pearl spot pollichatu. What was great was that each had its own individual taste & flavor, all had very optimally cooked seafood – Excess cooking could have stiffened it up.
Then we went for the seafood thali – Apart from 3 non veg curries of very distinct flavors (fish, crab meat & prawns) , there was ponni rice – u cud smell the good coconut flavor in it, plain rice with the flaky red chillies, a very delicious poriyal & a sweet dish. Surely recommended.
There are vegetarian & non vegetarian (meats in place of seafood) thalis also which I have heard good praises from some of my friends.’
Experience End of 2013 –
The staff members r as bad as they were before. Very polite & nice but totally incompetent. Read details of our pathetic experience in the next section.
The person who planned out this place, thought ‘out of the box’ & conceptualized the place & set the menu is a genius I must say.In a sea of similar restauranst someone thought of bringing in some good authentic stuff. Hats off. The thought of Suriani menu & the choice of options was amazing as well. In a land where to a large section of the population chicken is the epitome of non vegetarian food, there were items like Mackarel (fish), tenderloin, duck & of course pork. However, inspite of the great thought & planning, the food suffered from executional glitches at times.
The normal menu card had loads & loads of options but we stuck to the Suriani menu. There was options of low cost buffets with & without drinks – Something that we stayed away from.
Detailed Description – In case u have the Time to NJOY reading:
As we waited post placing order, we were served 3 chutneys & some papad. The chutneys were pungent, strong & tasty with a dense texture. Irresistible. Hands were constantly slogging it out between the plate to mouth as if they were on auto mode . Thoroughly Njoyed the chutneys with plain fried papads. Rating of chutneys is 4.25/5 if I am to rate these .
We were also served paaya shorba (lamb trotters soup slow cooked over long time with traditional spices). That wa sreally good. The flavor & taste of paaya was intact & the flavors of spices were also recognizable. Rate this 4/5.
Our first dish was Tharavu Roast – A Nazrani/ Syrian ChristianDuck speciality. We had choice of malabar parota, appam & pooni rice. We chose Malabar parota.
The pieces of meat served was quite big – A full Duck leg and half of the breast piece. The meat was with skin. The meat was soft but not juicy as it was marinated from b4. Skin is something that is not too common in Indian dishes but very common in Chinese & Far East Asian dishes. The skin usually has a smell which first timers might not like. I wud rate the meat as good & hence 3/5.
The gravy was Reddish in color, was dry & it was very spicy, very hot but very tasty. Wud rate the gravy 4/5 & hence the overall rating for the dish averages out to 3.5/5.
Post this we ordered Erachi Olathiathu – A traditional Syrian Christian Tenderloin fry. This time we chose appam as accompaniment.
Tenderloin fry was a good meat curry but it cud not differentiate itself from the rest of the South Indian mutton curries. Coconut and curry leaf flavor stood out. Meat pieces were soft and chewy and totally enjoyable. It was good but short of great. I am sure the original version is way more rustic & hits hard. Rate this dish 3/5
As we finished these two dishes, without any discussion we were served finger bowls. We said we wanted to eat more. So the guy disappeared with a smile. Post that was a hide & seek game for quite some time. The Staff members were running around the restaurant with invisible blinders – we were unable to catch their attention in almost 5 minutes of trying. When we finally succeeded, we were given the menu card.
The next dish that we ordered was Meen Polichathu – A preparation of Mackarel / pomfret in banana leaf. Two options were there in fish – mackerel and pomfret. We planned mackerel in our head and ended up saying ‘fish’. We got pomfret. Well my fault I did not mention but equally his coz all waiting staff across the globe ask when there is a choice – they don’t dump their choice on diners.
The Fish was full fish deep fried & that led to hardening of the outer layer. Apart from that the fish was fresh & nice. The gravy was good but non differentiated. There was a lot of chopped tomatoes in the gravy. The gravy was again spicy, hot & pretty good. I rate it 3.5/5.
The Malabar parotha was excellent. It was super flaky, soft inside, crispy outside & had a great balance of taste. It was so good that it cud b eaten just like that. I rate it 4.5/5
The Appam was very good as well. It was soft, warm & had a fermented feel to it. Rate it 4.25/5
For dessert we ordered Pongal. It was rice & jaggery based dessert. I loved the pongal earlier at Murugan IdlyChennai. This one was intense, had flavors of gur & was good but a bit over sweetened. I rate this 3.5/5
We also asked the Guy to pack Chemeen biryani. As per menu card (see pic above), Chemeen Biryani stands for Suriani Prawn Biryani. The receipt that I have attached a picture of, also had Chemeen Biryani mentioned. He charged us for Chemeen Biryani & ended up packing some random chicken biryani, which we discovered later after we reached home & unpacked the food before lunch. See the picture of the add ons in the biryani – this is chicken.
Absolutely Unbelievable experience. On top of that the chicken were smelly & unfresh. I rate this 0/5 for the disgusting experience & the bad chicken pieces. Must say that the rice of the biryani was excellent.
Rating of food at Zambar Suriani Menu averages out to 3.4/5 considering the Chemeen Biryani disaster. Sans the disaster the rating comes to 3.8/5.
Considering this as a one time experience, I might revisit this place just to try out more dishes. However, am not very confident that the experience on the staff front will better much, in the context that it has not changed much in 3 years.