Kalpakavadi, Coconut Lagoon’s new venture, isn’t quite the finished article but it gets a thumbs-up for charm and good cooking, writes Jill Turton.

Kalpakavadi, York
Welcome100%
Food80%
Atmosphere60%
Prices80%
80%Overall Score
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Kalpakavadi restaurant review Fossgate, York. Picture Tony Johnson

It began as a high-wire adventure by three York taxi drivers, who with no previous experience and based on little more than chats with customers in the back of their cabs, chucked in their jobs and opened a south Indian restaurant among a row of regular shops on the outer fringes of York.
That was 2013 and I reported on the Coconut Lagoon soon after it opened. It was nothing special to look at: a long narrow room with clinical white walls dressed with photos of palms and elephants, but the menu was far more interesting than the usual rogan josh, korma and vindaloo. Instead there were deep-fried lentil doughnuts, chickpea curry, salmon in coconut milk, prawns with ginger, squid with green chillis and steamed fish wrapped in banana leaves.
Fast forward seven years to Kalpakavadi, Coconut Lagoon’s new spin-off that opened late last year on Fossgate. It’s a lot flashier than its older sibling, with a flat-screen TV playing tourist board images of elephants among the palms and classical south Indian dancing. The decor is more sophisticated too with a shiny bar, a feature wall of cut logs and another of exposed brick. Low-hanging lamps and violet strip lights extend Las Vegas-style, into the toilets.
The Kalpakavadi menu is a colourful, spiral-bound, laminated book. It begins with an explanation of Keralan cuisine and continues with a description of each dish, its background and culture. It takes some navigating from snacks, soups and starters, to the Tiffin Box, the Chat Counter, the Clay Oven, the Dosa Corner, the Farmer’s Garden, the Fishermen’s Net, the Butcher’s Garden, sides, rice and bread. That’s a lot to scrutinise on a Friday night out with mates.
We dive in with a plate of snacks to share – a basket of poppadoms, banana chips and various crunchy sticks. At £4.29, it feels a bit steep for a basket of bits, though it comes with some good condiments. We wash it down with Cobra and Kingfisher beers.


Sea bass Nirachathu

Then, reminiscent of Coconut Lagoon, we have a long wait for our mains. That might be because the place is throbbing. The waiters are doing their best to keep up, but we feel their stress. We’re asked three or four times the name of our reservation. After our snacks and before our mains a waiter asks if we are ready for dessert, then dashes off for something more urgent.
Somehow though, out of this seeming chaos, our mains arrive as ordered; a fish curry flavoured with coriander and turmeric, the spices softened with coconut milk, then finished with tempered mustard seeds and pungent curry leaves. Green pepper chicken is a sludgy green colour, but loaded with fresh coriander and green peppercorns, and has bags of flavour mopped up with a fresh paratha. The beef curry is the most fiery of all the dishes and turns out to be the best with a rich, dark intensity from beef simmered long and slow.
I had high hopes for the “whole, boneless sea bass” stuffed with prawns, though “whole” and “boneless” sounded like a contradiction and so it proved. A wholefish arrives, bone intact, filled with “chemmeen peera”, a prawn stuffing of minced coconut, chilli and vegetables though rather light on the prawns. While the dish is helped by the accompanying rice, masala potatoes and a pot of curry sauce, it’s voted no more than fine and at £16.99 it’s the priciest of our dishes. Prices though are reasonable for such a setting, starters hovering around £6 and mains averaging £15 plus sides. They do a good value lunch deal at £7.95.

The Foss Gate beef fry

As we are discussing the slow and muddled service and debating the merits of Coconut Lagoon against Kalpakavadi, (more interesting dishes at Coconut Lagoon, nicer decor at Kalpakavadi), the genial manager appears at our table. He apologises for our wait and for the service and does so with such charm that we forgive him everything, especially when he tells us he arrived only three days ago from Cambridge, having never set foot in York before. You can’t help but sympathise; herding a serving team of startled rabbits trying to feed 89 rowdy customers. Kalpakavadi may not yet be the finished article, but it’s got charm and good intent and all credit for that.
Kalpakavadi, 26 Fossgate, York YO1 9TA, 01904 656662, www.kalpakavadirestaurant.com. Open: Monday-Thursday, noon-3pm & 5.30-11pm; Friday, noon-3pm & 5.30-11.30pm; Saturday/Sunday, noon-11.30pm. Dinner for two with bottle wine and service, approximately £85.

About The Author

Jill Turton

Jill Turton is a freelance food and travel journalist who writes for numerous publications. She inspects restaurants for national food guides and is a regular reviewer for the Yorkshire Post. Jill is author of Good Food in Yorkshire and the Time Out Guide to the Lake District and with Mandy Wragg writes the Yorkshire online food guide www.squidbeak.co.uk'

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