Last weekend, I decided to give Villa Maya, rated the best restaurant in Thiruvananthapuram by TripAdvisor, a second chance.
I went there first a few months ago, straight from the airport after a friend in Bangalore waxed on about how spectacular it was. I suspect she was also trying to rub it in that I didn't know about the happening places in my city.
So, there I was - tired, hungry and ready to chow down on some good grub. I ordered some kebabs, Kerala parathas and fried beef. The food was a disappointment. It didn’t meet my expectations from the city’s top-rated fine-dining restaurant. May be it was just an aberration. The chefs also get bad hair days. Even Sachin Tendulkar failed sometimes. So I chalked it down to a one-off and told myself that I'd return.
So, last Saturday afternoon I decided to meet a friend at Villa Maya for lunch.
The restaurant is on the Airport road, West Fort, in the heart of the city, but the area still retains some old world charm. The ambience at Villa Maya is exquisite; after all, it is a restored 18th century Dutch manor that once had ties with the Travancore royalty. The large courtyard is splendidly green, and I would recommend a table outside for dinner if you are not too finicky about the sultry Thiruvananthapuram weather. Inside, the dining room was elegantly appointed with lovely wooden furniture, large hanging mirrors, a simple chandelier, all under a wooden roof.
For starters, we ordered the Yakhni Shorba, a mutton soup served with cheese straws, and the Badami Murgh, which the chef describes as tender chicken 'enriched with almond and yoghurt.'
The soup was quite nice - a nice thick, creamy texture and very well-balanced in the spice department, but it was a touch too salty, even for someone like me who takes everything with an extra pinch of salt!
The Badami Murgh was just a regular chicken tikka masquerading as something fancier with its generous price tag! It had no special Villa Maya signature flavor or even presentation. I have had this run-of-the-mill starter everywhere.
Unimpressed, we moved over to the main course. We decided not to experiment too much, sticking to the regional regulars. We ordered the Meen Pollichathu and Villa Maya chicken biryani.
The Meen Pollichathu was seer fish wrapped in banana leaf, and it was served with some steamed rice. The biryani was garnished with boiled eggs, fried onions and cashew nuts. Both portions seemed generous and they looked good.
That opinion changed very quickly.
To put it mildly, the seer fish must have done something terrible while in waters to end up the way it did! The dark masala that marinated the fish failed miserably to come anywhere near the great central Kerala concoction that makes Meen Pollichathu such a delectable preparation, and to make matters worse, it had a tinge of sweetness, contributed perhaps by the onion paste. To top it all, the fish wasn’t fresh either. Absolute disaster.
The biryani, while not bad in itself, was exceptionally ordinary. The rice was a bit sticky and there was an unidentifiable sweetness of cashew or almond that was on the higher side. The old Azad restaurant in the city serves up a much more authentic and pocket-friendly version.
We bet our bottom dollar on dessert, deciding to try the Sri Lankan Watalappam, which is the island nation’s coconut custard pudding of coconut milk and jaggery. The dessert didn't disappoint.
The bill for two was 2,600 rupees.
Villa Maya remains at the top on TripAdvisor. The service was friendly, polite and prompt and the place was beautiful. I'd recommend it for a romantic dinner where impressing your date or taking nice pictures is more important than the food.