``Don’t waste the fish head. You should just crunch it. It’s the tastiest part.’’ The person who shared my table just couldn’t stand my clumsy ways of eating the fried mackerel. I tried my best to be dexterous with the hot, spicy fish, as discarding any part of it was regarded as an offence by him.
That was understandable, for the fish was too good to be wasted, even if you were on to your third plate. What Moideen served at Ustaad Hotel at Vizhinjam, just about half an hour’s drive from Thiruvananthapuram city, was better than some of the best fish I had in recent times.(The restaurant had no name before the 2012 Malayalam movie of the same name, the owner told me.) I ordered tuna, vela and mackerel. Only steamed tapioca and rice puttu were available for lunch, and I opted for the former.
The tuna and vela arrived piping hot; Moideen fried them after I placed the order. The chunks were succulent and just enough spicy for my palate. The two full mackerels were deep fried and really crunchy. I polished off the plate of tapioca, dunking in fish gravy along with the fried pieces.
The specialty of the restaurant is the in-house masala used to marinate the fish. Being so close to the Vizhinjam harbor, this family run eatery uses fish from the day’s catch; so there is no fixed menu as such, and you got to take your potluck when you go there. And yes, they serve only seafood. Moideen, the owner’s son who was in charge of the place in the afternoon, told me there would be more dishes for the evening. So I went back to Ustaad Hotel a week later to try its evening fare.
Well, it was another round of indulgence with seafood, this time with some appams. I ordered mussels and prawns. I found the combination a bit odd, as we usually eat appams with stew. But there wasn’t much choice. The bill came to below 500 rupees on both the occasions.
Would I again go back to Ustaad Hotel, now for dinner, may be? Well, I would, but not immediately. Though the fish fries were nice as I said before, the basic masala remained the same for everything on offer. I wish they had more variety in terms of recipes.
And those who are used to only fine dining should leave behind the accepted norms you would expect in a restaurant while going to Ustaad Hotel. Ustaad Hotel is a shack among a row of shops near the Vizhinjam harbor. The crockery is chipped, there aren’t any proper dining tables and chairs, and it only has a makeshift sink. So those of you who aren’t exposed to such places, may find the restaurant really odd.
Thanks to some WhatsApp group messages by foodies in Thiruvananthapuram, the restaurant has somewhat become popular, as was evident from the crowd I saw on both my visits. It’s there on Google Maps too. So may be it's worth a drive to Ustaad Hotel if you aren’t really bothered about the ambience and just want to eat some nice, fresh seafood.
How to get there: While driving from Thiruvananthapuram city, take the NH 47 bypass to Kovalam. From Azhakulam junction, which comes after Kovalam, take the Vizhinjam harbor road. Just before the road comes to an end, take the left deviation which goes to the fishing harbor. Ustaad Hotel is on this road near the Vizhinjam Juma Masjid.