This amazing newcomer stands just by Hampton Court Bridge on a quiet but classy side road away from the buzzing traffic and hordes of tourists. But how disappointed those tourists will be to learn that they might well have missed visiting a rather good Keralan restaurant. Hampton Court has good transport links so those from nearer than Dubuque Iowa or Tokyo have easy access.
This leafy corner of suburban Surrey is home to well-heeled and discerning residents. They must be pleased to find a restaurant offering food the equal of that of their habitual haunts in central London. Cocum has already cultivated a good number of regulars who appreciate its cuisine and its staff. Some have even brought gifts of plants for the restaurant pots.
Cocum is just two months old but the paint is dry and the chef has evidently settled into his kitchen in fine form. It’s a charming restaurant with a bay window overlooking the street and towards the bridge. Cool spearmint-green tablecloths and South Indian crafts offer a light and summery ambiance but it’s the food that is the star here: the restaurant is even named after the spice which is ubiquitous in Keralan cuisine.
There is so much on this menu that will be unfamiliar to those more used to the regular high-street Indian restaurant. Yes, there are some favourite curries but you’ll be here at Cocum to enjoy the bounty of the Keralan regional cuisine. Produce from both land and sea, and showcasing the evocative coconut.
We started with papadoms and pickles. Nothing unusual about that, one might think. Well, actually, yes. These are not the regulation pickles that one finds in most other Indian restaurants. We were presented with a platter of home-made relishes. These change every couple of weeks so even if you visit often you’ll find different tangy delights to tingle your taste buds. We enjoyed shrimp, aubergine, lime and garlic pickles along with a mint and yoghurt dip, served with thin and crisp papad. This was the first time that either my guest or I could remember clearing the pickle tray.
Dosa is a popular item on South Indian menus. It’s striking to behold and fun to eat. I ordered the Mini Masala Dosai. A paper-thin crispy pancake made from rice and black gram lentil, filled with potato and spices and served with sambar and coconut chutney. It didn’t look very mini but compared to the regular dosa it was starter-sized. The main course version is a stunner and a very economic light meal for under £5.
My companion was intrigued by Medhu Vada. These are soft doughnuts but spiced rather than sweet. They are made from urid lentils, onion, ginger and aromatic curry leaves, served with the traditional fresh coconut chutney. He pronounced them to be delicious and well worth trying. A triumph of texture and taste.
Main course for my guest was Lamb Uluva Kootu. This was the manager’s suggestion and was a dish of great character. The large cubes of meat were cooked to melting perfection and were enhanced by the flavourful sauce of sautéed fenugreek leaves, cardamom, garlic, ginger and green chillies. Not a fiery dish but plenty of robust flavour. Okra Ullipoo was the side dish and would convert anyone who had reservations about this exotic vegetable. The okra still had good texture and was dressed in a silky sauce with the comforting flavour of roasted coriander. An ideal main dish for a vegetarian.
I chose the Cochin Prawn Curry. This was a subtle dish of succulent and very large prawns cooked with coconut and mild spices. This should surely be a signature dish. It was one of the most impressive seafood dishes I have eaten for a while. Beans Thoran was the vegetable dish alongside and it had the kind of freshness more often found in Indian home cooking. The green beans were vibrant and flecked with onion and coconut. A delightful dish with simple clean flavours.
Cocum offers a larger selection of desserts than most Indian restaurants. We chose to share a bowl of Palpayasam. Yes, dear reader, note that the portions are generous here so pace yourself if you want to try the sweets. This dessert was a creamy light rice pudding flavoured with cardamom and studded with raisins and cashew nuts. Two spoons and cups of masala tea were all that was needed as we perused the menu anew to plan for our next visit, for an encore is definitely on the cards.
Lunch: Noon to 3 pm
Dinner: 6pm to10.30pm, Friday and Saturday 6pm to 11.30pm
20, Bridge Road, Hampton Court, East Molesey, Surrey KT8 9HA
Phone: 020 8979 1531
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018