Restaurant review: Grand Tamil New Year and Vishu feast at Kalpa West Croydon, Friday 14th April

By - Thursday 4th May, 2017

It’s Tamil tapas and tasty too

Time from West Croydon:  5 minutes

5-7 St James’s Road, Croydon CR0 2SB

Photo author’s own.

I’m happy to say that Kalpa West Croydon is our local. We have a loyalty card (free ice cream!) and my boyfriend recently reviewed the place, which is run by the team behind the multiple-award-winning Karnavar in South Croydon’s Restaurant Quarter. As you’d therefore expect, it’s very good indeed.

But there’s a downside to great local curry (albeit an extremely small one) – and that’s the curry rut you inevitably dig yourself into. You order your favourite thing every time. It’s taken a while, because Kalpa West Croydon definitely isn’t your run-of-the-mill korma/madras/ vindaloo-with-a-choice-of-protein joint, and the menu was completely unfamiliar to begin with. But for sure – I am in that rut now.

So the Grand Tamil New Year and Vishu feast looked a fine chance to do something different, eat off banana leaves and go on a curry adventure.

It’s served on a banana leaf, large, smooth and happily moisture resistant

The joint was jumping (even more so than normal), as the Friday evening we went was the actual New Year feast day. It continues to be celebrated over the next three days. The waiting staff were all dressed up, as were quite a few of the diners, and Kalpa’s window was decorated with candles and fruit. There was a Bentley parked outside.

Photo author’s own.

Various regions of India celebrate New Year at different times under different names, and this was the occasion as marked in Kerala, southern India, on the first day of the month known as Medam, and is called Vishu. The proper name for the elaborate meal is sadya. It’s vegetarian, served on a banana leaf (large, smooth and happily moisture resistant), and consists of a base of matta rice topped with different sauces and ney (the same thing as ghee: warm, clarified butter), along with an amazing array of pickles and garnishes. (“Tamil tapas!” said my boyfriend, happily.)

In total, there were thirty different elements to our meal. The staff at Kalpa are really nice and tried to explain what all of them were, but we didn’t mind being left to work it out. Then, as we ate, they kept coming back, topping up our pickles, rice and sauces as needed.

I loved the purple and orange colours against the intense green of the leaf

The feast was a lot of fun. Most of it was delicious, it was all gorgeous to look at – and there’s something cool about trying totally unfamiliar food. “So what’s that one?”. “I have no idea”. (Tries it.) “Hmm, I’m getting… um… aniseed, maybe?”. Amongst my favourites were the beetroot kichadi, the pumpkin oolan (I’m sure that I was influenced here by enjoying the purple and orange colours against the intensely green banana leaf), the lime pickle, which was terrifically sour, and what I think may have been the potato stew (although those two words describe something entirely different from what this was). For Paul, a banana chip that he actually enjoyed (these were salty – who knew that was a thing?) was a revelation. The still-warm, pouch-shaped poppadum was so floaty and light that you couldn’t stick it into any of the sauces without it dissolving in your fingers.

It was all such a big success that they had no choice than to move us along and get newcomers seated; eager diners were building up on the pavement outside. So sadly, this wasn’t an evening to relax over a beer, but it’s great to see just what a hit Kalpa is. I’d not had anything quite like this before and both the food and the atmosphere were extremely enjoyable. £14 per head: the very best of living in West Croydon.

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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