Stoke Newington favourites for many years, I was keen to try one of the outposts of South Indian restaurant Rasa. Specialising in Keralaite cuisine and particularly that from the southern part of the region, it's traditionally vegetarian or fish based, steeped in coconut, rich spices and fruit flavours and served with plain rice or flaky, butter filled parathas.
The two restaurants face each other across Stoke Newington Church Street; Rasa on one side, the more established and entirely vegetarian original and the mixed and more meaty Rasa Travancore on the other. I don't mind a vegetarian restaurant, indeed, some of my favourite restaurants are vegetarian, but given the choice, and seeing the reception that the veggie end of the Travancore menu got from my more health aware guest, we went for the meaty side of the street.
Once inside the garish pink portal, you're not transported to a open air joint on the humid Kerala coast, more a generic curry house on a suburban high street. The thick faux leather menu that clumps down does its best to get you there though. First there's the pricing, and that pleasant holiday sense of surprised “how much!”. Then there's the list of food, rich in interesting difference, a world of exotic Malabar, Keralian and Travancore rarities poetically arranged in Ariel Bold.
A starter of lamb puffs were slightly irrelevant. Homemade sausage rolls in perfectly fine pastry cocoons, the mince richly and appropriately spiced, but nothing that would be cause for more than a murmur appearing in a home packed picnic on nearby Clissold Park.
The meat free Travancore Kayi Curry was, considering the restaurant's vegetarian roots and the fact it was labelled as signature dish, surprisingly pedestrian. Potatoes, peas and carrots in a thin mild coconut curry sauce. A student staple, though at £3.90 for a big bowl, student pricing too.
Tharavu Roast Duck was a different beast altogether. A thick, technically dry curry, brought to life with a hefty whallop of black pepper, cardamom and ginger. The richness of the meat, braised and shredded, contrasted with the deep and complex sauce. Suggested with the aforementioned doughily delicious parathas, it was the sort of cooking you'd come back for again and again. I wouldn't necessarily say the same for the veggie main, but maybe that's what you cross the street for.