I'm seated at Thai Soul, Kochi's first true-blue Thai restaurant at the Grand Hyatt Kochi Bolgatty. I can't help eavesdropping on a conversation where the 'order taker' is attempting to take a bunch of diners through the menu. He doesn't have to. These diners like many of Kochi's well-heeled know their Thai. For long India's mini metros took cues from the larger metropolitan cities. This was certainly the case when it came to dining and restaurant trends. Kochi has set its own path in the 2010s. This is a rare city where the city's restaurant and food scape has been shaped by locals, tourists and the state's large diaspora, who have experimented with a variety of cuisines in cities like Dubai. Kochi's best dining experiences are an eclectic mix of traditional eateries, cafes housed in colonial era buildings and high-end dining experiences where the food is top class.
Here's our best pick for restaurants in Kochi:
Kashi Art Cafe
One of the best adverts for Fort Kochi's fascinating cafe wave. Kashi is one of those oases where Indian and overseas tourists can spend hours over a late breakfast - their French toast is a true Instagram phenomenon. It's one of the city's most atmospheric dining spaces where object d'art merges seamlessly with the interiors. The cafe is housed in one of Fort Kochi's heritage buildings and is a big draw with locals and tourists alike.
Where: Burgher Street, Fort Kochi.
Kayees Rahmatulla Cafe
It's impossible to pick the perfect time to visit this cult restaurant in one of Mattancherry's busiest streets. I discovered that 11:30 am is too early and 12:30 pm is too late for lunch. It's almost impossible to snag a table after 12 noon and the restaurant runs out of its signature mutton biryani in no time. The biryani is served with the traditional Malabari accompaniments - date chutney and onion raita (what the locals call Salad).
Where: New Road, Mattancherry
Imagine a whole restaurant dedicated to Kerala's quintessential breakfast dish - Puttu. The brainchild of Malayalam superstar - Dileep, this restaurant takes the humble puttu and elevates it to a gourmet experience. There's puttu in every conceivable form - their biryani puttus (I'd recommend the prawn version) are a must try. The innovation doesn't stop with the savoury versions. I also tried an audacious chocolate puttu that tasted surprisingly good.
Where: Service Road, Edappally
Mullapanthal Toddy Shop
Don't leave Kochi without checking out one of the city's bubbling F&B trends - the toddy shop experience. For long, the toddy shop was the quintessential male space where the food - though delicious, was always the side show. Mullapanthal is one of the many toddy shops that have transformed into magnets for families and local foodies, alike, who can't get enough of the authentic, often fiery cuisine. Some of this toddy shop's signatures include their karimeen (pearl spot) polichatu and duck mappas.
Where: MLA Road, Thrippunithara
French Toast might not boast of a location that can rival some of Fort Kochi's cafes that were once historic buildings or spice warehouses. Located in one of Ernakulam's swish residential neighbourhoods, this is the local hub for hipsters and families, alike. With a typical International cafe menu, this is perfect for a catch up or a late lunch. French Toast serves some of the city's most scrumptious desserts and pastries. Try their strawberry and mascarpone pastry with a local twist - fresh coconut. They also serve a mean cup of hot chocolate.
Where: Ambikapuram Road, Panampilly Nagar
Thai Soul, Grand Hyatt Kochi Bolgatty
Kochi's first Thai restaurant puts the spotlight on street food and rounds up the finest from across the country's five broad culinary regions. The popular Gai Hor Bai Toey - deep-fried chicken in locally sourced pandanus leaves is one of the restaurant's most popular dishes. Also try their refreshing pomelo salad or one of their fragrant curries. The traditional thap thim krob (water chestnut rubies in coconut milk) gets a slight tweak with the addition of jackfruit slivers.
Where: Grand Hyatt Kochi Bolgatty, Bolgatty Island
East Indies, Eight Bastion
The dining space at the Eight Bastion, a contemporary hotel that celebrates Kochi's Dutch connection. The menu is one of Kochi's most creative and features a fascinating interplay between local cuisine and Dutch and western influences. There's also a smattering of South East Asian cuisine that makes a connection with the Dutch spice route - their Indonesian style Pork udon is terrific. It's almost as popular as their Creme Brulee French toast. If you're in doubt, just ask for one of their tasting menus.
Where: Eight Bastion, Napier Street, Fort Kochi
Rice Boat, Taj Malabar Resort and Spa
It is one of the first restaurants to showcase traditional Kerala cuisine in a fine dining setting. The restaurant is set up in a luxury boat and features fresh catch of the day on the menu. From fresh local pearl spot and prawns to mussels and squid, this is every seafood lover's dream dining experience. The restaurant also offers a unique fishing experience (for residents at the hotel), where you can watch the fish you 'hook' cooked to your specification.
Where: Taj Malabar Resort and Spa, Willingdon Island
Nasi and Mee
Kochi became the third home for this pan-Asian restaurant chain that has already wowed diners in Bengaluru and Chennai. The interiors follow the same vibrant template and the menu features signature dishes from the region that regulars keep coming back for. The prawn hargao (dim-sums) and the eponymous Nasi Goreng are among these signatures. This restaurant clearly loves its Milo. Do check out their iced Milo and Milo Panna Cotta, an interesting spin on a classic Italian dessert.
Where: Mullassery Canal Road, Shenoys