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Restaurant review: Exceptional Travancore is a terrific South Indian addition for Aberdeen curry fans

Travancore offers fine South Indian cuisine in the heart of Aberdeen. All pictures by Paul Glendell
Travancore offers fine South Indian cuisine in the heart of Aberdeen. All pictures by Paul Glendell

It’s a terrible thing to have temptation put in your way when you’re trying to be good.

Take, for example, a recent visit to Run4It to pick up new shoes for the marathon training I’m now fully involved in– complete with watching what I eat – only to discover a spanking new Indian restaurant two doors up.

The strong-willed would have walked on by and not given it a second thought. I, on the other hand, stopped and gazed at the menu in the window of Travancore and was busy booking a table even as I was walking back down Union Street.

South Indian cuisine from Kerala, you say? I’ll have some of that, thanks very much.

So a couple of days later – and a couple of long runs in to compensate for stuffing my face – my missus and I fetched up at this compact and stylish little eatery.

Travancore offers a warm welcome in a lovely space for dining.

The Venue

It’s a lovely little spot, a muted colour palette with plenty of mirrors and prints picked out with clever lighting and wooden tables that verge on the rustic.

Wood is a bit of a theme, with even the menus bound with a nicely curved and arty piece.

The menu itself is a bit of an art, including an “insight” into Travancore, with a quick history of what was once a princely state in its own right on the Malabar coast and is now part of Kerala

Everything you want to know about the region’s cuisine is here – boasting a fusion of Malabari, French and Arabian cultures to enhance Kerala’s own culture.

The bit that drew my attention was how every spice used in Kerala cooking is either a preservative or an antiseptic, making it among the healthiest cuisines in India. Which meant I could go curry-tastic without feeling guilty. Well, too guilty.

The humble pre-meal snack is taken to new heights by Travancore in Aberdeen.

The Food

There are things on Travancore’s menu that are new to me – which is always a delight for a veteran curry eater who sometimes thinks he’s seen it all and eaten it too.

Even the humble snacks and pickles to get you going have been revived and refreshed at this Holburn Street spot.

Sure, there’s the ubiquitous pappadam, but in the mix is also a crunchy star-shaped achappam made from deep-fried rice flour studded with black sesame and cumin seeds, then there’s the battered and deep-fried pappadam (a bit of Scottish fusion, eh?) plus some banana chips for good measure.

And did I mention the stunning pickles and chutneys that blended fiery spice and silky sweetness?

It all arrived artfully (there’s that word again) arranged on a silver platter. Sorry to bang on about a course that should just be taken for granted. but these were snack royalty.

Travancore’s paper masala dosa is a huge – in every sense of the word – treat.

Moving swiftly on, we decided to kick the proper courses off with a paper masala dosa – a crepe of rice batter and lentil stuffed with a potato and veg mix.

It arrived to the pair of us going “oh my word” and taking photos of the thing. It was huge, lolling off either side of a serving platter, with some fiery sambal selections on the side.

The batter was light and crispy while the filling was dense and tattie-ish but shot through with the subtlest of spices.

Confession time. We had thought this was a starter but it arrived at the same time as our mains. Not a problem, though, because it complemented our choices superbly well.

My other half had gone with the Malabar chicken curry, a rich dish that packed a punch, with its blend of pungent spices – like cassia – and sweet notes.

The dark and fiery Malabar chicken curry from Travancore on Holburn Street in Aberdeen.

The chicken was just perfectly cooked, while the heat quotient started off tame but built up to let you be in no doubt chilli was involved in the making of this curry. Dark, liquoricey and fiery, it was exceptional.

Meanwhile, I had decided the Travancore fish curry was the way ahead. Normally, I avoid fish in Indian cuisine, always thinking it’s too delicate an ingredient to stand up to the sort of spice onslaught I adore.

This was a dish that changed my mind. It was an absolute explosion of flavours, ranging from sweet to tangy but with a bit of fire to remind you this was a curry to reckon with.

How did the fish fare? Well, I’m not too sure what king fish is, but I can tell you it would be a foolish spice that thinks it can take on this bad boy and win. Think fish squared. It was very much front and centre of the palate balance on offer.

Pungent, powerful and perfect – Travancore fish curry is a delight.

A strong flavour like that needs a side dish that can stand up to it. Which is where the lemon rice came in.

It had a huge citrus burst with undertones of heat from the mustard seeds and dried red chilli it is cooked with. Every mouthful reminded you this was a dish in its own right and not some bland platform for the mains. It was perfect with the fish curry and only served to enhance the chicken offering.

With a couple of chapatis to mop up the sauces, we were two very happy – and stuffed – curry fans.

Travancore has a welcoming atmosphere and friendly, helpful staff.

The verdict

South Indian cuisine has grown in popularity in recent years in our neck of the woods, but Travancore really does bring something fresh and fascinating to the marketplace.

This was a rare and exceptional meal that didn’t put a foot wrong, served by some of the friendliest people you can meet, happy to guide you through some of the lesser-known nuances of the menu.

And when the bill arrived – in a lovely little wooden casket – it was a pleasantly reasonable price at £51.24 considering the quantity and quality of food we had enjoyed, with a couple of Kingfishers in there, too.

So, next time I head for Run4It, I’ll probably end up booking Travancore as well. On second thoughts, let’s just book Travancore.


Address: 11 Holburn Street, Aberdeen, AB10 6BS

01224 588909

Price: £51.24

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