Fitzroy’s street pubs run the gamut from local boozers to whiskey specialists; however, making a unique statement amid the many pubs on Johnston Street is the Rochester Hotel. Specialising in creative fusion of flavours drawn from Kerala in southern India, the menu is a far cry from the chicken tikkas and butter chicken flogged as western-friendly ‘Indian’.
Don’t expect pub staples like the Chicken Parmigiana; instead savour the ghee roast chicken with tamarind and Kashmiri chilli. Better still, if you can withstand the heat, order the traditional Nadan Fish curry and mop it up with the flaky, layered parotta. Warning: you may be tempted to lick the bowl clean.
I managed to overcome the temptation to do that but couldn’t resist the eggplant achar served (pickles) with mint and poppadum. But I am jumping ahead. Let me start from the beginning. Ever since I heard about a Melbourne pub serving Malayali food, I’ve been curious about it. So I cancelled my diet, yet again, and headed out in my search for a delightful culinary experience.
Finding The Rochey and parking nearby was easy on a Wednesday. Exposed brick walls, dimly lit interior, funky posters and a massive bar area met the eye as we walked in. A stage for music, a DJ platform and an outdoor garden completed the contemporary pub look and feel.
We were whisked to our table of simple wood, unadorned except the dishes and cutlery for dining. The menu was interesting and a rather tough pick not because of the number of dishes but the promise of tongue tingling piquancy.
We decided to leave it to the chef who presented us with a meal that miraculously sussed out our spice tolerance quotient. The egg bonda with boiled egg, onion masala and sourdough batter came with no frills and was delicious right from the first bite. I’d go back just for the mussels in curry sauce.
For drinks we chose lager and cider even though we were tempted with the variety of alcohol on offer that go well with the cuisine. It was by no means an exhaustive list but covered enough ground from cocktails to light beverages.
The main course comprised of the aforementioned Fish Nadan, a rewarding experience for any spice lover, accompanied by the vegetarian Girija’s Thoran. The cabbage stir-fry with coconut and curry leaves offered a perfect balance to the spicy fish. For accompaniments there was a fresh salad, brown rice, yoghurt and flaky parotta.
The dishes prepared in coconut and various spices gave a zesty flavour that was further heightened with a hint of tamarind. The cuisine of Kerala is shaped by thousands of years of spice trade, influenced by Nayar Hindus, Syrian Christians, Islamic and other communities.
According to Rochey’s Chef Mischa Tropp, his interest in Kerala’s food started when he visited his mother’s ancestral land. He spent time exploring and learning the techniques, and tried different recipes. His inspiration came from the women of India, the mothers who bring warmth and love to food.
“I try to create food that may look different but is close to the taste and flavours that are authentic to Kerala, but at the same time give me the freedom to experiment,” said Mischa while happily sharing his story with us after the meal.
He was very excited about the upcoming event being held on 24 March at The Rochetser as part of Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2019. Mischa will collaborate with Harry Mangat (Biji Dining) the chef from Baba Ji, Horn Please and the team from ISH to celebrate the revolutionising of Indian food and beverage scene in Melbourne. Indian producers Avani, Domaine Simha and Nazaarey Estate Wineries will also join them for the special event.
“We wish to take Indian cuisine to the next level and present the diversity of Indian produce, food and beverage in Melbourne,” said Mischa. “We want to present the quality and variety of the food to mainstream and change perceptions about typical ‘Indian’ food,” he said.
Despite claiming to have no room left after finishing the well-balanced meal we still managed to squeeze in a delicate dessert of pineapple in coconut cream. I must say that during my first visit I struggled to find fault with the pub. The service was friendly, the menu imaginative, the food seductive and the fusion interesting. So if anyone is looking for ‘Indian but different’ do come and toast it here.