Despite all my gripes about the lack of non-chain dining options in Cambridge, there is one area in which the independents are going strong- and that's in the Indian restaurant sector. However the majority of these Bangladeshi operated places are generally at the cheap and cheerful end of the spectrum. And though there's nothing wrong with that, generic 'Indian' food is not something I'm particularly impressed by (possibly because I can pop home for something much nicer).
But there are exceptions to this, one of which is the Keralan restaurant Rice Boat. In the UK, 'Indian' food has tended to equate to dishes vaguely from the north of India but the south now seems to be challenging this dominance. The Rice Boat boasts authentic Keralan owners who have put together a menu with a range of south Indian favourites and some Keralan specialities. It has been a firmly established favourite of mine for some time, but as I sat down for dinner last week, I realised that I'd probably not visited it for a year or so. I'm not sure why there had been such a long gap but I hoped that my expectations which had built up over this time would not be disappointed.
And as it turned out there was no need for me to have worried as everything we ordered lived up to my memories of how good it had been on previous occasions. The menu is relatively extensive but not overblown, with lots of vegetable and seafood options (which always suits me).
Myself and the male companion person order a couple of starters to share- the squid pepper fry and and some tuna cutlets. The cutlets were dense with fish and lots of ginger, although I do still prefer my version. And in further insight into the chop/cutlet controvesy, I now think that lots of Indians consider the that the chop should be potato-based with some sort of filling inside, whereas the cutlet is a more homogeneous mix. But back to the meal- the gently sauted squid was also tasty and non-chewy, and though a bit more spice wouldn't have gone astray, they were quickly scoffed.
For mains the male companion person choose Rice Boat's 'signature dish' of Kerala red fish curry, with some coconut rice. This is identified on the menu as very spicy, and after my little taste I can attest to the accuracy of this description. But it also consisted of tender king fish and lots of other aromatic flavours behind the heat of the chillis.
I am a huge fan of the masala dosa and this is inevitably what I order whenever I get the chance. For a little variety I tried the masala dosa platter, which just adds some fried lentil dumplings or vadas on the side. For me the making of a masala dosa is the sambar and coconut chutney that are served with it. The Rice Boat dosa is irreproachable in this regard- not only was the pancake thin and crispy at the edges and packed with decent portion of cooked potatoes, the chutney was a perfect blend of fresh coconut, mustard seeds, curry leaves and whatever else they include to make it so moreish. The sambar, a soup-like hot and spicy mix of lentils and vegetables, added an ideal amount of heat to the mild filled dosa.
In terms of service my previous experiences indicate that it can be a little hit and miss, though on a quiet mid-week night it was perfectly competent with food arriving promptly but not suspiciously quickly (although the luke warm tap water was a bit of an issue).
The bill for all of the above with two beers and one non-alcoholic drink came to just under £40 (not including service), which I think is immensely good value. The overwhelming theme of all the food that I've eaten at the Rice Boat has been that it's fresh and immensely flavoursome, without ever feeling too heavy or rich. I sincerely feel that Cambridge is very lucky to have somewhere serving food like this and I hope to up my masala dosa consumption significantly in the coming year.
37 Newnham Road
Cambridge CB3 9EY