York has a new Indian restaurant – MAXINE GORDON checks out whether the spice is right

OUR newest Indian restaurant – Kalpakavadi in Fossgate – must be doing something right. Only open for three weeks, there was a queue for a table last Saturday night.

Granted, the city was packed – the UK snooker championship was on at the Barbican, and York's Christmas markets had been heaving all day – but for a new restaurant to be so busy, so quickly, gave us high hopes of what was in store.

After a short wait, we were soon at a table for two, enjoying a refreshing beer (a Black Sheep 500ml for £4.20 and a Tiger Beer 300ml for £3.50). We enjoyed trying to decipher the menu which was packed with unusual and exciting-sounding dishes, many of which will be new to curry lovers (for example, thakkali rasam, a tomato soup flavoured with tamarind, chilli and cumin; kathrika porichath, slices of aubergine in a spicy batter with fresh tomato chutney; or kumarakom njandu masala, a crab curry).

Local fans of Indian food may well know Kalpakavadi's sister restaurant, Coconut Lagoon in York's Clarence Street. Both serve food from the Kerala region by India's tropical Malabar coast. Kalpakavadi means "land of the coconut", so not surprisingly, this ingredient features in many dishes on the menu.

Because of the novelty of it all, it took us longer than usual to make our selection – and we had to quiz our waiter about several dishes to help make our final selection.

If you like curries and are culinary-curious, Kalpakavadi is the place for you.

The food journey begins with a choice of snacks, soups and starters. My husband Nick chose Malabar fried prawns, which were a little on the pricey side at £6.99, but very tasty. They were quite small, but packed flavour being full of light and aromatic spices which had been brought to the fore by chargrilling.

I couldn't resist a chaat as my starter. This is a traditional street food snack, and one of my favourites. I love the meld of textures and flavours, all crunchy and soft, as well as sweet, hot and tangy. There is a choice of four varieties and I chose the samosa version (£4.59). It was really delicious: a nice firm vegetable samosa full of spiced potato and topped with a fruity chutney and spoonfuls of minted yoghurt and tamarind sauce. Recommended.

There was a long wait before our main courses came, which gave us time to take in the decor and setting. The restaurant is in a former bookshop near the bottom end of Fossgate. In an interesting design note, sections of cut tree are mounted on the wall in an unusual mosaic pattern. Reviewers on Trip Advisor complained of stark lighting, but we didn't find it too oppressive. What was annoying was a slamming front door which made my husband judder then gave him a headache before the meal was over.

When our mains arrived, I immediately felt I was the winner. Nick had chosen thalassery kozhi curry (£11.89), chicken in a roasted coconut and spicy sauce, with ney choru (£3.89) a Malabar speciality of basmati rice cooked with whole spices, fried onion, cashew nuts and dried fruits.

It was tasty enough, the coconut cream cooked to the point where it turns dark and almost nutty, but it was all rather one note (and one colour, dark brown) – and was served lukewarm.

In contrast, my seabass nirachathu (£16.99) had all the colours of an Indian bazaar. It was a feast for the eyes – and lived up to first impressions. The dish comprised of a whole seabass which had been marinated in spices then stuffed with chemmeen peera – a filling made of shrimps and mixed vegetables. It was grilled to perfection, the delicate white meat of the succulent fish flaking away with ease. It came with two heaps of spicy masala potatoes and fragrant rice. But the star of the show was a little cauldron of curry sauce, which brought the whole dish together. It was thick and creamy, and a mix of tomato, chilli and coconut. I want to go back to have it all again.

Often when whole fish is served in Asian restaurants it comes without a sauce – and the dish can be a bit dry and one-dimensional. So bonus points to Kalpakavadi for getting this just right.

In fact, the restaurant hardly put a foot wrong.

Despite being busy, staff were attentive, patient and enthusiastic in explaining what was in the dishes we wanted to order.

Eagle-eyed diners may spot the restaurant's slogan under its name in the restaurant. It reads: "God's Own Country Cuisine".

Cheeky, you might think (especially as Yorkshire folk may want to nominate the Yorkshire pudding for that honour).

But apparently it's not just Yorkshire that refers to itself by that grandiose title – Kerala has long described itself as God's Own Country – a phrase tourists apparently see on countless signposts and bumper stickers across the Indian state.

Judging by the food at Kalpakavadi, the title of God's Own Country Cuisine seems well deserved.

Kalpakavadi, 26 Fossgate, York

T: 01904 656662

W: kalpakavadirestaurant.com

Food: Very tasty 4/5

Service: Good 4/5

Ambience: OK 3.5/5

Value: Worth it 4/5

Reviews are independent and meals paid for by The Press