The pandemic and a definitive shift to OTT platforms created a pan-Indian audience for Malayalam cinema like never before. Premam (2015) was one of Malayalam cinema’s biggest blockbusters and preceded this wave. One of the key locations in this love story for all ages is an atmospheric cafe in Kochi. Kochi’s status as a hipster magnet has been further consolidated by its eclectic array of cafes where locals and tourists escape the real world into these bubbles where time almost stands still.
Stunning backwater views at Grand Hyatt Kochi’s alfresco lounge cafe
The Grand Lounge at Grand Hyatt Kochi extends into an alfresco deck overlooking the picturesque Vembanad LakeCourtesy www.hyatt.com
I’m filled with nostalgia each time I’m back in Kerala’s financial capital, Kochi. I would spend a month here every summer vacation when I was in primary school. Bolgatty Island, a small island close to the main city, is one such nostalgia zone. Back then it was best known for the Bolgatty Palace resort that still functions.
The area is now home to the Grand Hyatt Kochi, the city’s largest luxury hotel that also merges seamlessly with the Lulu Bolgatty International Convention Centre. Like most guests at the hotel, I gravitate towards the Grand Lounge that extends to an alfresco deck. The view from this cafe is almost unparalleled in the city; it’s almost where the past meets the present. You are on the edge of the Vembanad Lake where houseboats and ferries disappear into the sunset. You will see some of the city’s new high-rise buildings and modern bridges in the distance. This is one of the zones where you can find your zen moment and one of the only cafes that serves artisanal cocktails. The food menu is a typical all-day menu with a Middle Eastern cuisine slant – their cold mezze platters are a must-try.
Pepper House, a spice warehouse turned cafe
Pepper House is known as Cafe Agape thanks to Malayalam blockbuster ‘Premam’ and (right) Fennel Lemonade.Ashwin Rajagopalan, @pepperhousekochi/Instagram
Things slow down once you cross over to Fort Kochi, the western coastal part of Kochi. This is where European colonial powers flexed their muscles to control the lucrative spice route. Each of the area’s spice warehouses have their own story to tell. The Pepper House is one such waterfront heritage building that I first walked through during the inaugural Kochi-Muziris Biennale in 2012-13. It is made up of two godowns that are split by a typical Dutch-era courtyard. Part of it has been converted into an atmospheric cafe (the filming location for Premam) where their invigorating coffee and refreshing summer beverages provide comfort. I returned to the cafe during the current edition of the Biennale (it’s on till April 10), and it still exudes the same charm.
Step into the Portuguese era at the newly-opened Lila Art Cafe
Lila Art Cafe is an experiential space that curates food, art and performancesAshwin Rajagopalan
My new favourite is Lila Art Cafe that has the hues of unapologetic femininity. The promoters call it an experiential space that curates food, art and performances. The building dates back more than four centuries to Kochi’s Portuguese era — the promoters are still trying to piece together all the legends and facts that surround this historic building. It combines an art gallery, a home improvement store and a laidback cafe with multiple sections. I’d recommend the section that overlooks the street especially if you’re dining solo. The cafe opened just a few weeks ago but has already created a buzz around its Kandhari Prawn Croissant and the Buckeye Brownie slathered with peanut butter and dark chocolate.
Kochi’s first vegan stop, Loving Earth Cafe
Vegan and hipster often go hand-in-hand. Which is why I was surprised it took a while for Fort Kochi’s first vegan cafe to make its debut. Loving Earth Cafe combines a yoga space with a charming cafe – the garden seating area transports you to an idyllic tropical getaway even on a sultry afternoon. The cafe’s unique cashew-based vegan cheese (try the cheese toast and pizzas) is a big draw with die-hard vegans; the menu also features a range of wholesome bowls and juices.
Kochi’s love affair with French Toast
Breakfast at Loafer’s Cafe Corner and Hot Chocolate at French ToastAshwin Rajagopalan
Kochi loves its French Toast, there’s Loafers Corner Cafe that serves its French Toast throughout the day. Two fluffy brown bread slices complement a mini fruit platter in this charming eatery with multiple cosy nooks. There’s even a hidden courtyard tucked away in one corner of this cafe.
Kashi Art Cafe blurs the lines between an art gallery and a cafe. Some of the objets d’art make for interesting photographs but you’re more likely to photograph their French Toast for Instagram traction.
Kashi Art Cafe
French Toast is also the name of one of the city’s most popular hangouts located in the swish Panampilly Nagar residential district. The Strawberry Mascarpone Pastry with fresh coconut is the latest chapter in Kerala’s fusion of international and local ingredients. But French Toast’s true claim to fame is its hot chocolate – the best in the city by a distance. The perfect nightcap after a day well spent exploring Kochi’s trails and eclectic cafes that almost serve as a seamless link between the Cochin of the past and the Kochi we know in the 21st century.