Castle Hill could be thought of something of Cambridge's Curry Mile, but unlike the others in this stretch, and carrying on the tradition started by its predecessor, the Raj Malabar, Cocum specialises in Keralan cuisine. Named after a traditional spice, Cocum, which opened in early 2009, boasts that it is quite unlike any other Indian restaurant in Cambridge. This means that if you fancy 'your usual', they may not serve
The menu is listed by ingredients not by types of curry, and some are wonderfully descriptive
it (though the quintessential chicken tikka masala still figures), but if you fancy something tasty, lightly fragranced, light and tasty, Cocum could be a good choice.
71 Castle Street's previous incarnation, the Raj Malabar, was painted solely in a gaudy orange. Cocum has toned down this colour scheme, opting for a beautifully verdant shade of green instead. It seems appropriate that this oasis of flavours is located next to well-established beauty salon Janet Martin, as the atmosphere, far from being loud and gaudy, is a sea of calm, reflected in the clean wooden flooring, and pictures of Keralan landscapes on the walls - all clear blue waters, boats and palm trees.
The menu is listed by ingredients not by types of curry, and some are wonderfully descriptive: "from the Fisherman's net" lists a range of fish dishes including chemmen asadh, a creamy coconut prawn curry; and "from Kerala's vegetable backyard" lists an impressive range of vegetarian dishes. The menu also lists a wide range of dosas, pancakes served with lentil and vegetable curry, and chutney, which are a staple dish of southern India. There are also no fewer than eleven desserts, including the papalaysam, which is listed on the menu as "an ambrosia from Heaven".
We opted for the vegetable kootu, a creamy curry of mixed vegetables with a mild, cashew nut sauce with the delicious lemon rice; and lamb tomato kurukku, which is a dish of cubes of lamb, cooked with lamb, cashew nuts and Keralan spices. The portion sizes were just right - there was no feeling of being full to bursting, and the flavours are delicate and fragranced, rather than being so spicy that eating it becomes a challenge. The key word is light, rather than heavy, and the staff were willing to make recommendations on meal choices. Cocum also offers a delivery service within a three mile radius.
If we had one small criticism, it would be that some of the more hidden décor (such as the toilets) didn't quite match up to the high standards of the rest of the restaurant, but we are sure this is just a teething problem and it will soon become one of the hidden gems of Cambridge.
If you would like something different, as break from the usual slightly beer-soaked vindaloo, rogan josh or thal, the top of Castle Hill could well be a good option. Next time we'll be back to see if the papalaysam really does live up to its description.