Kokum is right up there with the best Indian restaurants in the city. The food is excellent and the service rivals the tender beef nihari for warmth. This East Dulwich spot is firmly in our rotation of places to go when we want to be equal parts spoiled with delicate pani puri and comforted with naans glistening with ghee.
During the week, the atmosphere can be a little sleepy. But peaceful is what the couples—sitting in companionable silence, occasionally nodding their head and letting out satisfied “mmhhm” noises—are looking for. Ditto the post-work friends in full fluorescent lycra, sweating over a tadka makhani sauce with no fear of side-eye. Come the weekend, there’s a gear shift and rounds of slightly smoky, cayenne pepper-infused cosmos are dispatched to a group of indie film director types celebrating a big birthday. The best seats in the house are towards the back where it’s a little moodier and you feel in the thick of things.
Whatever night you visit, the common thread is the warm staff buzzing between everyone: anticipating the extra portion of ribs you’ll want, clearing plates before you knew the table was getting crowded, and gently suggesting a refreshing cider after catching you fanning your mouth like you’re on an episode of Hot Ones.
Even on a slow night, the food makes Kokum worth a visit. A portion of sweet, sticky, glazed pork ribs is a dish we immediately send photos of to friends with the amount of exclamation marks usually reserved for an SOS. The same goes for a spicy, fragrant biryani, loaded with lamb that's barely able to cling to a fork. Its pastry lid is pried off for you, tableside, with a level of care you come to expect from Kokum.
Tandoori Roast Cauliflower
Reaching parts of our sinuses that no Olbas stick has previously touched, the pool of tadka makhani sauce that these perfectly charred florets sit in is ferocious. In a good way. The mild nuttiness of the cauliflower was made infinitely more interesting by it.
Sticky Pork Ribs
In the battle of small handheld things on a bone, these ribs beat the butter chicken wings. There’s more meat on them and that meat is perfectly soft and covered in a glaze that’s equal parts spicy, sweet, and sticky.
Our circle of trust is this golden-edged, thin uttapam holding a hefty portion of meltingly soft 12-hour-cooked lamb. The lamb is well-spiced and wrapped up in an earthy, thick sauce that doesn’t escape the edges of the dosa. We could eat a lot of these.
This butter chicken has been a bit hit and miss when we’ve ordered it—ranging from bland to creamy and rich. Either way, there are more consistently great curries on the menu that deserve your attention instead.
Short Rib Nihari
The deep, dark brown of this curry is a clue as to the earthy, slightly smoky, slightly bitter flavour. And the meat is so soft that the short rib bone is completely bare after a few gentle nudges with a fork. No notes.
Hyderabadi Lamb Biryani
The crispy pastry top keeps the rice moist inside and is unveiled with the kind of theatre we never achieved in our school drama production. The filling is heavy on lamb and spice—a combination we’re fans of. This is an excellent biryani and one of our favourite things to order.
To be clear, the naans here are shimmering triangles of delight. They are slathered in ghee, and have blistered air pockets and soft, fluffy centres. The perfect vehicle for chasing leftover sauces around your plate. But this peshwari naan is too sweet, even for a peshwari naan. We’d stick to the others.
We usually like a looser channa masala, but the thicker sauce that coats the chickpeas here is delicious—just know it’s not the best for dunking naan in. There’s a lovely balance of tomato and garlic with cumin and ginger, and we liked the crunch and sharpness of the diced raw red onion on top too.