When I visited the Malabar House in March this year, Fort Kochi was buzzing with the energy of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. The art festival has ended (though many murals still colour the streets) but Fort Kochi remains a fine destination in itself, or en route to the hills of Munnar, Kovalam’s beaches, or the backwaters of Kumarakom. And a stopover at Malabar House, if only for a meal, is a great way to set the tone for a holiday. Located opposite St. Francis Church in the heart of Fort Kochi, Malabar House is run by German designer-turned-hotelier Joerg Drechsel and his Spanish wife Txuku Iriarte, who purchased the property in the mid-1990s and painstakingly converted the decrepit Indo-European bungalow into its current upscale avatar. Today, it is Joerg and Txuku’s durbar, where guests from around the world come to greet them. Malabar House’s appeal has as much to do with the charming couple as the hotel’s stylish aesthetic.
The elegant rooms are decorated with four-poster beds, Tanjore paintings, reclaimed wooden pillars, and propeller-styled ceiling fans. But there are also red bar stools and wicker chairs, brightly coloured walls, and modern pieces of art, that give it a contemporary feel. It’s tastefully done, but cosy, and the attention to detail is wonderful. My bathroom was stocked with Kama soaps and hair cleansers, specially designed jute slip-ons (not the generic towel ones), and had a large window with blinds that revealed a private patio. At the heart of Malabar House is a courtyard with a frangipani tree and swimming pool, around which the rooms are laid out. The al fresco section has an open-air café, a bar at one end, and a dais framed by totem poles where there may be performances in the evenings. This is the nucleus of the hotel, and the chief mingling point where Joerg and Txuku chat with their guests who soon turn into friends, like I did.
You don’t have to stay at the hotel to immerse yourself in Malabar House’s world. The restaurant, Malabar Junction, is open to all. Its menu is created by Txuku and perfected by Chef Manoj, who gives local favourites a Mediterranean twist. All pasta and bread is handmade, and closely supervised by the hosts. My meal of fagottini (pumpkin-stuffed bundles of pasta in saffron butter sauce, garnished with Parmesan and pumpkin seed crisps) followed by their signature chocolate samosas still lingers in my mind. When I left, I was gifted a wooden lime squeezer, a souvenir that Txuku had worked with the local craftswomen to make. I gave it to my mother, who for once, approved of my choice of gift for her.
Appeared in the November 2015 issue as “State Of The Art”. Updated in November 2017.
Accommodation Malabar House has 17 rooms and suites: the duplex Malabar Suite, five roof garden suites on the first floor, and 11 deluxe rooms on the ground floor. Some rooms opening into the courtyard overlook a pink frangipani tree, others face the street or the park, some have balconies and a few have private roof gardens. A spiral staircase leads from the ground to the first floor where the garden suites are located. The Ayurvedic spa offers fine treatments (malabarhouse.com; +91 484 2216666; doubles from ₹12,600).