In May 2020, Joe Thottungal’s restaurant Coconut Lagoon burned to the ground. Much like every restaurant owner, chef, cook, and server at that time, he was already struggling as he navigated an industry decimated by lockdowns. This was a devastating blow.
Two years and three months later, Coconut Lagoon has risen from the ashes. From the look of full houses and the hubbub of happy diners, people love the re-incarnation. While previously the restaurant offered a lunchtime buffet and dinner, now it has veered towards fine Indian dining for dinner, by reservation only. This means that Thottungal and his team know how many mouths they are cooking for — a maximum of 120 — and can reduce food waste and the hours they spend on the job.
On my first visit my guest and I opt for the six-course tasting menu; he chose the wine pairings. Our dinner was balm for the stomach and the soul. Courses roll out of the kitchen at a steady pace, beginning with a plate of miniature poppadoms, crunchy and warm, served with a tamarind and a mint chutney. The lively start was followed by creamy tomato-ginger soup, then a pair of perfectly seared scallops, slightly crisp on the outside, soft as clouds on the inside, floating on a mango curry and dressed with green curry leaves.
Next to hit the table: a small rectangle of salmon with a curried pumpkin puree — delicious, but a tad overcooked. Then comes tender chicken Quilon, served on a triangle of warm paratha bread with a refreshing smear of raita. Our final savoury course, a beef curry, perfect in its miniature portion. Dessert is two traditional dishes; baked yogurt with strawberries and a traditional rice pudding, creamy and comforting with warm spices of cloves and cardamom but made with noodles. A surprising twist.
The accompanying wines are generous and offer a trip around the globe; a white from Greece, another white from KIN Vineyards near Ottawa, a French rosé and cabernet franc, and a Spanish red. These wines are chosen by Thottungal, the house sommelier, and a teacher from the culinary program at Algonquin College. They make a fine match.
My second visit is less successful. While the flavours still pop, crab cakes are not crispy; the tail meat in a lobster masala is chewy (but the claws are fantastic); and a duck biryani, while nicely spiced, is dry, not making the most of the delectable fatty meat that can result from a good confit leg.
However, the service is lovely. Coconut Lagoon is clearly a good place to work. Servers are enthusiastic and friendly and the contemporary space positively fizzes with the sounds of diners happy to be out in a restaurant once again.
853 St. Laurent Blvd., CoconutLagoon.ca