After championing Keralan cuisine during his hit stint at The Rochester Hotel (locally known as the Rochy) and in-demand We Are Kerala pop-ups, chef Mischa Tropp has put down roots with his first restaurant, Toddy Shop by Marthanden Hotel, in the former Mono-XO site off Smith Street in Fitzroy.

The casual 20-seat diner sees Tropp link up with Michael Mabuti, one of the co-owners behind Filipino ice-creamery Kariton Sorbetes and upcoming Askal. Together they’ve transformed the space into a Keralan drinking den with dusty-pink and sage-green walls inside and out, black and white family photos, a portrait of Tropp’s grandma, and a record player spinning Indian disco (Tropp’s vinyl collection will soon grow to include Indian and Pakistani records from the ’60s to ’90s).

“I don’t want it to feel too much like someone’s lounge room in India, but also I want people to feel like there’s history here,” he says.

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Where in the past Tropp has served more modern interpretations of the cuisine – alongside some of the dishes he grew up eating – Toddy Shop is a celebration of home-style Keralan cooking. “I’ve got to the point of my career where [I think] traditional food’s really good and doesn’t need modernising, so there’s no garnishes, everything’s served on steel plates,” he tells Broadsheet a few hours out from opening night. We’re standing in the compact kitchen as Tropp chops up spinach for the okra pachadi, a yoghurt-based side dish similar to raita. A mixer churns dosa batter – made of fermented rice and lentils – which will be cooked into a thin crisp pancake, stuffed with curried potatoes and served with peanut chutney.

“It’s partially for south Indians – a place where the community can feel a bit of home,” says Tropp, who’s spent a lot of time eating throughout south India, including the region’s widespread toddy shops – named for the sparkling, milky-white brew made from the fermented sap of toddy palms that’s served there. More recently, the bars have become better known for their food, he says. “It’s rich, it’s spicy, it’s probably one of the best versions of Keralan food you can get. If you speak to anyone from Kerala, that’s the food they want to eat and that’s the food they miss.”

The menu at Tropp’s Toddy Shop features rotating mains like dry pork or beef fry (pieces of meat cooked in lots of spices and their own juices until “caramelised and bouncy”) and the fiery fish nadan (a traditional and spicy fish curry) he served at the Rochy. Plus mainstays like kadala (a chickpea curry cooked with coconut and mustard seeds), Tropp’s mum’s cabbage thoran (stir-fried cabbage with coconut, turmeric and curry leaves) and flaky paratha flatbread. “This is everyday food,” says Tropp.

As for the drinks, there are plenty of cocktails that incorporate Indian flavours including a boozy Darjeeling iced tea for two, as well as crisp lagers from Bangalore’s Kingfisher and Victoria’s Two Rupees Brewing to help temper the heat of the dishes.

Toddy Shop by Marthanden Hotel
Rear 191 Smith Street (enter via Charles Street), Fitzroy
No phone

Wed & Thu 5pm–11pm
Fri & Sat midday–11pm
Sun midday–9pm