26 Aug 2014

Al Mirage

5 August 2014 – Al Mirage: A curry haze

Many times I’ve passed Al Mirage and questioned whether my eyes deceived me or not – how could any curry house try and upstage Mirch Masala at such close proximity? Nevertheless, this restaurant really does exist right next door and, as such, has to be counted in its own right.

Like two nomads, we wandered towards Al Mirage in search of another curry oasis. Here’s what we found...



Venue

Whilst most locals will be familiar with the virtues of Mirch Masala, I’m not certain the same can be said of its neighbour Al Mirage. However, one could be forgiven for assuming Al Mirage was the more famed of the two, given its more prominent position on the corner of Kellino Street and its more eye catching frontage. With glass walls and brightly lit interior it has a more welcoming feel than its rather understated rival next door. However, when seeing its palm tree logo and shabby chic exterior I can’t help but compare it to something out of Lego’s Paradisa range. Inside, a spiral staircase completes this allusion, as does the somewhat low budget, faux brickwork that fills two circular wall alcoves.


Recent refurbishments have been made, but the overall feel is one of incompleteness. The cut away first floor, staircase and overall space suggests Al Mirage has potential, but an idle fridge (more on this later) situated in the dining area sums up the haphazard layout and seemingly unfinished interior design.

The local scene is hardly awash with seven-star, Abu Dhabi-style lavishing, but Al Mirage doesn’t seem to be taking advantage of its assets. This can be summed up by empty tables, while punters queue next door. 5/10 for venue.

Starters and sides

Grilled masala fish
Roghni naan
Peshwari naan


Feeling a bit worse for wear, we took it easy on the starters and shared a grilled masala fish that came with cucumber and lettuce. Not the highest marks for presentation, and the coating looked a little over done, but generally the fish was tasty, with a nice kick to it.

No rice on this occasion, but the naans were ample. Both were decent with a fluffy and buttery texture, but this wasn’t consistent throughout.

Without much to go on, we’ll be generous with a 7 out of 10.

Curry

Tropical chicken balti
Lamb peshwari gosht

Sticking with our policy of choosing the most interestingly named items on the menu we went for the tropical chicken balti that lived up to its fruity name with a lovely tangy taste.

The peshwari gosht had a strong tomato richness and the lamb was just the right side of fatty, retaining its taste without being too gristly.

All in all, these were two strong performers with more texture that other creamier dishes on the high street. 7/10.

Staff

The staff ratings got off to a good start with a friendly hello upon entry, but the waiter did his best to undermine this positive first impression by giving condescending responses to our questions. After asking us how hot we’d like our dishes, he almost sniggered at our response of ‘medium’ as if we were a couple of amateurs. He then proceeded to bang my chair with the fridge door when he opened it to get our drinks out. A simple 'excuse me' would have sufficed, or better still don’t put the fridge there in the bloody first place! Luckily a friendly chat with another colleague redeemed the score a little, and Tom noticed that there was severe crossover between waiting and cooking suggesting a multi-talented workforce. However, we can’t be sure this wasn’t just disorganisation and the benefit of the doubt was lost when my chair got banged for a second time. He also attempted to clear my plate half way through the meal. 5/10.



Value for money
Al Mirage is a dry restaurant and not BYO so a point lost for VFM there, but prices are fairly standard. Nothing notable with portion size or quality so won’t get top marks, but all in all no complaints. 7/10.

Summary

With a name like Al Mirage, I was hoping to make a pun around 'seeing is believing', but it is more or less what you see is what you get. Once through the looking glass, the inside lacks character and recent updates fail to leave you impressed. The waiting staff are a mixed bunch and there isn't the buzz of next door. Shame, because I'm a big fan of Lego Paradisa. 32/50.

24 Jun 2014

Rayyan's

3 June 2014 - Rayyan’s: Gosling down the curry


When we heard that Manchester United and Wales footballing legend, Ryan Giggs had opened up a restaurant in Tooting, called Ryan’s we thought it must be a lie.

It was.

When instead we heard that, rather than being a gastronomic venture by an ex-professional sportsman, Rayyan’s was a spin off from the guys behind Mirch Masala, the truth could not have been more welcome.

Then, when we heard that Rayyan’s is BYO we just had to get down there and check it out.

We were joined again by Liam who, for his third outing with us, gets… absolutely nothing.

Here’s what we thought.

Venue

This is another relatively new restaurant that has cropped up along Mitcham Road, away from the livelier High Road. Whilst this area of Tooting doesn’t traditionally draw the curry crowd, Rayyan’s may soon buck the trend. By their own bold claim they are ‘Pioneers of karahi’, a tag which not only suits their borderline location, but also the fresh look and feel of the restaurant.

Space is often at a premium in local curry houses, but at Rayyan’s tasteful uplighting and contemporary art brighten white walls and give the restaurant a light and airy feel. Whilst the low number of diners may have helped build this illusion there was certainly a more relaxed vibe, almost Mediterranean villa-esque. The brown leather furniture is also a bit more upmarket from the standard IKEA cheap seats found elsewhere and tasteful Indian pop adds a touch of authenticity.

All in all, a very pleasant addition to the scene and it even has its own TV advert (see Rayyan’s Facebook page) which deserves recognition. 8/10.

Starters and sides

Popadoms
Tandori mixed grill
Garlic naan
Kulcha naan
Peshwari naan
Two pilau rice



The popadoms to start with were average, but the accompanying salad was atypically fresh and a sign of better things to come. This came in the form of a deliciously juicy tandoori mixed grill which, as fate would have it, had three of each item; one kebab, chicken tikka, lamb tikka and lamb chop for each of us.

Tom then went naan mad (once again) and ordered a garlic, a kulcha and a peshwari naan to go with two pilau rice in some sort of carb loading frenzy. The garlic was slightly over done and all three weren’t as fluffy and light as can be found elsewhere. Unsurprisingly, whilst decent, the volume defeated us in the end, but this isn’t factored into the score of 7 out of 10, driven up by the succulent mixed grill.

7/10

Curry

Karahi Fish
Shank Murg Chana
Afghan Karahi Lamb



We followed a recommendation on the Afghan Karahi lamb and it didn’t disappoint. Whilst not as sizeable as Namak Mandi’s offering the flavours did match and a bite into the on-the-bone pieces revealed an irresistibly pink and tender centre.

The Shahi Murgh Chana was chosen on name alone and despite this relatively fancy label, this lentil based dish was rather non-descript. However, the Karahi Fish was out of this world. The fish almost melted into the curry on your fork creating a taste sensation, one of the best curries we've had; no visit should exclude it.

8/10.

Service

The guys here were friendly and very attentive. It may have been driven by a sparse Tuesday night crowd and our lingering presence, but they continually asked us if everything was ok. A vainer man might think it was due to our growing local celebrity, but I’m sure the reality was that they just wanted us to hurry up and leave. However, they did invite us to stick around just a little while longer with free kulfi – a nice touch that was greatly appreciated and which increases our service rating. 8/10.

Value For Money

At £48 for three, this isn’t the cheapest venue, but we did over do the naan order and £16 each for the feast we had was more than fair. Plus, when you throw in the free ice cream and BYO this is certainly good value. 7/10.

Summary

Overall, this slightly more premium offering from the guys behind Mirch Masala ticks all our boxes and has made us think twice about sticking to the well-trodden path of Tooting High Street. The curries may look a pound or two more and you can find better naans, but the contemporary surrounds and option to bring your own alcohol make this a place well worth adding to any Tooting curry fan’s hit list. This sentiment is reflected in our overall score of 38/50 placing Rayyan’s firmly in the Champions League spots of our leaderboard, something Giggsy himself would envy right now.

26 Apr 2014

Cinnamon Garden

15 April 2014 - Cinnamon Garden: Off the beaten track


Ever the pioneers, we took a punt on this Tooting newbie. So new, in fact, that Google hadn’t even found it yet, but that didn’t stop us putting it on the map. As with many new discoveries, Cinnamon Garden can be found on the path less travelled, in this instance about half way between Tooting Broadway and Tooting station on the Mitcham Road. This was new territory to Tom and me so we had our wits about us. However, for some reason Tom was dragging a pink carry on bag around with him and as a result we were drawing a lot of unwanted attention. So much so, we ducked in to the Long Room for a cheeky pre-poppadom pint and to regain some dignity and composure. Once these were sunk we ventured to the Garden, Tom still shamelessly with the aforementioned, lady’s bag still in tow.

Venue

Situated away from the high street, Cinnamon Garden is always going to suffer from low footfall. Despite reassurance from our host that weekends are busy, on our visit we were the only diners for most of our stay. It’s a good job then that the sole menu available wasn’t in high demand. Yes, that’s right, I said ONE menu. As absurd as that sounds, I’m not joking. It wasn’t a special menu either, it was an A4 piece of paper that had seen better days. It looked like it had been folded in the waiter’s pocket all day, a really sorry sight indeed. One can only assume that, being a new restaurant, the leather bound menus hadn’t arrived yet, either that or the ink in the colour printer had run out.



Aside from the dearth of menus the rest of the restaurant was relatively pleasant. A new lick of lime green paint (which seems to be the local curry house colour of the month) coats the walls along with a tasteful mural of a Sri Lankan palace veranda. Elsewhere, bright paintings fill the spaces around a full length mirror adorning the left hand wall.



The furniture seems a bit out of sort with incongruously black, red and white chairs tucked around wood finish tables suggesting a misplaced order or IKEA stock issues. On the contrary, the tins of pop (including both 7UP , Sprite, Pepsi and Coke) were well ordered in the fridge counter at the back, but they also proved to be an indicator of the no alcohol policy.

All in all, despite its diminutive size airing on the side of cute, we have to mark this place down for its far flung location, lack of customers and menu shortage. It’s also fallen into the trap of the Spice + Location naming convention which I can’t decide whether I like or not. Either way, it’s a 5/10.

Sides and Starters

2 Poppadoms
Coconut rice
2 Potato parathas

We were slightly nervous about what was coming next following Menu-gate and the poppadoms left us even more doubtful about our decision to venture so far away from the Upper Tooting Road. These were the worst poppadoms we've had yet and undoubtedly of the microwave variety. Luckily they were redeemed by some fresh potato parathas and reasonable coconut rice that came with out mains. In hindsight, it may be that poppadoms aren’t their preferred offering, but then don’t put it on the menu…the only menu. 5/10.

Curry

Prawn Curry
Aubergine Curry
Chicken Kothu

It’s fair to say, by this point we weren’t too hopeful about the mains, especially as the range of choice was limited. Fortunately, we were pleasantly surprised. Being the only customers seemed to be to our advantage as all the dishes were freshly made. So much so that the chicken kothu was the best we’ve had as a result. The portion was also pretty sizeable given its extremely low price. The aubergine curry was similarly decent with a good creamy texture while the prawn curry had a pleasant kick from the mix of Sri Lankan spices and tamarind. However, there are certainly more textured and unique dishes elsewhere. The generic curry names are perhaps a reflection of this. Whilst not disappointed we weren’t left raving. 6/10.

Service

Despite not speaking a word of the Queen’s, our host was a very affable chap. He was as quick to apologise for the lack of menus as he was to ask us if everything was alright with our meal. Being one of few staff we’ve come across to offer spontaneous chit chat, we have to look on him kindly. 7/10.

Value For Money

Coming in at £18.50 it was amongst the cheapest curry we’ve consumed. To give you an idea, the prawn curry was the most expensive thing on the menu at £5. We left stuffed for under £10 each, proving our walk to Cinnamon Garden to be worth it after all (and a decent bit of post-feed exercise). Poppadoms aside this was an absolute bargain – 8/10.

Summary

This was never going to be top of our list when we started out on this curry adventure (not least because it didn’t exist back then), but it’s not to be walked past (if indeed you do at all).

The kothu was the standout dish and given the low low price, it’s worth popping into the Cinnamon Garden just to give it a try. I believe they do takeaway too, although the lack of physical menus seems to have made its way online making ordering slightly difficult, for now at least.

So, if you can find this place and can find the means to order then do so, if not, please at least confirm to me that it exists and that I didn’t just make all of this up. 31/50

18 Mar 2014

Mango Palace

6 March 2014 - Mango Palace: Man go home, full


Urged by the establishment themselves on the Twittersphere to review their South Indian wares, we popped into Mango Palace to see if their bite was up to their bark. Walking past the likes of Radha Krishna Bhavan and Dosa n Chutny on the way, we were reminded of the company this establishment was keeping and hoped it would live up to its neighbours’ standards. Would Mango Palace offer a royally juicy feed or leave a sour taste in the mouth…

Venue

On first hearing, Mango Palace evokes images of juice filled fountains shimmering beneath fruity minarets– a thought difficult to resist for anyone, I’m sure. Not since James and the Giant Peach or Spongebob Squarepants’ Pineapple house have I been this excited about a fruit based dwelling. However, the reason you haven’t witnessed a gigantic Mango-shaped building on your way to Sainsburys is that the restaurant is, in fact, far less atypical. A shame, but nonetheless unsurprising. In fact, the reality is even a little disappointing. There isn’t a lot that stands out to give this place its own personality. Despite the odd, traditional Keralan mask on the wall, and a golden bar in the corner, the rest of the restaurant could have been in any typical high street curry house. On this occasion the atmosphere was also a bit flat too, although the quirky [Keralan?!] music – a strange mash up of Sigur Ros and Smurfs go pop - was some compensation for the lack of clientele.

5/10 for venue, but the food is what we came for, so was it redeeming enough?

Sides and Starters

Poppadoms
Sambar vadai
Devilled Chicken
Garlic Paratha
Peshwari Naan
Coconut rice

After some poppadoms with a notable raita dip and some eponymous chutney, we admired the quirky headers on the menu. Aroused by names such as Sensational Starters and Tongue Tinglers we were in too much of a flutter to order for ourselves so decided to leave the menu choices to our host, who willingly obliged. However, thinking I knew better, I still ordered a vadai off my own volition – a soft doughnut made of black gram, ginger, onions, curry leaves and chillies. Unfortunately, it came floating in a bowl of raita which left the vadai soggy and me with proverbial egg on my face.

We took the waiter’s advice on the rest of the food which proved more fruitful. The first recommendation was the devilled chicken which lived up to its tongue tingling reputation in healthy doses. Whilst the spice of this dish resonated well, the garlic paratha was not as satisfying, but still wasn’t bad. The peshwari naan on the other hand was sublime. A TCB favourite and good benchmark bread, the peshwari naans on Tooting High Street continue to please these two curry journeymen, and Mango Palace’s offering was no exception – fluffy, melt-in-the-mouth, coconut pleasure, what a bounty!

7/10

Curry

Kodumpli Fish Curry
Lamb Malabar





Our other main recommendation from our host was the kodumpli fish curry, a keralan dish of mango, ginger, garlic, curry leaves in a roasted coconut based sauce. As with most fish dishes, this proved a hit with Tom who was mopping up the remnants with paratha by the end. Whilst the fish wasn’t the most tender, the consistency and rich flavour of the sauce left a tangy kiss on the palate. The green, lamb malabar was of a similar dense, but smooth style that is likely to impress many, especially given some of the more greasier curries on offer further up the road. However, the lamb was not as tender as elsewhere and both curries arguably lacked a bit of texture. If you’re someone who prefers more than just meat in their sauce then these may not be for you. However, we aren’t as fussy and felt both were strong contenders. 7/10 for mains.

Service

What can I say other than it’s probably best listen to the advice on offer from those who know what they’re doing. The recommendations from the guy here were sound. On cue he delivered the goods, employing the old, committing-our-order-to-memory trick in the process – what a pro. He also patiently waited for us to set the world to rights at the end of the night, rather than hurry us out as the last customers, which was appreciated. No complaints. 7/10

Value For Money

Whilst we enjoyed our visit to the Palace, we weren’t left feeling as wealthy as the experience would suggest. Unfortunately, we have to be objective and say this isn’t as cheap as elsewhere, but neither is it overpriced. The lack of BYOB does tip it over the edge though compared to other Tooting venues meaning the end sum was slightly more princely than hoped. 6/10 for VFM.

Summary

It’s fair to say that Mango Palace is a bit of a mixed bag. Whilst we may have let our imaginations run wild with the name, and the experience was hardly fairytale, at times when sampling the peshwari or raita our dreams became a reality. Also, the atmosphere won’t improve unless more people visit, so please do, especially if you like your curry sauce rich and smooth and your naans buttery!

32/50 in total.

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20 Feb 2014

Namak Mandi

30 January 2014 - Namak Mandi: O Mandi, you came and you gave me a curry

For our first Tooting curry of the new year, we opted for a fairly recent addition to the scene, Namak Mandi. On this occasion, we were joined again by Liam Corry, a TCB veteran from our Sree Krishna pilgrimage. After a cheeky ale in The Wheatsheaf we made our silky way over the road to Tooting's very own Afghani restaurant, Namak Mandi, for 'a taste of Peshawar'.


Venue

It never ceases to amaze me what is crammed into some of the convenience stores in Tooting, least not Namak Mandi which is found squashed between the oddly named Universal Store Pound Plus and Universal All In One Convenience Store. Much like its tardis-like neighbours, there's more to Namak Mandi than meets the eye. If you can navigate your way around the tat that's piled up outside the shops next door, and the bus stop attendees outside the entrance, you'll discover a hidden gem on the Tooting curry scene.

Upon entry the aroma hits you, as flavour sizzles up from the kitchen that flanks the left hand wall. Just in front of which is a cushioned lounge area for the regulars, who flaunt their curry house prestige like Amsterdam’s female window dressers - with a surprising sense of propriety. Unperturbed by these rabble rousers, we were shown to the back, past a few, but crowded tables.



We were quickly handed colourful menus that were bordered with pictures of the food and a poster behind our table welcomed us with pictures of the Peshawar region. The other walls were similarly draped with homely, Afghan fabrics and ornaments. However, the real charm is to be found upstairs. Only at the end of the meal did we make this discovery when popping to the gents. For a minimum spend of £20 (easily done) you can sit in one of several cushion-lined, curtained-off,. lounge areas for a real, authentic, Afghan tea house experience.

We left aghast at having missed out on this opportunity and that it wasn't offered to us by the staff (we can only imagine that they were too lazy to take the food upstairs). Nevertheless, the smells wafting from the open kitchen and the unique menu are still enough to turn this unassuming little restaurant into one worth visiting…but definitely sit upstairs. 7/10

Starters and Sides

Peshawari Chapli kebab
Peshawari Butter Naan
Mixed Grill
Large Pilau Rice
Afghan Tea



For starters we had a chapli kebab and mixed grill of chicken tikka, lamb tikka, lamb chops and kofte kebabs. Despite others raving about chapli kebabs, they're yet to win us over. Our view is that they're like deep fried lamb burgers, which might satisfy the Scottish amongst you, but our preference is a good mixed grill. Namak Mandi's didn't let us down, with a unique touch of lamb on the bone that packed a spicy punch. This wasn't the only surprising lamb as there was a whole braised leg hidden in our epic portion of pilau. The naan was equally large, so big, in fact, it needed to be hung on it's own custom built stand. Then to top it all, we received complimentary kahwah - Afghan green tea - a necessary digestif after all the lamb. 7/10 for starters and sides.



Curry

Namak Mandi Lamb Karahi
Charsi Chicken Tikka Masala

Lamb was again on the menu for the mains as we tucked into a cavernous karahi of Namak Mandi's signature lamb, a dish whose physical depths were matched by it's deep, rich flavour. The chicken dish wasn't as large, but was still generously sized and of a high standard. Both were clearly freshly prepared, which cannot be said of most curries on the high street - a strong score as a result 8/10.

Service

The solitary chef was welcoming as we came in, but the other staff were less vocal. Nevertheless, they got the job done, albeit one a little clumsily (one made a huge save from dropping a load of plates and knocked into a table a few times). Also we had a bit of a wait for our food, but they did set our expectations and the food was fresh as a result. In general, it was a more relaxed affair, as the complimentary tea reflected, so we weren't too irritable. However, we remain slightly bitter about not being led upstairs - who doesn't want two moustached, old Afghan men leading them into a dark, curtained off area? 6/10.



Value For Money

Everything in this place is set up for sharing so, accordingly, value for money ranks highly. Like Soviets we were left defeated by the Afghans, such was the quantity consumed. Our second naan didn't even make it to the table as I couldn't face it hanging there, mocking us. As it came to a about £15 a head with nice bonuses in the tea and rice-hiding lamb we can't rate VFM low - 8/10.

Summary

Namak Mandi is a genuine alternative to other curries on the high street and with sharing sized portions, cushioned lounge areas and great value for money this is a highly recommended, sociable curry venue. We weren't even bothered that we couldn't drink, meaning this praise is even offered sober! A great feed and an authentic feel, try it yourself, but you may have to do some kite running after to burn off all the lamb. 36/50

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21 Jan 2014

Daawat

9 January 2014 – Daawat: A Dosa & A Daawat


Full of New Year resolve and health binge reverie we decided to go for a curry. Whilst we made a dent in our fitness plans, the same pain wasn’t felt by our wallets as the kind folk at Zomato welcomed in our 2014 with a gift voucher. In the process, we inadvertently celebrated our two year anniversary too (the blog’s, not mine and Tom’s).

The money off was to sample Daawat’s thali menu and so that’s what we did. Poor form to start 2014 outside of Tooting, but we’re not going to turn down free food, least not when it’s only a short stroll from work.

Venue

Dawaat is situated off the Strand and is part of the Strand Palace Hotel, but there was no red carpet rolled out for us, instead we entered via the side entrance on Burleigh Street.

Upon entry we were given a choice of seats…pretty much all of them as there was no one there. We chose a table by the window and took in our desolate surroundings.

The tables were each adorned with a flower in a glass, and the deep red of the walls juxtaposed tastefully with the dark wood furniture, picture frames and white coving. However, eagle-eyed Tom Scrimgour noted down the paper table cloths and surmised that the rest of the interior may not be as high end as it first appears.

The few other diners seemed to be hotel guests who had stumbled in the wrong door on the way to the hotel bar or tourists looking for a real British experience. We jest of course, but eavesdropping on a table twenty metres away revealed the not so dulcet tones of some Americans that suggested our suspicions were well-founded. Indeed, the request for something ‘full bodied’ from the wine list that overbore the calming, authentic restaurant music, confirmed we weren’t in the company of fellow enthusiasts. Undeterred (mostly as we were comfortably at a distance from these cowboys) we reached for the menu.

6/10.


Starters and Sides (Thali)

Methi Murgh Kebab
Punjabi Chole (Chickpeas)
Dal Tadka (Lentils)
Jeera Aloo (Potatoes)
Rice
Naan
Pappadom
Salad

As we were sent to sample the thali menu we obliged accordingly. As such, the starter, sides and curry all came at once.
For starter, we had a choice of methi murgh kebab or vegetable samosa. We each opted for the chicken kebab that had a nice, zingy fenugreek flavour. This was complimented by a plethora of small side dishes (katori) that offered a range of vegetarian dipping options for the naan and poppadum, both of which were very fresh. The lentil, dal tadka was my favourite, but the chole and jeera aloo were each distinct and worthy contributors to the thali.

All in all, the platters were fair in size, but the downside of this form of meal is that all items get cold quite quickly. Unfortunately, nothing really took our breath away either.

Some consolation was the third course on the menu – desert. We had a triple chocolate bavarois (read posh cheesecake) and some pistachio kulfi. Both were very good, with the kulfi taking us pleasantly by surprise. As this isn’t usually our field, we won’t take into account here, 6/10 it is then for starters and sides.


Curry

Chef’s own lamb rogan josh
Goan prawn curry

For the main we turned down the choices of chicken tikka masala and paneer makhani for the chef’s own lamb rogan josh and Goan prawn curry. Presumably the chef also had a hand in the Goan prawn which ticked all the right boxes with a healthy kick and tangy, tamarind and coconut sauce that complimented the rice. The slow braised lamb came in a light, mace and cinnamon curry that was equally punchy. Both dishes were thin in texture and in portion, but still more than decent in flavour. 7/10.

Service

The staff were very attentive and constantly asked us how our meal was. The cynic in me would say this is because we had a voucher and they knew our game, or simply because they had nothing better to do given the lack of visitors, but nevertheless it was appreciated. Beyond this, our main waiter wasn’t much of a talker, but he seemed a good lad. Not a huge amount to add – 7/10.

Value For Money

After 7pm the thali is £18 for three courses, which is perhaps a little steep, but is available earlier for less, at 4-7pm for £15. The beer was also a bit pricey at £4.50 a bottle. I suppose you’re always going to pay tourist prices in central London so we can’t be too harsh, but once again we find another reason to go to Tooting for a curry instead. 6/10 for value for money, but may have been lower had we not received a voucher.

Summary

A decent, pre-theatre, venue with a convenient set menu to boot, we didn’t have anything to complain about at Daawat apart from maybe the atmosphere. We’ll put that down to seasonality on this occasion, but otherwise nothing really knocked our socks off, leaving us with a final total of 32/50.

As a bonus we got some free market research (our favourite).


For those interested: Fair, Excellent, N/A, Good, Good, Excellent, Poor, Fair to Good.

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4 Dec 2013

Dawat

19 November 2013 - Dawat: Dawat's for dinner?

After receiving some recommendations on Twitter, we popped into Dawat to see what all the fuss was about.



Venue

You could be forgiven for passing by Dawat. Tucked in between Dadu’s cash and carry and Jasmin’s function room its unassuming pink signage can be lost in your peripheral vision as you try and negotiate the hubbub of the Upper Tooting Road. Plus, most curry aficionados will no doubt have one eye on Mirch Masala a short way further down the street, or Masaledar in the opposite direction - tough neighbours to compete with, not least due to Dawat’s somewhat confused interior.

The place feels like it’s caught in an identity crisis between take away, restaurant and banquet hall. Facing the back, I felt like I was back in Thailand in a dubiously decorated hotel lobby dining area, whilst Tom, looking out to the road, felt like he was in a living room; not least due to all the families present. It felt at times like we were interrupting the mid-week, evening meal, and the pale green adorning the walls added to the discomfort.

Other notable features were the Fortress of Solitude style lights and a large and mysterious wooden door to the left – who knows, maybe the entrance to an Aladdin’s cave of curry pleasure, but probably not.

Generally, Dawat lacks the frenetic atmosphere of Mirch or Lahore Karahi up the road, but neither does it impress with more cultured design and decoration. This said, our fellow diners seemed very much at home, comfortably seeking the waiters’ attention and signalling orders with the art of fingers and nods, as if the kebabs were being auctioned. I suppose we felt slightly unsure of ourselves, but we were welcomed with smiles and the food eased our concerns.

5/10 for Venue.

Starters and Sides
Poppadoms
Mango Lassi
Coconut Rice
Kulcha Naan
Peshwari Naan
Chicken Shashlick

The poppadoms were some of the best, and the mango chutney was bucket-sized in its generosity, much to Tom’s approval. The chicken shashlick was standard, but with a little bit of a stronger kick than some of the more Anglicised tikka offerings elsewhere on the high street. However, perhaps we should have been more adventurous in our choice of starter.

The breads proved more pleasing, with the sesame of the kulcha naan adding a nutty edge to proceedings and the buttery peshwari providing the perfect compliment to the prawn curry. The coconut rice was decent too and is seemingly becoming our rice of choice (sorry pilau).


You’ll also note the mango lassi indicating the no alcohol policy Dawat operates. We can’t say we condone this, but always respect our hosts. 7/10.

Curry

Deigi Methi Gosht
Tandoori King Prawn Curry

We were recommended the dal gosht, but opted for the deigi methi gosht instead. After the less than impressive surroundings, the main dishes more than made the visit worthwhile. The lamb was melt-in-your-mouth, fall-off-the-bone good and the methi sauce rich with bitter herb flavours. Likewise, the prawn was excellent. The rich tomato curry was filled to the brim with juicy butterflied king prawns and was lovingly mopped up with naan to the last. These two dishes more than made up for the choice of paint and the odd wooden furnishings - 9/10.

Staff

As mentioned, the staff were welcoming and quite attentive to surrounding diners’ whimsical gesturing. Our waiter was very smiley and several other gleams met us on entry and departure too. We also noted our options being taken down on a crib sheet order book which we appreciated for its efficiency. Beyond this, there was little of note to mention from the staff so a steady 6 out of 10 it is.

Value For Money

Whilst the curries were delightful and the prawn was at a pound premium, Dawat is still a fraction more expensive than elsewhere. We were charged extra for the mango chutney, which is not a policy we’re huge fans of (despite ensuring we got our money’s worth). Similarly, the litre bottle of Evian placed on our table was not free. Whilst we were quite aware what was going on we always like to give the benefit of the doubt, often to be disappointed by these unnecessary and underhand techniques. Anyway, at £40 a head with tip it wasn’t too bad, but not as competitive as it could have been; 6/10.

Summary

Dawat was never going to be top of our list when we set out on this Tooting tasting trek, but the main dishes here reached impressive heights. Evidently we weren't overwhelmed by the venue itself, but the scores have come in at a mid-table 33/50. Dawat are you waiting for? Check it out for yourself!

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13 Oct 2013

Sree Krishna

3 October 2013 - Sree Krishna: Where it all began

The year is 1973, a swathe of renewed hope is sweeping the US as Richard Nixon is inaugurated for his second presidential term and the Vietnam War has just come to an end. Across the Atlantic, the UK looks forward to economic prosperity upon joining the European Economic Community and, in South London, on the crest of this wave of optimism, one man dared to dream.

Forty years on, Nixon’s presidency is marred by the Watergate scandal and the European Union is suffering a recession, but Mr ‘Mickey’ Ramanarayanan’s restaurant reverie – Sree Krishna – is still going strong after spawning a cultural revolution in Tooting.

Here we review this bastion of local history, an establishment, without which, this blog would quite literally not exist.
On this occasion, we were joined by Liam Corry, a new resident of Tooting who, two months ago, cheated death when he was hit by a bus in Balham – presumably surviving because he couldn’t leave us without paying homage to the spiritual home of Tooting curry. Good lad.

Like Apu going in search of the original Kwik-E Mart, we ventured down to Broadway to pay our respects…

Venue


Sree Krishna is situated in an imposing grey marble building on the corner of Carlwell Street and Tooting High Street. At night the scene is slightly more welcoming with blue neon piping around the sign and fairy lights in the windows, but the environ within is more mood-lit and traditional than some of the chaos elsewhere up the road.

On our visit it felt a bit stuffy, and Liam even remarked: ‘it smells like Grandma’, but I’ve no idea what he was talking about. However, it did feel more athenaeum than curry house, but this is as one might expect from a venue of such esteem. Indeed, the marble floors, smart furniture and crockery (that appears to have been renewed since my last visit) are all befitting of the place and its reverence. Plus when the draught is on, it’s less than £3 for a Kingfisher - howay the lads!

All in all, there’s no arguing this is a slightly classier joint than some others on the High Street, and its legacy above all other things is worthy of at least one bonus point. Forty years on it’s still a local landmark, and long may that continue. 9/10

Starters and sides

Poppadoms and dips
House recommended – Masala Dosa and Chicken 65
Cocunut Rice
Pilau Rice
Cocunut and Garlic Parathas

After a pretty standard poppadum, the waiter came over to take the remainder of our order. Sensing our deliberation over the other starters, he took the proverbial bull by the horns and said he’d choose for us. The result was some individually plated masala dosas and chicken 65 pieces which came with coconut, tomato and raita dips. Commendable as his initiative was, it was slightly disappointing that we missed out on the prawns we were lining up. That said, the chicken was decently spiced and the dosa was very soft and fluffy unlike some of others we’ve sampled which were more like Communion wafer than pancake. Plus, the coconut dip in particular tickled Tom’s fancy, indeed the coconut in the rice, dips and paratha was quite the bounty! Aside from that, the parathas were pretty standard and lacking in quantity; the waiter having put a stop to our ordering thinking we were getting ahead of ourselves. Little did he know that we are no amateurs; shame. 6/10.


Curry

Karaikkudi Chicken
Cochin King Prawn
Lamb Fry
Sree Krishna specialises in Keralan fare and for the mains we had a chicken, lamb and prawn combo, but, I must confess, none of them particularly stood out. Whilst the chicken was notably juicy, the sauce was quite average – mild with tame flavours. The lamb was similarly plain (yet another recommendation from the staff) and whilst we knew what to expect from the fry, the spices didn’t blow us away. The best of the bunch was the prawn in a medium sauce, but again, nothing to write home about. All in all, pretty mediocre, given the notoriety of where we were. In addition, the portions were relatively small – 6/10.

Service

We’ve already eluded to the waiter’s proactivity, which we can’t criticise too strongly. However, another member of staff also offered us well priced draft Kingfisher that was quickly retracted once they realised the taps were off – a dangerous move to make with three thirsty males on a Thursday. That said, it appeared to be a welcoming, family affair, and, despite the outcomes, the waiter was far more affable than others we’ve encountered. After all, it’s the thought that counts – 7/10.

Value For Money

Despite not being able to take advantage of the draught, the substitute 660ml cobras were good value at 3.95 – not quite BYO, but very competitive. Unfortunately, this value wasn’t especially seen elsewhere, with the bill weighing in at £23 each. Given the portion sizes of the mains, and the paratha provision palaver, we weren’t quite satiated. We like to leave with bulging bellies and weighty wallets when we tread the curry boards of the Broadway, but on this occasion this, sadly, didn’t happen. Sure, we expected a tourist tax, given this fine diner’s heritage, but the premium was arguably slightly too high. 6/10.

Summary

Despite some evident criticism, it is fairly minor, and, ultimately, there are no real regrets after our visit. Liam even managed to get home without taking a bus out on the way.

With Mickey’s smiling face beaming down from the walls, we felt proud to have contributed to his wonderful legacy and long may it continue.

Sree Krishna is definitely worth a visit, after all, this is where it all began. 34/50.


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10 Oct 2013

The Leaderboard

Inspired by popular requests to let you guys know our top recommendations, we have now compiled a leaderboard of the results from our reviews thus far. We'll keep it updated with every new review. Please see below for our general recommendations too.


The Tooting Curry Blog - Leaderboard



* Please note, Amirah's Kitchen is on the Old York Road, Wandsworth. All other restaurants are around and about Tooting High Street.

General Recommendations





After a night out - Chatkara

Best Bhaji - Mirch Masala

Best Naan - Spice Village

Best Poppadoms - Dosa N Chutny

Birthday - Masaledar

BYO - Rayyans, Mirch Masala, Masaledar or Lahore Karahi

Somewhere Different - Dosa N Chutny or Namak Mandi

Date night - Vijaya Krishna or Masaledar

Family meal - Spice Village, Masaledar or Sree Krishna

Further afield - Amirah's Kitchen

Lads' night - Mirch Masala

Large group - Mirch Masala


New to Tooting? - Spice Village

Take Away - Spice Village or Chatkara

On a budget - Mirch Masala, Cinnamon Garden

Vegetarian - Sarashwathy Bavans


Please find our other general restaurant reviews across London here: http://www.zomato.com/tootingcurryblog




17 Jul 2013

Amirah’s Kitchen

10 June 2013 - Amirah’s Kitchen: Wands-worth it

Yes, once again we shamefully diverted our attention away from Tooting, but Tooting is in Wandsworth council and Wandsworth Town is only a short hop away, so we didn’t feel so bad. Plus, we had won another voucher (embarrassing) and it would be silly to waste it. However, despite these [short lived] reservations, it proved a visit worth making.

It was with some trepidation that we headed to the Tonsleys on a Monday evening, as both of us were trying to keep our heads down (Tom: supposed to be training for a half marathon; Michael: avoiding a girl from the area). Luckily, Amirah’s Kitchen is situated on the same road as the station, and it wasn’t long before we were checking out what Amirah was cooking.

Venue

Located on the modish, Old York Road, Amirah’s kitchen takes its place alongside many other culinary establishments. A relatively new restaurant, its understated, black exterior fits nicely on the street with a very provincial feel.


Inside, the walls were a lime green that matched our zest, and the black furnishings contrasted smartly, with the up lighting on the walls. Passing the bar on the left, the space then opens up into a dining area for about thirty people. Each table is tastefully adorned with a rose in a vase and the whole left wall is covered with an image of Delhi tuk tuks. The overall result is a very simple, contemporary and elegant venue.

We could mark it down for being outside Tooting, and for the questionable music mix that ranged from the more traditional to dramatic movie soundtracks and house, however, that would be harsh. All in all, it’s a pleasant environment. 7/10.


Starters and sides

Poppadoms and dips
Tandoori Selection
Pilau rice
Garlic naan
Pudina paratha

For starters we had a poppadom each, with sides, and a tandoori selection.The poppadoms were perfectly crisp and not at all greasy and the dips were similarly to a high standard. In fact, probably some of the best we’ve sampled. I prefer my dips smooth and the mango chutney was just right; quite sublime.

The tandoori selection was equally excellent. The description on the menu of ‘A selection of kebabs- prawns, salmon, chicken & lamb’ didn’t do it justice. Each meat portion was delightfully flavoured, from the cheese coated chicken, to the deep fried prawn, and the mint sauce dip was described by Tom as ‘absolutely fantastic’. Similar exclamations included: ‘I don’t even like salmon, but I like this’ and ‘even the side salad is good’, such was the quality of the dish.


The breads also felt carefully prepared and came beautifully presented, cut into quarters in baskets. Even the pilau rice was notable; perfectly fragranced with saffron and cumin. In general, the sides and starters were near faultless. 9/10


Curry

Goan Fish Curry
Kasmiri Lamb Rogan Josh

The curry continued where the starters left off. The fish and braised lamb were expertly cooked and the sauces were rich with intense flavours. Portions were more than ample, but it didn’t stop us mopping up the last drops with our naan. Some might prefer slightly more texture in their dish, but this would be the only potential criticism and we certainly didn’t mind. Like all the food here, the balance was just right; not too creamy like many other curries and no sign of grease at all. Again, all but nothing to criticise; a stellar performance. 9/10.

Service

…and it wasn’t just the food.

Our waiter was twice as professional as those found on Tooting high street. He placed napkins on our laps, committed our order to memory, introduced each dish and even told us to write a review (here’s to you sir!). 8/10

Value For Money

It’s fair to say you pay a little bit more for the quality here. Our bill came to about £60, including two beers each. We were fortunate enough to have a voucher, halving our bill, but, value is more than just price and I’d say it was certainly worth the full amount. The quality of the food was top notch and other small touches, including taking our voucher amount off before adding service charge, really ticked our boxes. The bill also showed the amount split by two negating any controversial calculations or being left short of the total (we’ve all been there).

Finally, to top it all, at the end of the night we received a mint chocolate and a competition form giving us the chance to win a return visit. Here’s hoping our names are pulled out of the hat (hint, hint, Amirah). 8/10

Summary

As you can tell, we loved Amirah’s kitchen and definitely recommend a visit. Totalling up the digits brings our overall rating to a stonking 41/50 that just pips Spice Village to top our rankings. Only a short trip on the 219 from Tooting High Street, it’s definitely Wands-worth it.

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12 May 2013

Red Fort

27 April 2013 - Red Fort: Award winners on tour

In January, we received the following email:

I came across your blog while checking for food and dining connoisseur in London [especially those who appreciate curry:-)]. I'd like to invite you to take Zomato for a spin. It would be great if you have some time during the next few days to meet up briefly and discuss possible opportunities to work with Zomato.

We have a team in London and would be happy to host you for dinner or just catch-up over a coffee at your convenience. Please let me know whatever works best for you.

2 months later we read it, and the rest is history…

After a very productive curry with the guys from Zomato we decided to start sharing our reviews on their site for the greater good of all their readers (and nothing to do with the chance to win an ipad). As part of our (eventually successful) endeavour towards tablet ownership we posted our Jaffna House review; the result, victory in the Write For A Bite contest and a meal ticket for two at Red Fort to the taste of £70!

Here are our well-red forts…


The Venue

Red Fort is situated on Dean Street in Soho (I know, we’ve massively gone up in the world/sold out), and famed for its links to New Labour. To take our place amongst famous reds such as Mr Blair, The Milliblands and Mick Hucknall; we popped up on the Northern line on Saturday afternoon. After a few cheeky Guinnei (plural of Guinness) our appetites were well and truly whetted for, what Timeout has described as, London’s Best Indian Restaurant.

The interior didn't disappoint with clean straight lines of tables and square picture frames juxtaposed sharply against the soft rouge up lighting and glistening in-panel waterfalls.



We, the plebs, were tucked away in a corner, whilst the classier customers occupied the centre of the busy room. The atmosphere was lively and cosmopolitan, however this included some American tourists whose whiny accents dominated the airwaves.

In general, despite being miles from Tooting, the setting was appropriately smart, plus there’s a bar/club/grotto of sorts situated downstairs which has to be considered a plus point. 8/10

Starters and sides

We started with poppadoms that came engrained with cumin seeds and with an array of sides including an unusual papaya dip. We followed these with Pocha Hera Jhinga - marinated spiced king prawns in a light crispy batter with coriander and curry leaves, which were probably the highlight of the meal. The prawns were a good, juicy size, perfectly crisped in the batter, but without grease. Lovely stuff.

The second starter we chose was the Murgh Gilaafi, spiced roasted minced chicken skewers with paprika, onion and coriander. Whilst minced chicken isn't usually on our radar these were particularly good, again with a bespoke range of fruit and chilli chutney that accompanied the prawns.

With our mains we got the rice and breads, but these weren't quite as good. For the price (£6 each) these weren't particularly gourmet. The rice was…well, rice and the breads were quite dry, certainly not up to scratch in term of moistness that Tooting has to offer.

Overall, the starters were excellent, but the other sides balanced things out making it a 6/10.

Curry

For mains we made a bit of a howler. Wrongly assuming quantities would be on the stingy side we opted for the biryani for the extra rice. Unfortunately, this £20 dish, was not up to the hype and left us with more rice than China. What lamb there was was tender, but how it could ever justify the price tag I don’t know.

The Nalli Roganjosh was thankfully much more impressive. The slow cooked Scottish lamb shank in nutmeg, cinnamon and bay leaf sauce fell of the bone in a rich tomato sauce, lightly spiced and of perfect consistency. A real winner, but still pricey at £22.

Whilst, this isn't the value for money section, we can’t ignore the pound signs preceding these dishes. In this respect, one dish lived up to expectations, but the other just didn't, even if we had made the wrong choice. 6/10

Service

The staff were all neatly kitted out in red cheque shirts that quite took my fancy to be honest; a far cry from the rather haphazard clothing on display in Tooting. However, with the reputation of the place we expected nothing more and the uniform reflected the professionalism of the staff. In fact you hardly noticed they were there - a plus on one side, but lacking in banter on the other. With not much else to say I’ll have to give them a steady 7/10.

Value For Money

Whilst fortunate enough to have a £70 voucher in our back pocket we still ended up topping the bill up £40, £25 of which was spent on the cheapest bottle of the wine we could get away with on the menu. That’s right wine, no beer. Forgive us for not respecting the high society norms, but would it kill them to put some premium lager on their menu to go with the curry, we are in Britain after all!?

So in general, as already established, even taking into account value being more than just about price (yes, I dabble in customer satisfaction market research) the price tag was mighty high, and whilst above average, the food didn't really justify it. 4/10

Summary

Whilst most grateful for our voucher, I think these two bloggers got out of their depth North of The River - best stick to Tooting next time where our stomachs and wallets will be left a little fuller. Nevertheless an enjoyable adjourn into town and certainly not the last curry we’ll be having…31/50

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9 Apr 2013

Support Tooting curry blog on Zomato...

Dear readers, 

Zomato is a restaurant discovery platform with in-depth information on restaurants around you. They provide everything you might want to know about the food before taking a bite. 

We are not going to sit here and say we came up with the idea over a curry, but ended up too full to implement it. but we did.

We were fortunate enough to be taken out for a curry by the Zomato guys and they were a lovely bunch! So we are hereby endorsing them and their project. While you're there please show your support by following us: http://www.zomato.com/tootingcurryblog


11 Feb 2013

Jaffna House

1 February 2013 - Jaffna House: Much kothu about Tooting

The Diamond Jubilee. £3 billion.
The London Olympics. £9 billion.
A year of eating and reviewing curry in Tooting. Priceless.

It’s been a momentous inaugural year for the Tooting Curry Blog, and over 17,500 hits at time of writing, a legacy has certainly been left in London post-2012, despite doubts from the critics. We survive bowels intact, ready to leave no poppadum unturned in our quest to find Tooting’s best curry based nutrition in 2013.


First on the hit list: Jaffna House. And hit it we did.

It’s fair to say that Friday night and the excitement of our first curry in a while got the better of us. Several beers at work, then a few more in London Bridge were enough to whet the appetite and loosen us up for a curry. Commitment to the cause never wavered, but apologies to the readers for being half soaked and shoveling it down rather than giving it a proper taste, but here goes anyway…

Venue

Situated two doors down from Radha Krishna Bhavan, on the corner of Tooting High Street and Coverton Road, it’s hard to miss Jaffna House. With a bold, sky blue sign to match Cycle Superhighway 7 on its doorstep, this joint actually has two entrances. On the high street is the take away entrance with a few tables and chairs for the more amateur diners. For the pros and those in the know the restaurant is round the back, via a side entrance. Inside you’ll take a step back into the 70s with a bar at the back that would make Delboy jealous. Nevertheless, it has a cosy feel and is a quieter diversion from the hustle and bustle of the likes of Lahore Karahi up the road.

My notes also say there were footsteps on the ceiling…despite having no recollection of what I meant and in the absence of Lionel Richie to consult on the physics of such a feat, I’m going to put it down as a positive. Likewise, the option to dine roadside or à l'arrière is commendable and bespoke napkins printed with Jaffna House insignia are a nice touch. 7/10.

Starters and Sides

Poppadoms
Meat Roti
Mutton Roll x 2
Cutlet x 2
Garlic Naan

We took the waiter’s recommendation on the roti which, like the rest of the meal, proved a little stodgy and bland. The croquet shaped mutton rolls were better, as was the fish ball cutlet that offered a bit of spice. However, the overriding feeling was that the chef had got a bit giddy with the deep fat frier which might suit some, but we prefer a bit more culinary subtlety…and aren’t Scottish. Similarly, the poppadoms were overtly greasy, albeit this left us in no doubt that they were fresh. More positively, the garlic naan was notable, but the chillies hidden within its depths took young Tom by surprise. 5/10


Curry

Chicken Stringhopper
Seafood Kothu
Chicken Tikka

As with the starters and with our experience of Sri Lankan food thus far, we found the mains here rather dry. Whilst we acknowledge the cultural difference, the lack of sauce found in a stringhopper or kothu doesn’t quite do it for us. Unless we are ignorantly doing it wrong these are more like substitutes for biryanis than curry. Also, it has to be said they could have been replaced by those we sampled in Apollo Banana Leaf half way through and we’d have been none the wiser. The chicken tikka offered a moist and succulent departure from the carb-loading, but altogether, not a huge amount to write home about from the mains here (although it did help soak up some of the pintage). 5/10

Staff

We can only speak for the service in the back restaurant, but it was very professional, far from the haphazard table service elsewhere. Beyond that, I can remember little, but Tom is keen to mark up the waiter for looking like a bhangra superstar. Each to their own. 7/10.

Value For Money

With every Sri Lankan restaurant there’s always the hope that there’s a Ceylon (I’ve made this joke before, but it has to be made again) and Jaffna House didn’t disappoint. Despite a lack of BYOB, there were some Sri Lankan beers on offer which, along with the food, came to £15 a head. So, on pure price it was good value, but the food could’ve been better. 7/10

Summary

As mentioned already, the food wasn’t the best here, but another visit might prove more fruitful given the other dishes on offer. Tom was also sidelined by a rogue chilli and had some severe repercussions the next day, but to blame the restaurant rather than his bingeing and low heat tolerance might be unfair. All in all, the scores total to 31/50.

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