24 Jan 2017

Kabul Darbar

12 January 2017 - Kabul Darbar: Abra-kabul-darbar - Curry magic

Its the New Year, a time for fresh perspective and new challenges. I myself, upon realizing that Balham has a ridiculously high concentration of hairdressers, considered starting a new blog - the Balham barbers blog, in which I get my haircut in each of the 18 or so salons. However, my hair can only grow so quickly and I'd rather just eat curry instead.

So, seasonally affected by post Xmas blues and dried out in Jan, what better way to start the year than a trip down Upper Tooting Road. After an impressive debut visit late last year I was desperate to return to Kabul Darbar so I took 7 friends along. Another Afghanistani joint, promising kebabs, lamb curry and big naans, is always welcome in our books, especially with the sad demise of Rayyans. 2.5 hours, 4 courses and £160 later here's the review.


Kabul Darbar is a fairly new player on the scene and has set up stall in the heat of the battle, a short kebab’s length North of Mirch Masala. However, it has opted for a more relaxed, spacious environ than the hectic curry canteen conveyor belts nearby (Mirch Masala, Lahore Karahi and Saravanaa Bhavans).

Its smart black sign with orange writing and draped with fairy lights sets a relatively classy tone, whilst inside the spot lit interior is tastefully adorned with greenery and pictures alike. There's still a place for the ubiquitous, high backed leather chairs- red this time - but as with the rest of fixtures everything was new and in good condition. Not something you can say about most local establishments. A bar-shaped counter at the far end completes the setup, but alas, this only serves as a waiters station as no alcohol is served or allowed here.

In general, a very pleasant setting with a reasonable level of custom witnessed throughout our stay. No real faults apart from the drinks situation so it's a solid 7 for venue. 

Starters and sides

Mantoo (minced lamb dumplings)
Bale Murgh (chicken wings)
Mixed grill
Bandenjan buranie (aubergine) x3
Qabuli maecha (lamb shank rice)
Plain naan x4
Afghan green tea

So, as you can see, we didn't hold back on this front. There were 8 of us so that helps explain the volume but so does the quality of the food that had us ordering more.

The centrepiece of the order was the mixed grill which initially drew mocking laughter from the waiter who thought I was ordering it as a starter all for myself. This made sense when a boat sized dish ran aground on our table. He still seemed incredulous after the explanation but perhaps this was less about the size and more about the price of the dish, which splashed in at a weighty £30 sterling. Perhaps he's more financially savvy than us and waiting to pounce with his Afghan Afghani savings once the Brexit pound plummets even further, who knows; we can only assume. 

Mixed grill

Whilst expensive there was still a fair amount of bang for our buck. I don't know if 'half a chicken on top' is an Afghani idiom but that's certainly what we got. Piled else wise amongst a sea of rice were chicken wings, minced kofte chicken kebabs, lamb chops, and lamb and chicken tikka pieces. A tidy feast but not as succulent as other similar local offerings, despite strong individual performances from the lamb tikka pieces and chicken kofte. I was particularly disappointed by the lamb chops, but only as they were excellent on a previous visit (the four-piece, Qaborgha Lamb on the menu). The side dish of Bale Murgh (chicken wings) were equally average, but the other excellent plates made up for this.

Firstly, the Mantoo, a generous dish of eight minced lamb dumplings topped with yoghurt are a deliciously juicy bite. Equally well presented is the Bandenjan Buranie, thin aubergine slices topped with yoghurt, garlic, mint and spices, that left my friend still eulogising days later.

Bandenjan Buranie, Mantoo, & Bale Murgh

In addition to these unique sides, we added several plain naans and rice. The kayak sized naans offered excellent value for money at £1.50 with fresh, fluffy texture to boot, whilst the mountain of carrot and raisin topped rice managed to hide a whole lamb shank. Whilst this plate (the Qabuli Maecha) is fairly novel we had experienced something similar before at Namak Mandi. However, it was quite pricey here (~£10) and wasn't ordered intentionally (a mix up over the pilao rice order). Nevertheless the rice was nicely flavoured and the lamb within was beautifully tender.

Afghan Tea

To end the meal we ordered a round of Afghan green tea to wash everything down. This turned out to be a bad decision as it took a while to arrive and by this point it was nearing 10pm. However, it was still a nice way to close, with ginger adding a nice spicy kick to see us on our way.

Thanks to the quality of the better dishes it's a big 8 out of 10 for sides and starters.


Channa Dal x3
Qurma e Murgh (chicken curry) x2
Charsi Chicken Karahi 1/2kg x2
Mixed Veg Curry
Bamiya Gosht (okra with lamb) x2

Having only ordered the starters at first, we had another round of ordering for the mains. This in turn prompted another, third round when the first failed to satiate the ravenous appetites of my fellow eaters.

The Channa Dal proved most popular with positive noises accompanying almost every mouthful. This chickpea showstopper offers a deep smoky taste that keeps you going back for more. Likewise, the Bamiya Gosht - lamb with okra - and the Charsi Lamb Karahi were richly flavoured and the meat melted in the mouth. The latter came cooked and served on the bone adding even more tenderness and flavour. 

Channa Dal (We forgot to take pictures after this point!)

Some criticism can be levelled at the portion size especially the Charsi which, sold by the half kilo, feels slightly less weighty when you take the bones into account and the Qurma e Murgh was fairly lightweight in size and taste too. However, these are matters of value for money not quality, which was high.

The veg curry was average, but flavour-wise the best dishes were close to 9. On balance an 8 seems an overall fair assessment when taking the slightly weaker dishes and portion sizes into account. 


Our waiter had a touch of Adam Sandler to him both in air and appearance. However, one can only assume he has had a far less successful film career (a walk on role in the Kite Runner, at best).

He had a very happy-[Gilmore]-go-lucky demeanor and general laid back attitude. The parallels don't stop there either, whilst one has made a career churning out mediocre to poor family comedies the other proved equally productive as the only one visibly working in the restaurant - a sort of water boy character if you will. If, as suspected, he was pitching in in the kitchen as well as serving tables, it would explain the long-ish wait times between courses. This slightly sluggish service could be forgiven as he was completely unfazed by his isolation and was what can only be described as (in somewhat patronising tones) a 'good lad'. He was also well turned out in apron and bow tie, which is more than can be said of 80% of Tooting curry house employees.

So thanks to Little Nicky, it's a 7 for Service

Value For Money

Given the number of us and the number of dishes it's hardly surprising we racked up a substantial bill; £160 in fact. £20 a head may not seem too much to pay in our nation's capital for a veritable feast, but we weren't paying for alcohol and might've expected a few more economies of scale from a Tooting curry. This, added to the price of the big ticket items and the fact that some of the portions were on the relatively small side make this less value for money than neighbouring restaurants. As a comparative example, I remember being stuffed in Mirch Masala with 5 others for £8 a head plus BYO alcohol - you do the math!

With stiff competition in this category, value for money is a slightly harsh 6 on this occasion, despite the top quality dishes adding significant credit.


In summary, Kabul Darbar is a worthy addition to the Tooting curry circuit that comes highly recommended by us. With the disappointment of Afghan Palace on our last outing, Kabul Darbar is finally the replacement for Rayyans we've been looking for. We would love to return to try the fish dishes to be doubly sure, but two visits so far have left a solid impression. With an overall total of 36/50, Kabul Darbar shoots firmly into the top end of our leaderboard.

23 Oct 2016

Afghan Palace

22 September 2016 - Afghan Palace: Rayyans' Ruins 

When we heard the news that Rayyans had been replaced by another restaurant called Afghan Palace we hoped it was merely a re-brand. After all, the name 'Rayyans' hardly shouted 'curry house' as it rolled off the tongue whereas Afghan Palace sounds more apt in that regard. However, there was only one way to find out for sure. Would Afghan Palace be fit for a pair of curry kings? Tom and I went to check it out for ourselves.


Afghan Palace, for those who didn't know Rayyans, is situated on the Mitcham Road, a long way past the Antelope pub and Vijaya Krisha curry house. Given it's distant location relative to other Tooting favourites it really needed to live up to Rayyan's reputation to make the trek worthwhile.

At first glance you could be forgiven for assuming little had changed: the same furniture was laid out in a similar fashion and the same artwork adorned the walls. However, the ever-changing lighting -cycling through a rainbow of garish colours - is enough to raise suspicion. Then the unfriendly stares from the staff and natives alike, along with the new inability to drink alcohol or BYO, confirm that things have changed for the worse not better.

Sad times, but the food is what would make or break this review. Unfortunately, the absence of two TCB Rayyans' favourites - the Afghan lamb and fish karahi - from the menu added to our early fears.

In fact, the menu is far more limited in general. It is similar all-round to Namak Mandi with dishes built for sharing and options available to scale up the amount of meat, but would it live up to its local rival?

5/10 for Venue 

Starters and sides

1 massive peshwari naan

There are several standard options for starters here ranging from kebabs and chops to tikka and mixed grills, but, not being in the most ravenous of moods, we skipped straight to the mains. However, we did pick up a peshwari naan to accompany our karahi dishes and what a naan it was. 

Fans of anything novel, we could not turn down the opportunity to have a naan the size of a small child for only £2.50. If you've been to Namak Mandi you'll know the sort, but these here are even bigger, so big we didn't finish it. The novelty of the size soon wore off as the taste failed to impose in the same way, with any peshwari flavouring seemingly absent.


There is no trick of perspective here - these are right next to our heads!


1/4kg Lamb Karahi (Namak Mandi style)
1/4kg Chicken Karahi (Charsi style)

For mains we chose two karahis - stews prepared in a authentic karahi, metallic cooking pan. As mentioned, you can scale up the meat portions here, but as there were only two of us, we chose the smallest 1/4kg portions.

Size wise they were fine, nothing particularly generous, but the meat was quite disappointing. It came on the bone, something we expected, but which meant only a fraction of the 250g of 'meat' was edible. It could have been forgiven had the quality matched our old Rayyans favourites - falling off the bone deliciously and melting in the mouth - but alas this was not the case. The measly amount of meat in both dishes had to be pried off the bone.

As for the flavours, they were ok, but wouldn't have redeemed either dish in any case. Tomato dominated each dish, but little differentiated the two styles. There was a decent bit of heat that could have been increased had we wished, but all in all quite disappointing.



Judging by the difference in name and food, we can only assume this was a complete takeover of Rayyans. In this vein, the staff were also different as the absence of a usually smiley manager highlighted. Not only were they less friendly (to the point of unwelcoming) when we came in, but they also struggled a bit with English and simple questions about the food. I'm sure they were trying their best, but service as a result wasn't great.


Value For Money

On price alone Afghan Palace fares well, as indicated by the huge naan we got for £2.50. But price is only one factor in value, quality and service are others and Afghan Palace, just doesn't deliver in these areas.

There is no BYO policy here either so the bottle of wine we bought stayed firmly un-corked and, whilst we only spent around £20 overall, value scores have to take a hit for the relatively poor food and overall experience.



If you've reached this point and haven't gathered that we were less than impressed with Afghan Palace then I suggest you either weren't really reading properly or have a problem with your scrolling.

As huge fans of Rayyans, we're sad that its replacement couldn't even come close to serving up the same levels of curry enjoyment. Rather than a phoenix rising from Rayyans' ashes, Afghan Palace is more of a cuckoo stealing the nest of a better bird.

We don't like to deliberately put a restaurant down, but the result is that Afghan Palace now sits firmly at the foot of our Tooting leaderboard, pushing Apollo Banana Leaf up another place much to the relief, I'm sure, of many of our readers (although we still stand by the ABL review on the visit in question!).


5 Sep 2016

Saravanaa Bhavan

8 June 2016 - Saravanaa Bhavan: Bhavan a great time

As meat consumption is on the decline and popular documentaries tell of the horrific implications of carnivorous activity, what better way to embrace this trend in vegetarianism than by gorging on curry.

We've done a vegetarian review before in Sarashwathy Bavans. On that occasion we sampled a 4ft long dosa. Sadly, it seems the lack of custom we witnessed that night continued as they are now closed. A real travesty. Novelty food has its place, but a place nonetheless.

Never fear though as, not only did we go in search of more veggie fare, but we also eyed a lengthy dosa on along the way too. On this occasion it was found on a neighbour's table in Saravanaa Bhavan. Intrigued? Then read on.


Saravanaa Bhavan is the third bhavan of our curry travels so far. My extensive research tells me that bhavan means building, so...there you go!

This one is situated opposite the Tooting legend, Lahore karahi, and is evidently a popular bhavan in its own right, something they are not shy in shouting about. Their sign and menu boldly claims Saravanaa Bhavan is the 'World's No.1 Indian Vegetarian Restaurant Chain' and looking at the impressive list of their locations you'd be hard pushed to argue. Tooting ranks alongside over 50 exotic venues including Hong Kong, South Africa, Australia... and East Ham.

The menu is also fronted with the message 'Gateway to the flavours of India' which, on this Friday evening, was at first a blocked gateway, as the start of a queue greeted us on arrival. Upstairs was full - a promising sign - but luckily an enterprising member of staff soon showed us and the rest of the crowd in the doorway to the extra dining space downstairs.


On both floors familiar sights greeted us: utilitarian furniture bought for function not comfort as well as signs of heavy use evident in their chipped surfaces. Likewise, Indian artwork adorned the walls, but at this particular Tooting curry house it was a bit more tasteful and uniform than elsewhere and seemingly put up with a bit more care and attention. Nevertheless, upstairs still had the standard Windows screen saver style landscape image on one wall, in case we forgot where we were.


There was also an air of authenticity, as metallic crockery and a lack of cutlery (encouraging one to eat with their hands) gave a very real taste of eating in India, much like Chennai Dosa up the road.

Nothing hugely special with the venue here, but a deserving bonus point for their international reach - 7/10

Starters & Sides

Chana batura
Hot idly

The menu was quite confusing, divided into themes and styles as much as by food type. Nevertheless, we were able to navigate towards some favourites from visits to India and previous Tooting meals.

On this occasion there was a bit of a blurred line between starters and mains as most of the breads were central to each dish, coming with a small portion of curry as a side, much like they would for a typical Indian meal.

We got a bit carried away and ordered 6 dishes which came one by one.

The chapati and parotta both came in pairs with the same sides of potato masala and a gobi (cauliflower) curry. Both breads were fresh and a great accompaniment to the incredibly delicious cauliflower curry side, but the potato masala was less exciting.


The hot idly (rice and lentil patties) were also accompanied by a range of chutnies and lentil and chili sambar (a lighter, broth type curry) which soaked nicely into their spongy texture.

The chana batura was a chickpea masala dish  that came with a puffed up, oily, poori bread. This was also excellent and evoked memories of delicious Indian breakfasts.

Much like the atmosphere, these dishes were really authentic and whilst marks for presentation wouldn't be high, it's all about the taste. We really liked these! 8/10


Daal butter fry
Paneer jalfrezi

In addition to the curries that came with the breads, we also ordered a paneer jalfrezi and a daal butter fry.

The paneer jafrezi (the two on the left) was also wonderfully rich in flavour too. I prefer the cheese to be cooked a bit more - preferably tikka - but the overall dish was very good.

Finally, the daal butter fry (on the right) was good, perhaps a dish too many for us, but tasty nonetheless. I would have preferred it to be a little bit thicker in it's consistency, but it still went down well.



Whilst we had to wait to be seated initially, the service was amongst the friendliest we've received.

The staff were all uniformly white-shirted (a rare bit of consistency for Tooting) and the waiter who served us downstairs was very polite and helpful.

I had to go upstairs to pay and waited a while, but the food came very promptly and no real complaints.


Value For Money

Saravanaa Bhavans is a BYO venue which is always welcome here. On this occasion we were well behaved and didn't take advantage of this, but did indulge in the food. Between the two of us it came to £27.70, which is pretty good going, especially if you consider how full we were left. Between two, six dishes was a bit excessive, but all were well received. Another good value curry in Tooting - 7/10.


It's fair to say that, despite its simple interior and food presentation, Saravanaa Bhavan charmed us due to its good authentic dishes and flavours. It is similar to Chennai Dosa and Dosa N Chutny in that respect if you're looking to compare or try something similar elsewhere.

We'll be coming back to try more of the dishes and recommend you do too, even the meat lovers amongst you - embrace the veggie revolution!


29 Aug 2016

Ale & Spice

 17 June 2016 - Ale & Spice: Yes please, two

Obviously it's been far too long since the last review.

We got a bit lax, but are hoping to pick things up again, whilst also widening our reach to cover more restaurants in and around the Tooting area.

This first review back is for Ale and Spice in Balham.


Ale and Spice is a Sri Lankan restaurant situated just up from The Bedford pub on Bedford Hill, no more than half a mile from the top end of Tooting Common.

This rather unimaginatively named restaurant sounds more like a port-based pub than a curry house, but the rather prosaic, 'say what you see' naming convention has a slighter deeper meaning. Ale and Spice was born from the ashes of Hop and Spice by some of its former employees so the name is seemingly a nod to this earlier incarnation.

We didn't visit the Hop and Spice ourselves but believe it was on the site of what is now Franca Manca which, like Ale and Spice, contributes to a rich row of restaurant revelry along Bedford Hill. However, these neighbours offer some stiff competition for Ale and Spice, especially as it assumes a less than prominent position in this line up.

Nevertheless, you've got to be in it to win it, and there was certainly a lively atmosphere when we visited on a Friday night (not to mention the particularly rowdy group of girls having a few glasses at the front of shop). Inside, the decor is not quite up to the standard of nearby establishments, but would not be out of place in Tooting - Ikea-style tables and chairs in an open plan layout, surrounded by burgundy red walls and some questionable wall art - sound familiar? At least here there's a little more room to move and there's even a few tables outside offering the opportunity for some al fresco dining.

So, a pleasant surround, but nothing special. 6/10

Starters and sides

We opted for thali as our main course so pretty much rolled the starters, sides and curries into one. We did however tuck into a few poppadoms to kick things off. They were fresh, but quite greasy as a result, so a bit hit and miss.

The thali came with mountains of rice in true, South Asian style, but rising to the peak was the paratha which was excellent; good enough to bump our rating up to a 7 for starters and sides.



Vegetarian Thali (Set menu for two)
Seafood and Veg Thali (Set menu for two)

Between four of us we shared two set thalis - the vegetarian and the seafood and veg.

The vegetarian came with pea and paneer, spinach and coconut, masala potato, aubergine salad, vara, dahl, spinach rice, paratha and chapati.

The seafood and veg came with prawn kulumbu, jack fish, squid, mushroom, mixed varuval, steamed basmati, paratha and chapati.

Firstly, yes they were thalis, but at £14 per person they were a little small. A hungry diner could easily manage one on their own and, whilst I understand rice is quite literally central to a thali, the amount was disproportionate to the other components.

Nevertheless, some of the individual components were a real treat, particularly on the seafood plate -the squid and jack fish were delicious. However, apart from the paratha the rest failed to excite despite being of a decent quality.

Average would be the word and, whilst thalis offer variety, between four we could probably have got a better value mix from the rest of the menu. We shall have to visit again for a broader perspective but on this visit a 6 seems fair. 6/10


I hate Deliveroo. Just putting that out there. Apart from the black and green jacketed men that seemingly haunt my every waking step, they piss me off for two reasons:

1) You're in central London, get off your lazy arse and go to the restaurant yourself! No one lives more than 5mins walk from decent food!

2) Deliveroo orders seem to take priority over orders being placed in person, in the bloody restaurant!

On this occasion at least a pair of be-helmeted couriers were present at all times and I've no doubt it affected our service, not least in terms of time but also in terms of distracting our hosts with idle chatter. I exaggerate a little, but it did have a slightly adverse effect on our experience.

Beyond Deliveroo's influence, our service was a little slow and unfriendly anyway. This was summed up when our request for dessert, that came as part of the thali set, was very reluctantly met. They did seem a little short staffed but a smile wouldn't have gone amiss.


(The irony of this site hosting a Deliveroo ad as I publish this post is not lost on me - thanks Google Ads/Deliveroo ;)  )

Value for money

As I said, quality wasn't an issue, but the quantity in the thalis for £14 per head certainly was and, whilst Ale & Spice is BYO (always a positive), corkage is still charged.

The other mains on the menu were also a bit pricey compared to Tooting equivalents but in fairness this was in Balham, hardly London's bargain basement! Still it did generally feel a little overpriced on this occasion. 5/10


Sri Lanka seems to be the place to be on the tourist trail at the moment and I certainly hope to visit in the near future. Nevertheless, so far on our South London curry travels the Sri Lankan dishes have yet to get us waxing lyrically. 

Seafood is an obvious strength and Ale and Spice didn't disappoint in this respect, but offered little in terms of price and quantity. The quality of the food was generally good to be fair, and we'll have to sample some other mains for a more comprehensive view, but the thalis may not be your best option.

Good to know there's a another dinner choice in Balham, but it may still be worth staying in Tooting for your curry as price and quantity lowered our overall score on this occasion.


14 May 2015


21 April 2015 - Kolam: Drawing out the curry

Running low on new options still available we finally chose to visit Kolam, a venue previously dismissed on account of it never seeming busy and not being BYO.

A kolam is apparently a geometrical line drawing widely practised by female Hindu family members in front of their houses to bring prosperity. We were hoping a visit would bring us good fortune, but instead we were joined again by the unflappable Louise Hitchen who waddled her way from Balham to join us. On this rare occasion Tom was the first to arrive and cut a very lonesome figure sat inside on his own with only the proprietor as company. Eventually, Louise and I arrived to begin the meal and review.


As alluded to already, Kolam is not the liveliest of venues on the high street. I walked past it every day for the best part of three years and rarely saw anyone inside. I even wondered how it ever stayed in business, tucked away as it is very unassumingly opposite the Job Centre Plus. Indeed, on our visit only two other tables were occupied – one by two guys and another by a sole female diner. You certainly won’t find the hustle and bustle of Spice Village or Lahore Karahi here, but we didn’t mind. You’ll find instead a calming ambience, with even the road outside seemingly silenced by curry reverence.

Kolam offers a very pleasant dining experience. Everything is neat, ordered and clean – something that can’t be said of other local rivals. There is a warm and welcoming feel, enhanced by the authentic art on the walls and pleasant greeting from the owners. Perhaps one for the more discerning curry eater or just if you’re looking for a more peaceful experience than can be found elsewhere.

7/10 for venue.

Starters and sides

Aubergine bhaji
Carrot poriyal
Idly with sambhar and chutney
Pilau rice

First thing to say with regards to the food is how usefully descriptive the menu is. Each sub-genre is given a little blurb explaining the defining features or typical time each dish is eaten. This gives an insightful view into the food choices on offer and emphasises the range of authentic dishes available.

For starters we chose the aubergine bhaji and idly(steamed baked rice cakes) that proved delicious and generous in number, especially when dipped in the accompanying sambhar and chutney. While I gorged on idly, Tom was enamoured with the carrot poriyal - shredded stir fried carrot in a dry style, cooked with onions, black mustard seeds, coconut flakes and mild spices. This was a rather unique offering and also comes in cabbage and bean varieties.

Kolam also offers a range of 'rotties' or breads - plain rotti, kothu rotti, poori and naan. We sampled three of the four, the highlight of which was the poori which came as a pair. Perhaps a little too oily for some, it provides a lovely deep fried accompaniment to curry. The naan and plain rotti weren't as good, but were nevertheless decent.

All in all, the range of starters and sides at Kolam is commendable. For kebab or meat lovers this perhaps isn't the place for you, but for more authentic, dosa, vadai, bhaji and uthappam options Kolam really hits the spot. For this reason, and the fact that the breads were good, it's a solid 7/10 for starters and sides here.


Prawn masala
Kolam keerai lamb
Kolam bhuna chicken

The curry followed the form of the starters with generous portions and strong flavours. Notably, all three were packed full of meat and veg, so you get good bang for your buck. The highlight was probably the lamb kolam keerai, a mild spinach curry with tender meat pieces from the restaurant's speciality menu. The chicken bhuna, another special, packed more heat and came with tomato, capsicum and fenugreek leaves. The prawn curry was also tomatoey, but it wasn't quite as good - as a rule of thumb, I prefer king prawn dishes for a more textured bite, but nonetheless there were plenty of prawns in this dish.

Again, the curries here were a solid offering and well worth a try. 7/10.


This feels like a family run place and the owners (presumably husband and wife) are very friendly and welcoming. Their warmth makes this a very pleasant dining experience. Each dish came with an introduction and a smile. The restaurant was in pristine condition, reflecting the general courtesy and good service. The only possible criticism is that we waited longer than average for the food, but we were in no rush and this could be forgiven as the husband and wife seemed to be the only two employees; the absence of hustle was replaced with serene politeness which is often amiss elsewhere in Tooting curry houses. 8/10

Value for money

It's difficult for restaurants without BYO to score top marks on VFM, but the quality and size of portions here mean Kolam still scores highly. Including alcoholic drinks the bill came to over £20 each so not the cheapest around, but certainly worth it. 7/10


I'll let our guest Louise summarise this one, the last point being particularly worth noting:

"I declare Kolam a success. In summary: a hidden gem. Family service with a beaming smile and a particular highlight was the lamb and the bread thing [the poori] that Murphington [sic] ordered. Delicious! The lack of an ambience actually worked in this establishment's favour. (obviously meant I could pay more attention to the witty table repartee)."

All in all, a high scoring 36/50.

Click to add a blog post for Kolam on Zomato

18 Mar 2015

Chennai Dosa

16 March 2015 - Chennai Dosa: A cheeky dosa curry blogging

Yes, it's been a while, too long some might say. Nevertheless, we go onwards into 2015, continuing on our curry quest. 

We haven't posted since August last year, but don't worry, we have been eating... just not anywhere new in Tooting. Most recently I was again impressed by Namak Mandi, and also got my first taste of India in November (Kerala) which reaffirmed my love of the food and opened my eyes to a host of new culinary delights.

On this occasion though, we were back in Tooting and tried Chennai Dosa for the first time. Often overlooked by us due to it's lack of alcohol, on a Monday evening that didn't seem too important.


Chennai Dosa, Tooting, is one of several in the same chain found across South East London. Situated on the corner of the main road and Foulser Road, it's bright white signage is very welcoming, and draws the eye if travelling Southbound from Tooting Bec, even with the luring lights of Spice Village in the middle distance behind.

Whilst Spice Village has recently had a refurb, sadly the same can't be said of Chennai Dosa. Inside you'll find garishly coloured window ledges, red and white warning tape covering broken mirror edges and similar, masking-tape repairs made to the chair cushions.However, I am torn (much like the chairs) about this bleak sounding eatery. On the one hand it doesn't sound pleasant, but on the other hand it evokes fond memories of similar restaurants I frequented in India, with the metallic crockery and distinctive menu only adding to this sense of nostalgia. Maybe I'm just a romantic or my nostalgia formed a pair of rose-tinted spectacles upon my nose (yes Jon Inverdale, rose-TINted), but I quite liked what I'm going to describe as the 'character' of this place.

That said, this blog and our reputation has always been based on our objectivity and integrity (my nose strangely grows as I write this), therefore, it's only right to compare like for like. In this respect, Chennai Dosa's decor doesn't compare to the likes of Spice Village. But then again the curry scene in Tooting is certainly not based on contemporary interior design (far from it), and I for one found Chennai Dosa uniquely charming and I hope others who have visited India share my thoughts and feelings upon eating here.

In the interests of a balanced view, I'll give Venue a 6 out of 10.

Starters and Sides

Chilli Fried Idly
Chicken Varuval (Medium Dry)
5 Parotta

The menu here is as authentically Indian as the interior. This is quite distinctive from the rest of the high street in so far as it doesn't try to balance the menu with your typical Anglicized dishes, (I'm looking at you chicken tikka masala!).

The starter menu is dominated by vadai (savoury fritter-type donuts), gobi (cauliflower) and dry meat dishes. Not being a huge fan of the former two, we opted for a medium dry chicken dish -the chicken varuval - and the one idly dish - the chili fried idly.

Having overlooked the fact that the idly was fried, this wasn't quite as expected. The idly itself was actually quite nice, but it came in almost a sweet and sour sauce that was more Chinese than Indian and a little odd.

The varuval was arguably the stand out dish and when scooped up with the parotta was most evocative of the dishes I'd had on holiday in Kerala, with real strong, cardamon and fennel flavours coming through. However, I don't think you wouldn't want to eat it without rice or bread.

The bread we had was parotta. Despite sounding more like an Italian footballer, parotta is actually a layered flatbread, a bit more pancake-like and stodgy than a chappati or naan. They tend to be a little greasy, but these were very good and a perfect accompaniment to the varuval and curry.

Whilst the varuval and parotta were good, the idly wasn't great and, compared to other starter menus elsewhere, Chennai Dosa's isn't overly exciting. Perhaps harsh, but I'll give a 6 for starters, particularly as the varuval was more like a curry anyway.


Special chicken curry
Special mutton curry

In a slightly criminal stance, and hiding behind our moniker of curry blog, we didn't actually try the dosa. Instead, we opted for two of the eight curries on offer. After the prawn masala was out, we asked the waiter for his recommendation and ended up with the special chicken and special mutton curries. Not giving much away with their names, upon tasting they were both decent, but slightly nondescript. The quality of the meat was ok, but difficult to tell the difference between the two beyond their colour. However, once again they tasted of the real thing and, throwing the varuval into the mix, worthy of a 7 out of 10 even if a little generous.


The lads in here were much friendlier than others, quite attentive and offered recommendations willingly. It wasn't too busy and the two starters came out separately, but otherwise no complaints. 7/10.

Value For Money

Good value to be found here, both of us were amply filled for £30 including a generous tip. No beers here to add to the cost either and curries were no more than a fiver each. Perhaps other places have surprised us more with greater quantity and quality for similar prices, so a 7/10 is fair score.


My nostalgia aside, Chennai Dosa is not going to blow you away, but is a solid choice for dosas and the like for those with slightly more authentic leanings. Not the one for a big, sociable group curry, perhaps more of a lunch or breakfast choice, but nonetheless decent flavours and a nice diversion from the usual options.


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