14 May 2015

Kolam

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.

Venue

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
Poori
Naan
Rotti
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.


Curry

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.



Service

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

Summary




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.

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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.

Venue



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.


Curry

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.

Service

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.

Summary

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.

33/50

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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.

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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