Address: 215 Upper Tooting Rd, London SW17 7TG
Alcohol Policy: No alcohol
Summary: Fairly mediocre curry house that doesn't really compete with Mirch Masala next door.
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...
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
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.
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.
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.
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.