Address: 33 Upper Tooting Rd, London SW17 7TR
Cuisine: South Indian
Alcohol Policy: No alcohol
Summary: Solid choice for dosas and an authentic Indian dining experience, but not going to blow you away.
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)
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.