Address: 9-10 Soho St, Soho, London W1D 3DL
Cuisine: Sattvic (Vegan and vegetarian food in line with the Hare Krishna religion containing no onion, garlic or mushrooms)
Alcohol Policy: No alcohol
Summary: Connected to the Radha-Krishna temple next door, this is a vegetarian canteen-style restaurant in the heart of Soho. Great for thali options.
I've been eyeing up Govinda's for a while as I often pass it on the way to Oxford Street from work. I've struggled to persuade others to join me on account of the simple, vegetarian fare, but I finally convinced an old colleague to come with me and try it out.
Govinda's is hard to miss with it's bright orange frontage, large awning and cursive green sign. It's connected to the Radha Krishna temple next door and offers food aligned with the Hare Krishna religion. It is my understanding that this diet is known as sattvic which means 'goodness' and only products that be offered up to Krishna can be considered so. Other food like meat, onion, garlic and mushroom aren't allowed as they are considered rajasic or tamasic meaning they increase passion or ignorance.
Unfortunately, that is the extent of my passion on the subject and as such I am also quite ignorant. However, I do know about curry and that was the purpose of my visit. Any enlightenment achieved on the way is a bonus.
The restaurant itself is more of a canteen with a tray rail and service counter. A few temple devotees serve you as you choose from the range of options, either thali, set combinations or 'mix and match' items from the complete menu.
Beyond the food counter, the restaurant is very clean and tidy, with wooden chairs and tables neatly laid out across the tiled floor. Spotlights and the window to the street provide a light airy feel and Hindu artwork on the walls completes the scene.
Starters and sides
If going off the A La Carte, 'mix and match' menu you can choose from a selection of snacks and breads like samosas, pakora, chapati and poppadom.
I chose the paneer thali but it came with a free poppadom. You can help yourself to a range of chutnies and dips on the counter as accompaniment and two were of particular note. The banana chutney and the lime pickle. The former is an excellent sweet and sour accompaniment and the latter is equally good with a lovely kick. Both have a homemade feel as do most of the items here, including the vegetable pakora I had on a second visit. It was a little cold, despite being re-heated, but had a nice roasted veg filling in the usual batter casing. I also bought a puri which was fresh and had just the right level of oiliness.
All were decent and certain individual items are pretty cheap, but there's nothing particularly special about the sides here other than the chutnies and the lack of onion and garlic.
Paneer thali with:
The 'curry' or main dish I chose was a thali. There are four to choose from at Govinda's - The Veggie, The Paneer, The Unlimited (which misleadingly has only 8 items) and the Govinda's, described as a 'thali extravaganza' with a whopping 12 items.
I chose The Paneer due to the limitations of the Unlimited and the thought of a thali extravaganza altogether overwhelming. In the paneer option you get a choice of the following: rice, bean pot or lentil soup, creamy or chili paneer, a bread roll or poppadom and green salad. I chose the soup, chili paneer and poppadom.
The 'green salad' constituted a handful of lettuce being unceremoniously dumped on the side of your tray while the lentil soup was a little disappointing, feeling like a poor excuse for a daal. However, the chili paneer made up for this with generous amounts of cheese in a deeeply spiced tomato and cumin sauce. The real pick of the plate, it counters any accusations that the sattvic food here lacks flavour.
Whilst a little rough and ready in presentation I enjoyed the experience and it was surprisingly filling. However, with some elements underwhelming it's only a 5/10 and some more options for curry would also be welcome.
Judging by how well kept the place is there is obviously a lot of due care and attention paid. Being attached to the temple there is a dignified, but relaxed manner to the staff who serve you here.
Whilst the food is a bit rough and ready in terms of presentation Govinda's is essentially a canteen so you can't expect too much. No complaints though. 7/10
Value for money
At 60p a puri good value can be found, but on the whole I think the thalis are a little pricey. The paneer thali is £7.95 which is a lot especially when you consider the food is all vegetarian and the options are limited. Arugably you're paying for the 'purity', but more likely it's for the prime Soho rent.
If I were to go again (which I have) I would go off piste and order a small chili paneer with some breads or pakora as accompaniments. That should suffice and come nearer to the £5 mark. However, based on the thalis it's only a 5/10 for Value.
With a total of 30/50 Govinda's is on the lower end of our score sheet, but being fair it's more of a quick, lunchtime option than a high-end restaurant. The range and value could be better, but I would recommend you give it a try when shopping on Oxford Street one day. Certainly don't be put off by the sattvic food, it's still pretty tasty!
Now check out our review for nearby Chettinad