Address: 228 Upper Tooting Rd, Tooting, London SW17 7EW
Alcohol Policy: No alcohol
Summary: It's all about the food in this simple dining space that brings the taste of Hyderabad to Tooting
Any new Indian restaurant opening in Tooting is music to my ears and and I'm quick to spread the word. Well...I would be if I could be bothered to write up my reviews. In this case, I'm writing this well over 2 months after the fact and with a somewhat impaired memory. That said, better late than never, right?
To join me in sampling this newest addition to Tooting's ranks were veteran LCB-ers Angela and Nate, and two newbies, Emma and Niall.
Keen to set expectations right I informed my fellow diners that our destination - Hyderabadi Zaiqa - served no alcohol and was not BYOB either. There is also a general etiquette to LCB proceedings, namely: sharing all the food, generally avoiding generic dishes, trying the specials, and keeping more or less in line with the restaurants cuisine, i.e. order dishes from the region it represents. You can therefore imagine my horror when Niall arrives (late), shows disbelief at the no alcohol policy (so much so he asked the waitress again), turns his nose up at sharing, and orders a bhuna. Fuming at the audacity I decided to hold back my full chagrin (don't worry, some choice comments were made), and give this philistine a chance to redeem himself.
And so it was that our review of Hyderabadi Zaiqa got under way, my excitement at trying a new Tooting curry house, only just about still intact.
Its name is eye-catching enough, but you could be forgiven for missing Hyderabadi Zaiqa's entrance alongside Nando's distracting presence next door. But, this new restaurant is situated very much at the heart of Tooting's curry scene opposite Mirch Masala and short distances from Dawat, Lahore Karahi and Saravanaa Bhavan.
Once inside, the functional interior of these neighbouring joints is reflected in Hyderabadi Zaiqa's uncovered wooden tables, minimal decor and tiled flooring. However, some style is added by burgundy dados, gold framed mirrors, and a floor to ceiling image of Hyderabad's iconic minareted Charminar mosque. On this mid-Covid visit great lengths had been put in place to keep diners apart (quite literally great lengths of transparent plastic between the tables) but this necessary safety measure added an extra dazzle to proceedings with the already bright lights given further surfaces to bounce off. Overall though, there is nothing especially sparkling about Hyderabadi Zaiqa as a venue, but, as ever, we were there for the food.
Starters and sides
Garlic Chilli Naan
Kicking things off were a sharing basket of oily fresh poppadoms segmented into smaller crisps in the modern style. I noticed Niall was willing to share these, and therefore starting to redeem himself with a more open-minded attitude. This was short lived after he ordered sauté prawns for starters - a seafood dish from a Hyderabadi restaurant - the very same Hyderabad that is about 150 miles from the sea. Fortunately for him, I was left very much wiping the proverbial egg from my face when these perfectly cooked, garlicky, crunchy edged prawns arrived. Superb.
Accompanying the prawns were some lamb chops and a plate of paneer 65. The chops were a touch cold but very juicy, and tender as a result. The marinade of spices was also tasty if a little overgenerous. As for the paneer 65, it looked the part with a large quantity of tikka-orange cheese cubes amidst a throng of caramelised onion and chopped coriander. Sadly, these flavours hadn't permeated the cheese quite enough for its taste to match its appearance, but nonetheless this was a decent starter.
More exciting was the rice on offer - a refreshing break from the usual pilau. We had the lemon rice and peas pulao with the latter's vegetables proving a hit with pea-loving Emma. The lemon rice was the pick of the two though with a slightly oriental tang, mixed with zesty chunks of lemon and a pop of mustard seeds.
The breads didn't quite match the distinctive levels of the rice, with good peshwari and garlic chilli naans supported by a slightly dry, laccha paratha. However, this wasn't to detract from an altogether solid range of starters and sides.
Methi Chicken Masala
For mains we ordered five dishes and Niall once again flirted with curry club expulsion with his choice of a lamb bhuna, but once again the boy came up trumps and his redemption was complete with this unbelievable curry. This amazing braised and on-the-bone lamb number is up there with the best, providing a delectably rich and tender bite, and not to be missed.
Our second curry was the more authentically Hyderabadi Nizami gosht - Nizami referring to the Islamic Nizam rulers of Hyderabad from the 18th to mid 20th century. This traditional mutton dish was an intricate mesh of flavours, with fragrances provided by star anise and mace coming to the fore. Its presentation was equally unique with a halved boiled egg sat atop a cream drizzled, lighter-coloured, but rich curry sauce.
Our final meat curry was a methi chicken masala whose fenugreek greens gave it the look of a saag, but with a more complex, nutty bitterness. Again this was well cooked and well presented, much like our two remaining vegetarian dishes. The aubergine, baghare baigan had a flavour akin to baba ganoush and an almost humousy textured sauce, whilst the tadka daal and a nice chunky lentil bite to it which I prefer to less viscous offerings.
All in all, a pleasantly surprising array of dishes that compete more than well with Tooting's more established curries.
Despite Niall's initial disrespect of the no alcohol policy and having to deal with the encumbrance of PPE our waitress was full of smiles and attentive throughout. It wasn't the quickest food service, but we were in no rush and not left wanting either. As such, it's a steady 7/10 for service.
Value for money
On this occasion we took advantage of a stunning 20% opening month discount, but even without this we were stuffed for a more than reasonable £17 each.
The starters aren't the cheapest, and rival the price tags of the mains, but with these coming in at £7.49 on average you can't baulk at the prices. Add to this the quality of the food and value is definitely on the cards. Yes, the surrounds won't blow you away, but the food will.
I know that, with the threat of another pandemic lockdown always on the horizon, it' easier not to risk trying a new restaurant on your one night out in ages, however, I urge you to try this restaurant.
It can't be easy setting up a new restaurant during these uncertain times and survival is no doubt harder than ever in what is a highly competitive scene. However, it would be a tragedy for this great new addition not to be given a chance to flourish as its menu already does. We were all genuinely taken aback by the quality of the food not least those less inclined to try a curry house that serves no alcohol (something I discourage vehemently).
So please visit and support this great new restaurant, even if it's just a takeaway for now; I'm just sorry I didn't tell you about it sooner.
Click here to read our previous Tooting review of Radha Krishna Bhavan