22 September 2016 - Afghan Palace: Rayyan's Ruins
When we heard the news that Rayyans had been replaced by another restaurant called Afghan Palace we hoped it was merely a re-brand. After all, the name 'Rayyans' hardly shouted 'curry house' as it rolled off the tongue whereas Afghan Palace sounds more apt in that regard. However, there was only one way to find out for sure. Would Afghan Palace be fit for a pair of curry kings? Tom and I went to check it out for ourselves.
Afghan Palace, for those who didn't know Rayyans, is situated on the Mitcham Road, a long way past the Antelope pub and Vijaya Krisha curry house. Given it's distant location relative to other Tooting favourites it really needed to live up to Rayyan's reputation to make the trek worthwhile.
At first glance you could be forgiven for assuming little had changed: the same furniture was laid out in a similar fashion and the same artwork adorned the walls. However, the ever-changing lighting -cycling through a rainbow of garish colours - is enough to raise suspicion. Then the unfriendly stares from the staff and natives alike, along with the new inability to drink alcohol or BYO, confirm that things have changed for the worse not better.
Sad times, but the food is what would make or break this review. Unfortunately, the absence of two TCB Rayyans' favourites - the Afghan lamb and fish karahi - from the menu added to our early fears.
In fact, the menu is far more limited in general. It is similar all-round to Namak Mandi with dishes built for sharing and options available to scale up the amount of meat, but would it live up to its local rival?
5/10 for Venue
Starters and sides
1 massive peshwari naan
There are several standard options for starters here ranging from kebabs and chops to tikka and mixed grills, but, not being in the most ravenous of moods, we skipped straight to the mains. However, we did pick up a peshwari naan to accompany our karahi dishes and what a naan it was.
Fans of anything novel, we could not turn down the opportunity to have a naan the size of a small child for only £2.50. If you've been to Namak Mandi you'll know the sort, but these here are even bigger, so big we didn't finish it. The novelty of the size soon wore off as the taste failed to impose in the same way, with any peshwari flavouring seemingly absent.
1/4kg Lamb Karahi (Namak Mandi style)
1/4kg Chicken Karahi (Charsi style)
For mains we chose two karahis - stews prepared in a authentic karahi, metallic cooking pan. As mentioned, you can scale up the meat portions here, but as there were only two of us, we chose the smallest 1/4kg portions.
Size wise they were fine, nothing particularly generous, but the meat was quite disappointing. It came on the bone, something we expected, but which meant only a fraction of the 250g of 'meat' was edible. It could have been forgiven had the quality matched our old Rayyans favourites - falling off the bone deliciously and melting in the mouth - but alas this was not the case. The measly amount of meat in both dishes had to be pried off the bone.
As for the flavours, they were ok, but wouldn't have redeemed either dish in any case. Tomato dominated each dish, but little differentiated the two styles. There was a decent bit of heat that could have been increased had we wished, but all in all quite disappointing.
Judging by the difference in name and food, we can only assume this was a complete takeover of Rayyans. In this vein, the staff were also different as the absence of a usually smiley manager highlighted. Not only were they less friendly (to the point of unwelcoming) when we came in, but they also struggled a bit with English and simple questions about the food. I'm sure they were trying their best, but service as a result wasn't great.
Value For Money
On price alone Afghan Palace fares well, as indicated by the huge naan we got for £2.50. But price is only one factor in value, quality and service are others and Afghan Palace, just doesn't deliver in these areas.
There is no BYO policy here either so the bottle of wine we bought stayed firmly un-corked and, whilst we only spent around £20 overall, value scores have to take a hit for the relatively poor food and overall experience.
If you've reached this point and haven't gathered that we were less than impressed with Afghan Palace then I suggest you either weren't really reading properly or have a problem with your scrolling.
As huge fans of Rayyans, we're sad that its replacement couldn't even come close to serving up the same levels of curry enjoyment. Rather than a phoenix rising from Rayyans' ashes, Afghan Palace is more of a cuckoo stealing the nest of a better bird.
We don't like to deliberately put a restaurant down, but the result is that Afghan Palace now sits firmly at the foot of our Tooting leaderboard, pushing Apollo Banana Leaf up another place much to the relief, I'm sure, of many of our readers (although we still stand by the ABL review on the visit in question!).
Address: 169-171 Mitcham Rd, London SW17 9PG
Alcohol Policy: BYOB
Summary: Despite epic naans this is poor replacement to Rayyan's that once stood here.