1 September 2019: Late night chat
With my living room in full decorating mode - dust sheets and painting detritus everywhere - I popped out to watch the football around a mate's house. On my way back, sans food or a table to eat on, I popped into Chatkhara for a cheeky sit-in meal.
The lack of review up to this point for this Tooting stalwart is more a reflection of the inebriated state in which I usually visit, as opposed to the frequency of visitation. Sitting within it's purple shell, sober for the first time, it seemed only right to give it a proper evaluation.
Eating on my own on this occasion meant a limited number of plates to review so I've also drawn on past visits too. Here are my thoughts on a Tooting institution.
Chatkhara is one of three outlets of the same name in a chain along the Northern Line with the two other restaurants found in Clapham South and Elephant and Castle respectively. All three sport the same bright purple signage and chef's head logo and all are open late. This latter feature is really Chatkhara's unique selling point. Few takeaways are open as late as 4am and even fewer offering Indian fare. Unfortunately, when it comes to marking Venue, this is also Chatkhara's only real strength. Perhaps custom at all hours makes it difficult to find the time for cleaning, but there's really no excuse for a food hygiene rating of 1 out of 5 (as of Jan 19). This low score reflects a rather tired interior with cracked and faded blue and red floor tiles, empty picture frames and bizarre wooden flooring...on the ceiling! Despite this, there is busy footfall and some credit has to be given to services to late night drinkers. However, it's hard to give a score higher than an already generous 5/10 especially with the bright lights of the far fancier Spice Village in the distance taunting you.
Starters and sides
On this occasion I only sampled the peshwari naan, but I've been a frequent purchaser of snacks from here in the past including naan, samosa, tandoori chicken wings and tikka rolls. In my early Tooting days the peshwari naan was a regular end of night treat as I stumbled back to Hillbrook Road, but on this occasion it was sadly lacklustre; despite being newly baked in the tandoor oven its lovely sheen belied a dry coconut centre.
From memory the tandoori chicken is tasty and very meaty, almost suspiciously so, but it's also dirt cheap which makes it ok (I think/hope). Like with much of the food here though it's microwaved after being on display for some time. This is the case with the lamb and chicken pieces that go into the tikka rolls. Yes, these may not be the highest quality either, but wrapped in a fresh naan and served with lettuce, onions, garlic mayo and chilli sauce there are few complaints (unless you drunkenly spill half the contents down your best shirt).
Value is the generally the name of the game here even if the quality is questionable. With fond memories it's however, still only a 5/10.
I haven't sampled as many curries here as starters and sides, but one previous takeaway didn't leave me blown away. The same could be said of the mains on this occasion - the lamb karahi and vegetable biryani. Both were reheated on the gas hob and piping hot as a result, but both were equally non-descript.
The biryani had a nice heat, but was only really a small step up from vegetable rice. Despite a good mix of vegetables including potato, peas, sweetcorn, carrot, chickpea, onion, and green beans, it was fairly bland apart from an occasional coriander note. The karahi similarly wasn't a shade on others available in Tooting with variable tenderness in the lamb adding further disappointment.
Used to a smile and a nod when passing Chatkhara Clapham South each day, I was a little taken aback by the less than welcoming reception from the staff here. By Sunday night I'm sure they've had their fair share of the weekend's drunken revellers to deal with but they weren't in the most chipper of moods. Some credit is due for their ability to upsell me a naan and a cheeky can of Miranda, but otherwise it's a less than friendly 6/10.
Value for money
At £5.95 for a meat curry Chatkhara has some of the cheapest around. Therefore value is on the cards here if you overlook the less than average quality. Unfortunately this this isn't quite enough for a high score from me, but still worth noting if you're shy of a pound or two.
Whilst Chatkhara has a special place in my heart, with many fond memories of living above the Clapham South branch for a number of years, it's fair to say my recollections of the food are rose-tinted. On sober reflection it's more cheap takeaway than legendary night spot.
Whilst this saddens me it's still a legend in my eyes and will not be overlooked at 3.30 AM when I'm in need of a little something to soak up the alcohol, despite the food hygiene rating (I really wish I hadn't looked this up!)
Please now check out our recent (and more favourable) review of nearby Lahore Spices here
Address: 15 Upper Tooting Rd, Tooting Bec, London SW17 7TS
Alcohol Policy: No alcohol
Summary: Cheap and cheerful take away restaurant with seating and late night opening