23 September 2022: Ganapati like it's 1999
Ganapati has been in my sights for a while, but Peckham is not somewhere I often frequent. Maybe I'm not cool enough to inhabit such a vibey area...or maybe it's not cool enough for me...I'll let you decide.
Either way, it's an area I'm not that familiar with so I was pleased to visit some solid public houses beforehand. The pick of the bunch was probably the Montpellier (good Guinness), whilst the bitter on offer at the Victoria Inn and Prince Albert left a lot to be desired. Joining me again were Pete and Sam to toast the birth of Pete's first child, and the neglect of his parental duties for one night.
Past the rough edges of the station and into the more gentrified suburbs we ventured, until we hit the tangerine-orange, corner restaurant, hoping the food and atmosphere would live up to the warm and inviting exterior.
It turned out that Sam had been here before but his memory was hazy (alcohol or age induced...or both?). He didn't have anything negative to say, in any case, and Ganapati had been recommended personally to Pete too. Fortunately, we had nothing to worry about.
Ganapati is unmissable on the corner of Holly Grove and Bellenden Street. It's bold, blue and orange paintwork can be found only a short walk from Peckham Rye, but is a world apart. Described by Pete as a south Indian oasis in a south London desert, it even has a ring of tropical green along it's borders.
Inside is cosy, but not cramped. The style is rustic and homely as opposed to restaurant chic (this is Peckham, afterall). Some plants and arty chandeliers add more character but pale into insignificance against the bold canvas of purples, greens, and orange on the walls. And more sparkle can be found on the dark, flooring, dusted with a glittery sheen. The atmosphere is also vibrant and busy with punters - this is clearly a popular place.
Straight out of the south Indian playbook, the interior will not surprise anyone who has visited Kerala, or the like, but may be less palatable to those of more dour, European tastes. Ultimately, the colours, and metal crockery hint at the authenticity of the food to come, blond female waitress notwithstanding. Indeed, the simplicity and authenticity is not a coincidence, nor is the unusual presence of white, female waiting staff (if that's not too impolite to say). This is a restaurant with an unusual twist, a passion project of a UK tourist turned south Indian chef supreme.
It's worth checking out Claire's story on Ganapati's website, but, so far as to say, she's brought all the exuberance and charm found on her travels back with her.
Starters and sides
Kerala paratha X 3
Coconut rice x 2
Our senses were sent tingling as soon as we opened the front door as flavour wafted through the air. This was a sign of things to come from the array of unique offerings available. Indeed, the menu isn't extensive, but has something for all tastes, even amongst the chutnies. Four distinct pots came with our poppadoms providing a first glimpse of the genuine south Indian experience ahead of us. The garlic pickle, beetroot pickle, coriander and mint chutney, and sweet tomato chutney all provided a unique garnish to our poppadoms, most notably the punchy garlic and surprsingly spiced beetroot.
Following these was the kanthari chicken - boneless chicken thighs marinated in a green chilli sauce and served on a griddled banana leaf. This didn't leave me blown away, despite a strong heat, and neither did the thoran side dish of crunchy stir fried carrot, green bean and coconut. However, the latter was an interesting departure from typical sides, both in content and texture, and both dishes were enjoyable nonetheless.
The showstoppers though were the perfect paratha breads. Sizeably portioned and wonderfully flaky these are a must buy. Only Roti King's signature flatbreads rival these. As Sam said, "I've never had bread like it". These are enough to push the scores for Starters and Sides up to a very respectable 8.
Malabar prawn curry
Chalai fish curry
Beetroot lamb curry
If the starters and sides aren't enough to convince you, the curries here will surely settle any doubts about the authenticity and refreshing point of difference that Ganapati brings to the table. The most unusual of the three was the beetroot lamb. It felt almost Eastern European and borsch-like in flavour, but still ticked all the right boxes with tender lamb and a warming heat. But the two seafood curries were the stand out dishes, transporting me right back to the beaches of Kovalam and Varkala. Both came in typical, coconut based sauces, but each with its own beautiful flavour. The chalai fish had a tomato and chilli rouge to it and the sea bass within its waters was exquisitely cooked and chunky to boot. The prawns were equally perfect and came in an even more unique sauce with an almost sweet and sour taste from its contrasting coconut and fennel infusions. Superb, and accoringly high scoring, it's 9/10 for the mains.
Reflecting the vibe here, service is friendly and relaxed. This isn't ever going to be somewhere with silver service, but the waitress memorising of our order was enough to impress us. Time between courses was spot on and nothing else caused any concern.
Value for money
We can only be consistent with our marks and whilst the food was excellent, the prices on a couple of dishes (especially given the out of town location) did raise a few eyebrows. £6 for the stir-fried thoran side in particular felt a little toppy. Likewise, £13 for the curries is a bit punchy, even with inflation rampant. Afterall, this blog's benchmark is the low low prices of Tooting. Yes, in our last review the slightly elevated prices at Watan still registered a 7, but the whole experience contributed then. Here, the 12.5% optional service charge left a slightly bitter taste as did the 330ml beers at a fiver a pop. I guess, being frank, I was expecting things a little cheaper for dinner in Peckham, but, all told, this is a minor point in an otherwise enjoyable evening; £33 a head for dinner and drinks in London isn't to be sniffed at.
In sum, Ganapati is the real deal. It may be further afield for some, but worth the short trip to be transported to southern India. There's no denying the bone fide flavours; the curries and paratha are up there with the best. Only a few of Tooting's best can rival what's on offer here, demonstrating the lifetime labour of love that eminates from owner Claire into the atmosphere and dishes here. And with the elephant headed god, Ganesh, as it's name sake, this is one to never forget.
Address: 38 Holly Grove, London SE15 5DF
Cuisine: South Indian
Alcohol Policy: Alcohol
Summary: Perfect south Indian curries in Peckham