21 April 2015 - Kolam: Drawing out the curry
Running low on new options still available we finally chose to visit Kolam, a venue previously dismissed on account of it never seeming busy and not being BYO.
A kolam is apparently a geometrical line drawing widely practised by female Hindu family members in front of their houses to bring prosperity. We were hoping a visit would bring us good fortune, but instead we were joined again by the unflappable Louise Hitchen who waddled her way from Balham to join us. On this rare occasion Tom was the first to arrive and cut a very lonesome figure sat inside on his own with only the proprietor as company. Eventually, Louise and I arrived to begin the meal and review.
As alluded to already, Kolam is not the liveliest of venues on the high street. I walked past it every day for the best part of three years and rarely saw anyone inside. I even wondered how it ever stayed in business, tucked away as it is very unassumingly opposite the Job Centre Plus. Indeed, on our visit only two other tables were occupied – one by two guys and another by a sole female diner. You certainly won’t find the hustle and bustle of Spice Village or Lahore Karahi here, but we didn’t mind. You’ll find instead a calming ambience, with even the road outside seemingly silenced by curry reverence.
Kolam offers a very pleasant dining experience. Everything is neat, ordered and clean – something that can’t be said of other local rivals. There is a warm and welcoming feel, enhanced by the authentic art on the walls and pleasant greeting from the owners. Perhaps one for the more discerning curry eater or just if you’re looking for a more peaceful experience than can be found elsewhere.
7/10 for venue.
Starters and sides
Idly with sambhar and chutney
First thing to say with regards to the food is how usefully descriptive the menu is. Each sub-genre is given a little blurb explaining the defining features or typical time each dish is eaten. This gives an insightful view into the food choices on offer and emphasises the range of authentic dishes available.
For starters we chose the aubergine bhaji and idly(steamed baked rice cakes) that proved delicious and generous in number, especially when dipped in the accompanying sambhar and chutney. While I gorged on idly, Tom was enamoured with the carrot poriyal - shredded stir fried carrot in a dry style, cooked with onions, black mustard seeds, coconut flakes and mild spices. This was a rather unique offering and also comes in cabbage and bean varieties.
Kolam also offers a range of 'rotties' or breads - plain rotti, kothu rotti, poori and naan. We sampled three of the four, the highlight of which was the poori which came as a pair. Perhaps a little too oily for some, it provides a lovely deep fried accompaniment to curry. The naan and plain rotti weren't as good, but were nevertheless decent.
All in all, the range of starters and sides at Kolam is commendable. For kebab or meat lovers this perhaps isn't the place for you, but for more authentic, dosa, vadai, bhaji and uthappam options Kolam really hits the spot. For this reason, and the fact that the breads were good, it's a solid 7/10 for starters and sides here.
Kolam keerai lamb
Kolam bhuna chicken
The curry followed the form of the starters with generous portions and strong flavours. Notably, all three were packed full of meat and veg, so you get good bang for your buck. The highlight was probably the lamb kolam keerai, a mild spinach curry with tender meat pieces from the restaurant's speciality menu. The chicken bhuna, another special, packed more heat and came with tomato, capsicum and fenugreek leaves. The prawn curry was also tomatoey, but it wasn't quite as good - as a rule of thumb, I prefer king prawn dishes for a more textured bite, but nonetheless there were plenty of prawns in this dish.
Again, the curries here were a solid offering and well worth a try. 7/10.
This feels like a family run place and the owners (presumably husband and wife) are very friendly and welcoming. Their warmth makes this a very pleasant dining experience. Each dish came with an introduction and a smile. The restaurant was in pristine condition, reflecting the general courtesy and good service. The only possible criticism is that we waited longer than average for the food, but we were in no rush and this could be forgiven as the husband and wife seemed to be the only two employees; the absence of hustle was replaced with serene politeness which is often amiss elsewhere in Tooting curry houses. 8/10
Value for money
It's difficult for restaurants without BYO to score top marks on VFM, but the quality and size of portions here mean Kolam still scores highly. Including alcoholic drinks the bill came to over £20 each so not the cheapest around, but certainly worth it. 7/10
I'll let our guest Louise summarise this one, the last point being particularly worth noting:
"I declare Kolam a success. In summary: a hidden gem. Family service with a beaming smile and a particular highlight was the lamb and the bread thing [the poori] that Murphington [sic] ordered. Delicious! The lack of an ambience actually worked in this establishment's favour. (obviously meant I could pay more attention to the witty table repartee)."
All in all, a high scoring 36/50.
Address: 60 Upper Tooting Rd, London SW17 7PB
Alcohol Policy: Licensed
Summary: Well worth a visit to this quiet, family-run restaurant.