30 July 2022: Kothu - Ko to this restaurant
As I'd had Covid the week before I hadn't made many plans for the weekend. This left me a little short of things to do, but with a holiday to France approaching I popped out to pick up some bits and bobs. As I walked past Selkirk road towards Boots I felt it was only right to pop into The Selkirk for a pint of ale, and then another. Then, as I was down that end of Tooting, I figured it would do no harm to have a pint in the Trafalgar Arms.
Three pints down, I was getting peckish so it made sense to have some food from the sub-continent. Kothu, a less well-known Sri Lankan establishment was on the way home and so in I stepped.
It was almost like I planned it.
Kothu entered the Tooting scene a little under the radar about a year ago, but hadn't been forgotten by yours truly. As the name alludes to this is a Sri Lankan affair, joining the long standing Jaffna House in Tooting in offering food from the island.
Despite Hoppers and Kolamba having raised it's profile and a lot of buzz about the Tamil Prince in Islington, which we reviewed recently, it's still arguably a relatively unknown and underrated cuisine. Here's hoping I'm playing my part in raising awareness of Sri Lankan food, especially in Tooting where we're blessed with a few dine-in and takeaway options (you can add Jaffna Kitchen, Yhaal House, Apollo Banana Leaf and the new Tharsini's to the list).
As a venue, Kothu, found opposite the popular Smoke & Salt, won't blow you away. It's a standard issue curry house with reception/bar, Sri Lankan scenes on the walls, and a mix of table, banquette and booth seating. On my visit on an early Saturday evening, it was quiet as you would expect, but there were still a few families dining alongside me.
It's generally light inside, especially near the front, and Bollywood films on the two TVs add a little entertainment. However, other features, including bright green Tanqueray branded cushions, and a studded leather, Chesterfield-style undercarriage to the bar are a little quirkier. All in all, it's neat and tidy, and does the job, nothing more.
Starters and Sides and Curry
For food I had just one dish, a lamprais (only available on weekends) so will combine scoring for Starters and Sides, and Curry.
So, what's a lamprais? Lamprais is a dish introduced by the Dutch colonists in Ceylon and essentially means a packet or lump of rice. But it's a little more exciting than that.
Not winning any awards for presentation, it was served as a tinned-foil wrapped slab which wouldn't look out of place in Narcos. Upon unfolding this metallic gift, a further banana leaf wrap was revealed. And in the leaf was a plethora of dishes, essentially a 'Curry and Rice' combo of about ten items in pass-the-parcel format.
As the pictures show it doesn't necessarily look like much when all piled and folded together, but once spread out a little this lump becomes a much more appetising proposition. In the mix is a boiled egg, a chicken leg, a breaded fish patty, a fried fish cutlet, some poriyal, devilled prawns, mutton curry and fried aubergine.
This was a buffet for one, and a sizeable one at that. The rice was saturated by all the surrounding flavours, most notably the mutton curry with its typically dark and fragrant gravy and punctuated by notes of star anise, cinnamon, cardomom, coriander, bay and curry leaves amongst, I'm sure, other spices and seeds. The meat on the fish and chicken were a little dry but the four meats in one dish added to the enjoyment as did a strong, warming chilli heat that isn't for the korma-lovers. Other textures and tastes came in the form of crunchy onion, spinach, cabbage, cashew and chilli poriyal mixes...and a boiled egg.
The only criticism would be freshness, with inconsistent temperatures through the package suggesting it had just been microwaved or re-heated. However, in general it was an absolute delight and a great way to sample a range of options in one single plate. I was left well and truly satiated and washed it all down with a refreshing bottle of Cobra (Sri Lankan lager also available).
All in all, a highly recommended weekend feast.
Just one young gentleman manned the reception and tables at this early hour, but he was doing a sterling job. Food came in good time and he offered helpful insight into the dishes included in the lamprais. He also said I didn't need to order anything else, which was well and truly correct - thank you sir.
Value for money
There are only a few dishes on the menu over £10 and these are either specials, set menus or sharing dishes. Beers prices are less competitive, and more on par with the local pubs, but if the rest of the menu is as good as the lamprais then great value is to be had. That's certainly what I got from my £9.95 lump of rice that left me absolutely stuffed and very pleased with my choice. It's therefore hard to argue with a high mark of 9/10 for VFM.
With the overall score pushed up by value for money, Kothu is nevertheless worthy of a strong review. It's another example of one of the more overlooked Tooting restaurants serving subcontinental fare, but do so at your loss. The surround isn't going to win any awards, but the authenticity and flavours of the food should. And, given holidays to Sri Lanka are a slightly unsafe proposition right now given the political situation there, why not make a cheaper escape to your local Sri Lankan restaurant instead.
Read our review of Jaffna House here
Address: 114 Tooting High St, London SW17 0RR
Cuisine: South Sri Lankan
Alcohol Policy: Licensed
Summary: Overlooked Sri Lankan diner south of Tooting Broadway