15 February 2012: Lahore Karahi - Back on the camel
Note: Since writing this review Lahore Karahi has had a complete makeover. A subsequent visit in May 2017 found the interior much improved and the quality of the food even better. Considered one of Tooting's best, it's well worth a visit. Photos come from both visits.
It was a cold, crisp February night, which only meant one thing, the desire to warm up with some hearty curry and review it at the same time. After the initial curry honeymoon period there had been a lull in the action, but it was time to get back on the camel and visit the bright lights of Tooting to see what the randomly chosen Lahore Karahi had to offer. They were put to the test earlier in the day when an eager Michael Murphy called to check a) if there were television facilities and b) whether we could reserve a spot in line with said television. To be fair they rose the challenge and passed with flying colours, the patron chuckled as if to say, 'Have we got a TV!?' all became clear upon arrival, when we were greeted by a plasma screen TV that dwarfed the dining room; they had even taken the trouble to angle it slightly towards our reserved seats. Well done. It is perhaps worth mentioning at this point that the reason for being so keen to have sight of a TV was not the because of the usual Emmerdale, Coronation Street double header but the hotly anticipated champions league clash between Arsenal and AC Milan.
As we have now come to expect from our friend, colleague and general penguin, ‘Hitch the Stitch’ was unable to waddle her way out of the office on time so missed proceedings. I myself also struggled, but the ever-present Michael Murphy was there on time to use himself as collateral to hold the table. He sat gracefully and sipped gently on the byo beers, for which there was no corkage fee.
Lahore Karahi was off to a flying start, the same could not be said of Arsenal who already languished 1-0 behind.
We all know tardiness should be avoided at all costs, but when it comes to completing game changing concept evaluates, sometimes there needs to be an exception to the rule. I found myself in this very situation arriving several minutes late. A memo had clearly not been received by the waiter who seemed appalled by this poor display of punctuality, demanding our order before I had even removed my winter coat! So despite the rip roaring start with the TV and table, chinks were starting to appear in Lahore Karahi’s armour.
The menu read well, we were exuberant at the prospect of sampling what it had to offer, and were encouraged by the nuances of the Lahore Karahi specials which we hoped would set it apart from the crowd. If there was to be one flaw with the menu it would be this, if everything is on the menu is describes as ‘Lahore Karahi Special’ it dilutes the term ‘special’ take note ‘Lawhore’ Karahi. AC Milan 2, Arsenal 0.
Lahore Karahi sits down towards the Broadway end of Tooting High Street and is very much a no nonsense set up. Practicality definitely won out over interior design when this place was being put together. Having said that, the main architectural feature of a spiral staircase is a nice touch, despite being unsafe for human use. When it comes to curry we never judge a book by its cover, but if we were then things would not bode too well here either. The TV was a nice bonus but not enough to pull the score up, let’s give it a 6
Sides and Starters
Lahori Keema Naan (Special)
Let’s cut to the chase - the katlama arrived alarming quickly, it had been microwaved, and although this alone is not enough for condemnation, the taste certainly was. Imagine taking the sole from a tramps shoe, inserting a layer of lamb mince and then allowing him to continue his journey around the park before removing, warming and serving to a couple of hungry curry critics. Not the best of starts.
The Popadoms came with the usual suspects and were sufficient, as too was the rice, although it did look as if it had been prepared at a Klaxons gig. Very ‘Nu Rave’, there were fluorescent specs running throughout the rice - we don’t know what purpose this served, but we felt it was a nice touch. Both Tandoori Paratha and Lahori Keema Naan (Special) can be summarised together, as they both were okay on flavour, but went from moist, to card, to papier-mâché in texture. We looked unfavourably on advertising the Keema Naan as a reminder of Lahore. I don’t know if the Lahore tourist board are aware of this, if they are, I won’t be visiting, if they’re not, someone really should tell them. Nothing greatly wrong but by no means amazing, let down significantly by the Katlama, so it’s a 6.
Karahi Karela Bitter Melon Gosht
Chicken Tikka Masala (Lahore Karahi Special)
Let’s start with the Karahi Karela Bitter Melon Gosht, and I know what you’re thinking, what on earth’s that? We were just as perplexed, so thought, what better way to find out than ordering it! It was lamb, with green vegetables and Melon and it has to be said a delectable little dish, subtly sweet from the Melon and yet a balance of richness coming from the lamb. Some of the herbage was a little burnt though and this left a bitter aftertaste (literally).
It was difficult to really see what the USP of the Chicken Tikka Masala was - certainly in terms of its status as a Lahore Karahi Special, but, as we know, ‘special’ here is used so liberally its sentiment is lost. At first it was a little repugnant, with a strong taste of paneer, this didn’t sit well with the chicken. However, as the flavours mellowed together the creamy edge started to come through and it was actually rather pleasant. As always the chicken was succulent (we make no apologies for using this word again). The lamb definitely outfought the chicken in this battle and perhaps deserves a ‘special’ of its own, with this in mind it leaves the overall score as a steady 7. AC Milan 3, Arsenal 0
Now, there is prompt and there is prompt, unfortunately the waiters were the latter. I have already mentioned the incident upon arrival, but this continued throughout the meal with my plate being removed while Mike was still knee deep in Karahi Karela Bitter Melon Gosht. There was very little engagement when we tried to explore the menu, with a couple of barked responses. There was also no consistency between waiters, I appreciated the need to all muck in, but of the 9 members of staff present, we must have had 8 at our table at different intervals. So, despite the promising start from the excellent telephone conversation, we were a little disappointed - overall this leaves them with a 6.
Value for Money
As we now know when it comes to a Tooting curry, VFM is always a favourable metric, and Lahore Karahi is no different, a thoroughly good feed for £27 (£30 with tip). However we need to calibrate this not against London as a whole, but the competitive universe that is Tooting’s selection of curry houses. So, with this in mind, it is good, but falls short of some of its competition - Spice Village being the first to spring to mind. We initially thought of awarding 8; however this had be marked down ever so slightly due to some underhanded bill tampering. A mysterious 80p was placed on the bill; we racked our brains but just could not put our finger on it, and thus have had to assume foul play. If there is anyone out there who can shed some light on this please get in touch, and if you manage to solve the mystery you will be treated to a complementary curry and blog mention (complements to Mike for agreeing to put up the cash to do this). Overall VFM 7. AC Milan 4, Arsenal 0
I’m pleased to announce the award of our first ever X Factor point, this goes to Lahore Karahi for accommodating our request to be placed in line with the TV and having it not only angled towards the table but, the champions league playing at a nice volume. This award, however, is not enough to boost the overall scores which come in at a rather average 33/50. They have rolled a 3, and this leaves them lying bottom of the leader board. Not cheap enough to rely on VFM alone, and not classy enough to be considered a pleasant restaurant; Lahore Karahi is caught between a rock and a hard place and must work harder if it wants to be likened to its cultural capital namesake.
Michael Murphy Supports Arsenal – He was not a happy man
Address: 1 Tooting High St, Tooting, London SW17 0SN
Alcohol Policy: BYOB
Summary: One of Tooting's most popular curry establishments, this is a must visit for any fan wishing to try some excellent Pakistani fare.