30 January 2014 - Namak Mandi: O Mandi, you came and you gave me a curry
For our first Tooting curry of the new year, we opted for a fairly recent addition to the scene, Namak Mandi. On this occasion, we were joined again by Liam Corry, a TCB veteran from our Sree Krishna pilgrimage. After a cheeky ale in The Wheatsheaf we made our silky way over the road to Tooting's very own Afghani restaurant, Namak Mandi, for 'a taste of Peshawar'.
It never ceases to amaze me what is crammed into some of the convenience stores in Tooting, least not Namak Mandi which is found squashed between the oddly named Universal Store Pound Plus and Universal All In One Convenience Store. Much like its tardis-like neighbours, there's more to Namak Mandi than meets the eye. If you can navigate your way around the tat that's piled up outside the shops next door, and the bus stop attendees outside the entrance, you'll discover a hidden gem on the Tooting curry scene.
Upon entry the aroma hits you, as flavour sizzles up from the kitchen that flanks the left hand wall. Just in front of which is a cushioned lounge area for the regulars, who flaunt their curry house prestige like Amsterdam’s female window dressers - with a surprising sense of propriety. Unperturbed by these rabble rousers, we were shown to the back, past a few, but crowded tables.
We were quickly handed colourful menus that were bordered with pictures of the food and a poster behind our table welcomed us with pictures of the Peshawar region. The other walls were similarly draped with homely, Afghan fabrics and ornaments. However, the real charm is to be found upstairs. Only at the end of the meal did we make this discovery when popping to the gents. For a minimum spend of £20 (easily done) you can sit in one of several cushion-lined, curtained-off,. lounge areas for a real, authentic, Afghan tea house experience.
We left aghast at having missed out on this opportunity and that it wasn't offered to us by the staff (we can only imagine that they were too lazy to take the food upstairs). Nevertheless, the smells wafting from the open kitchen and the unique menu are still enough to turn this unassuming little restaurant into one worth visiting…but definitely sit upstairs. 7/10
Starters and Sides
Peshawari Chapli kebab
Peshawari Butter Naan
Large Pilau Rice
For starters we had a chapli kebab and mixed grill of chicken tikka, lamb tikka, lamb chops and kofte kebabs. Despite others raving about chapli kebabs, they're yet to win us over. Our view is that they're like deep fried lamb burgers, which might satisfy the Scottish amongst you, but our preference is a good mixed grill. Namak Mandi's didn't let us down, with a unique touch of lamb on the bone that packed a spicy punch. This wasn't the only surprising lamb as there was a whole braised leg hidden in our epic portion of pilau. The naan was equally large, so big, in fact, it needed to be hung on it's own custom built stand. Then to top it all, we received complimentary kahwah - Afghan green tea - a necessary digestif after all the lamb. 7/10 for starters and sides.
Namak Mandi Lamb Karahi
Charsi Chicken Tikka Masala
Lamb was again on the menu for the mains as we tucked into a cavernous karahi of Namak Mandi's signature lamb, a dish whose physical depths were matched by it's deep, rich flavour. The chicken dish wasn't as large, but was still generously sized and of a high standard. Both were clearly freshly prepared, which cannot be said of most curries on the high street - a strong score as a result 8/10.
The solitary chef was welcoming as we came in, but the other staff were less vocal. Nevertheless, they got the job done, albeit one a little clumsily (one made a huge save from dropping a load of plates and knocked into a table a few times). Also we had a bit of a wait for our food, but they did set our expectations and the food was fresh as a result. In general, it was a more relaxed affair, as the complimentary tea reflected, so we weren't too irritable. However, we remain slightly bitter about not being led upstairs - who doesn't want two moustached, old Afghan men leading them into a dark, curtained off area? 6/10.
Value For Money
Everything in this place is set up for sharing so, accordingly, value for money ranks highly. Like Soviets we were left defeated by the Afghans, such was the quantity consumed. Our second naan didn't even make it to the table as I couldn't face it hanging there, mocking us. As it came to a about £15 a head with nice bonuses in the tea and rice-hiding lamb we can't rate VFM low - 8/10.
Namak Mandi is a genuine alternative to other curries on the high street and with sharing sized portions, cushioned lounge areas and great value for money this is a highly recommended, sociable curry venue. We weren't even bothered that we couldn't drink, meaning this praise is even offered sober! A great feed and an authentic feel, try it yourself, but you may have to do some kite running after to burn off all the lamb. 36/50
Address: 25 Upper Tooting Rd, Tooting, London SW17 7TS
Alcohol Policy: No alcohol
Summary: Not the most visually arresting restaurant but great the large sharing dishes pack masses of flavour.