15 March 2012: Onam - the curry that lives Onam on (until it was closed)
After a light break we got our curry hats back on and booked in for a few cheeky chapatti and a chinwag. Having recently acquired yet another Taste London card, from yet another address, we decided to put it to good use and selected the only Tooting curry house listed, the previously unknown, Onam.
Prior to the curry, we met in The Antelope pub to chew the fat - a homely affair with sofas and a wide selection of niche beers. On this occasion it was Tom who was early and, when I entered, I found him glued to a book. Perhaps unsurprising of a man from North Eastern climes, it was not a classic novel, but simply a book entitled GANGS. However, stabbings and drug smuggling soon made way for light-hearted conversation and we were joined by Johannes who had cycled to the pub. I was worried Tom’s literary choice may have tempted him to steal Johannes’ bike, but luckily we saw away our pints and hot footed it straight to Onam leaving the bike at the mercy of local reprobates (although locking it outside the library was undoubtedly a smart move as mindless theft and books don’t usually mix (except in chapter five of Tom’s aforementioned book)).
Onam is the furthest we have travelled to date, situated half way between Tooting Broadway and Colliers Wood tube stations. Its location is off the beaten track of the Upper Tooting Road and, while this proves we will go to any length (within reason) to review a curry, the less spritely curry fan would find this a negative, especially when you pass about four other venues wafting out the fresh smell of poppadoms. In other circumstances, the other restaurants on offer could easily have turned our heads, however, we were not going to let something as trivial as geography stop us! Also, these places were not promising 50% off the bill!
A warning to epileptics: Onam catches the eye with some rather intense flashing fairy lights adorning the window (either a deliberate tactic or someone forgot to take the Christmas decorations down). On entering, the interior is similarly striking. On one wall is a large tropical vista, complete with palm trees, whilst on the others is a coat of slightly garish, lime green paint, the like not seen since Changing Rooms sadly left our TV screens in 2004. The walls contrast, further still, with the post-modern, industrial waiter’s plinth that looks like something from a construction site or the set of Robot Wars.
Another notable feature is a statue of Jesus behind a model boat, both sitting on a shelf/shrine on the back wall. We were praying for good curry, but suspect the staff were praying for more customers as we were only one of two groups in the restaurant. The other group left within five minutes of us being there (most likely intimidated by the sight of three curry aficionados), which only served to highlight the lack of atmosphere in the place. Even the Black Eyed Peas, whose dulcet tones were floating out of the sound system, struggled to convince that tonight was going to be a good night.
Although not unpleasant, the interior design was a bit odd. However, it’s fair to say a few more clients and a more traditional soundtrack would likely help ameliorate perceptions or at least distract attention away from the green Skittle shade on the walls. In general, the management’s better tastes were saved for the food, which isn’t a bad thing, but doesn’t help our rating for Venue – 6/10.
Starters and Sides
Sweet Coconut Paratha
Ghee Roast Masala Dosai
Yes, we went a bit wild, but a 50% discount can make one lose their inhibitions! First to arrive were the poppadoms, and as a staple of each review the stakes continue to get higher; Onam’s offer was no exception, the poppadoms themselves were oily fresh and crisp, and the dip selection was the most comprehensive yet - mango chutney, raita, lime pickle, some sort of red onion/cabbage and a fifth coleslaw/cottage cheese concoction (that’s what it tasted like anyway). The amount offered was perfectly apportioned so no fear of the next customer having to mop up our poppadum collateral in succeeding dips.
The Lemon Rice was average really, but the Vegetable Biryani offered a nice alternative to pilao rice. The parathas were similarly contrasting. The keema and garlic parathas lacked the flavour and moisture of their naan cousins found further up the road. On the other hand, the Sweet Coconut Paratha was a delight. Although arguably a bit burnt, the caramelised bread offered a sweet edge to the meal in a crisp, almost biscuit like, delivery.
The Ghee Roast Masala Dosai was a large pancake rolled around a sweet, potato filling. I don’t have much to benchmark against in the dosai stakes, but it was a pleasant change. The potato filling worked well with the creamy mint and onion side it came with. In general, the dosai was as expected and nothing more. The Onion Uthappam, was slightly different. Whilst advertised on the menu as pizza-like, it was, in fact, more like a Spanish omelette that had taken a trip to Southern India. Also, compared to the other dips, the sides that came with the Uthappan were distinctly average, there was a green minty one, a red chilli one, and a browny veggie one – the descriptions tell the story, all very similar in texture and taste. Overall a mixed bag, from the highs of the poppadoms to the low of the Onion Uthappam, let’s give it 6/10
Malabar Fish Curry
Naan Beef Fry (with sauce)
Although the menu read well it was quite limited; our eyes were instantly drawn to the chef and homemade (didn’t realise there was a takeaway option) specials. Initially we plumped for the Kerala Fish Curry, however we were warned off it. Although we are curry aficionados with brass ring pieces to boot, our boyish charm often doesn’t convey this and in this instance we followed the guidance of our house and ended up with the Malabar fish curry instead. The sauce was creamy and fragrant with just a hint of spice, but as is often the case with kingfish, the fish was a little bland.
The Naan Beef Fry had been lovingly slow cooked and just fell off the bone. Although we looked upon this as a positive, given the size of the portion, the bone to meat ratio was not favourable. The meat was tender and the sauce rich, complemented perfectly with our plethora of sides.
With the final curry, it has to be said, we stumbled upon a real gem - the Lamb Dupiaza. It’s a mild curry with subtle flavours combining a luscious mix of succulent lamb and caramelised onion. It was a real fan’s favourite and was subsequently devoured. Its slightly sweet note worked also well with the coconut paratha. If we were to be critical, we’d have to say the portion size was again a little meagre, so, although delightful, it was too quickly gone. All in all, these three dishes were perhaps the stars of the culinary show and deserve a respectable 7/10.
The maitre d' come DJ performed well; he was relaxed, answered our queries and dropped the beat with aplomb. The personal touch was appreciated, although as we were the only customers at the time this is to be expected. We also enjoyed the Morse code knocking system which seemed to be taking place between the kitchen and restaurant - from what we deduced, one knock was for food, two knocks was for more David Guetta to be pumped out from the post-urban DJ booth.
However, we are here to be critical and the fact he racial stereotyped us as not being able to handle the Kerela Fish Curry was a little disappointing; granted that may have been the case, but that decision should have been ours! The questionable choice of music was disappointing too - although mixed to perfection there is only so much I gotta feelin’ one can take while having a curry. In sum, the service was pleasant, but not enough to push the score beyond acceptable; we were open to more conversation and recommendations, but he seemed content with his intermittent knocks from the kitchen. 7/10
Value For Money
With 50% off the total food bill this was a real steal given the amount consumed, however the inclusion of beers did push this up quite a bit. We closed the deal at £42.25, and although this included service we happily rounded it up that extra £2.75. For what we received, this price feels about right, however, if you were to go sans Tastecard, VFM would fall dramatically! To conclude, although we feel this was good value, as a proposition to the general population it can only warrant 7/10
Overall, this was slightly above average. The Lamb Dupiaza and Sweet Coconut Paratha were a real treat, as were the eclectic mix of artefacts adorning the walls. However, it would benefit from a bit more atmosphere, perhaps Onam could consider a mid-week special to drive up the numbers and challenge those establishments with natural footfall 33/50
Address: 1 Tooting High St, Tooting, London SW17 0SN
Cuisine: Keralan (South Indian)
Alcohol Policy: Licensed
Summary: Unfortunately now closed, this was a great value (Taste Card) option for South Indian curry.