Radha Krishna Bhavan
22 September 2020: Bhavan a couple of Cobras
We last reviewed Radha Krishna Bhavan in 2012 in what can only be described as a 'creative' review set in the context of the upcoming US election. A lot can happen in 8 years, not least the complete and utter erosion of the hope Obama's presidency brought about all those years ago . Having said that, you could be forgiven for thinking Trump, Brexit, and the COVID-19 pandemic had passed RKB by given its decor has hardly changed in that time. But, I suppose, you don't become a stalwart of the Tooting restaurant scene, without consistency. However, it wasn't the furnishings we were here to re-review (although we will), but the food.
How would our past positive assessment of RKB stack up all these years later? I was joined again by Joe and the Tooting neighbours to find out.
Following our recent foray together to Dishoom, it was time to find out if traditional Keralan fare would top the capital's most renowned Indian.
Radha Krishna Bhavan is one of a number of South Indian restaurants in Tooting, including Kolam, Vijaya Krishna and Dosa N Chutny. Sadly since we last reviewed here, a few others - Sree Krishna, Sri Chettinad, Chennai Dosa and Onam - have all closed, but RKB stands strong.
It's hard to know for sure why some fail while others prevail, but it could be argued that RKB benefits from a slightly more central Tooting Broadway location and a slightly more refined, restaurant interior than these other more distanced and lo-fi venues now confined to history.
As already alluded to, the interior of RKB has changed little since our last visit with the faux marble wall to the left of the entrance and exposed brick to the right embellished with all manner of Keralan art, traditional Kathakali masks, and phallically embossed fabric hangings. A range of ceiling pendant lights add further eclectic charm whilst the furniture is more prosaic and akin to the utilitarian-style familiar across Tooting curry houses.
Nevertheless, RKB has it's own charm amid a local scene in which modern interior decoration styles continue to be eschewed by all but a few eateries. As such, it's a generous 7 for Venue, helped by a nice plant inside the doorway and licensed bar at the back.
Starters and sides
Sweet Coconut Paratha
True to South Indian cuisine, the menu here offers a host of regional specialties that may be as new to the average British curry lover as they were to my fellow diners. Often consisting of coconut, seafood and vegetable options there's a host of exciting plates to try.
We started with poppadoms which came with a delightful quartet of dips including the usual mango chutney and raita, but also, a sweet onion relish and a deliciously moreish spicy tomato and tamarind chutney topped with crisped mustard seeds. Thankfully, the latter also came with two of our other starters, the idly and vada. And whilst very different in appearance - the idly white steamed discs of compacted lentil and rice batter, the vada deep fried donuts of the same - both proved the ideal vehicles for soaking up the favoured chutney with their spongey consistency. The idly also came with a small sambar side - a light lentil stew and an equally good companion as the chutney. Less unusual were the bhaji which weren't the best on account of being slightly over fried.
Unfortunately, in Tooting they will always be overshadowed by Mirch Masala's sprawling onion delights.
For breads, as this was South Indian, there were no naans here, but these were adequately replaced with paratha, poori and parotta (described as Keralan Paratha on the menu, but similar also to roti).
The sweet coconut paratha was, as ever a more dense, stodgier cousin to the peshwari naan - good but heavy and slightly drier as a result. The poori was typically unphotogenic, looking like a inflated crab with acne, but tasting, as you can imagine, far nicer than that. Finally, the pick of the bunch was the Keralan paratha. With it's buttery swirls and flakey pastry consistency it's always a favourite of ours and contributed to an overall 7 for Starters & Sides.
Green Lamb Curry
Vendakka & Aloo Puli
The curries here also offer great variety even if they're not the most picturesque. The chicken malabar's slightly sickly yellow complexion added colour to a pretty average, onion-laden curry, but the similarly striking yellow of the kathrika koottan was far from a warning sign. This superb baby aubergine and coconut curry was delicious and sweet, outdoing similar dishes at New Delis and Salaam Namaste (both in Holborn).
The other vegetable curry the vendakka and allo puli (okra and potato) was equally enjoyable with a more appetising, tomato-orange colour. Like the chutney, it too was dotted with toasted black mustard seeds familiar to many South Indian curries and had a lighter feel to more yoghurt based curries of the north. The green lamb curry was more akin to the latter with a more typical onion and tomato based masala. Green chillies and coriander added a bitter edge to an otherwise sugary sweet sauce surrounding the tender lamb.
The chicken malabar and weaker aesthetics aside, these were great curries offering a good mix of exciting vegetable and meat flavours. As such it's a high-scoring 8 out of 10 for Curry.
Same story as usual here, no real pomp to proceedings, but neither was there anything to raise eyebrows. Only the odd friendly smile from our host broke up the usual expressionless service we're now more than used to in Tooting.
Value for money
On this occasion we enjoyed a magnificent 30% off the bill and buy one get one free Cobra beers as part of an ongoing pandemic related deal. However, as usual this won't factor into our scoring.
Discounts aside the food offered great value for money with the outstanding vegetable curries coming in under £6 each and none others on the menu, not even the prawn dishes coming in over £10. Otherwise, the starters aren't that much cheaper than the veggie mains, and breads are all over £3, but the net result is still excellent value, given the flavour on offer.
This re-review proved a great success and after a lot of Pakistani curries in Tooting lately, Radha Krishna Bhavan reminded me of the strength of South Indian options on offer. I'd been overlooking it based on misconceptions of its price and quality, which have now been firmly corrected. For those like me who live nearer the Bec end of Tooting, it's well worth the walk. But what did my fellow diners think? The variety and veggie dishes in particular proved very popular and with the phrase 'better than Dishoom' a wry smile crossed my face as Tooting delivered once again.
Address: 86 Tooting High St, Tooting, London SW17 0RN
Cuisine: Keralan / South Indian
Alcohol Policy: Licensed
Summary: Keralan restaurant serving a range of traditional South Indian dishes