16 May 2012: Sarashwathy Bavans - The tale of the 6ft dosa
For the first time on this blog we have decided to change things around a little, and put a Patel amongst the pigeons. The Brothers in Naans have taken a step back and are relinquishing creative control, handing over the reins to the one and only Krishen Patel.
Krishen is a real up and coming player on the Tooting curry scene, having previously cruised the streets of North London in search of curry perfection. Despite being vegetarian, he really knows his Pasanda from his Patia and what he lack in physical size he more than makes up for in curry proficiency. He has had more curries than we have had, hot curries, so naturally we were keen to see what he would bring to the table. If nothing else, Krishen would bring an air of authenticity to proceedings that is so often missing from our curry house visits.
We met for a pre-curry pint in JJ Moons, where, as the only three non-members of the British National Party we were greeted with a little distain. We were prepared to throw Krishen to the (three) lions in order to save ourselves, but then realised that he was writing the blog so decided to drink up and move on.
The location, Sarashwathy Bavans, was decided upon due to Krishen’s meat aversion, it sits at the Broadway end of Tooting High Street and describes itself as ‘the perfect atmosphere for a homely South Indian’. It certainly was homely, in the sense that we could well have been in one of our front rooms as we were literally the only customers. We were tempted to abandon ship and try Dosa Chutney next door, which was a beehive of action, but we held fast and stuck with Sara. We entered and asked politely whether a table was available, unfortunately the waiter did not pick up on this tongue in cheek introduction and quickly ushered us to a table near the window.
Now let us view the curry through the eyes (and subsequent dense prescription) of our guest blogger Krishen...
If you wanted to know what Sarashwathy Bavans looks like from the exterior I'm afraid I can't tell you because when you go to Google Streetview it's behind a bus stop and the 280 completely blocks the view. I can, however, tell you that it is opposite an imposing Sainsbury's, which is very handy given the BYOB policy (eight cans of Budweiser), and a short hop from Tooting Broadway tube station. There’s also nothing that Tooting Curry Blog loves more than being inclusive, so we were pleased to note the presence of a massive ramp outside for wheelchair access. Although, the inclusion of the lesser-abled is to the exclusion of meat, as this is a vegetarian restaurant.
Inside there were some pretty fancy, faux-crystal, chandeliers with LED lighting (think the Fortress of Solitude in Superman), hairdresser-y chairs and, sadly, zero customers. It was noted by Tom that Dosa Chutney next door was 'pumping' which made the lack of conversational hum all the more galling, and, despite the piped-in sounds of royalty-defeating musak (Seal, Michael Jackson, theme from 'Evita'), the ambience was sorely lacking.
We hoped the rotating lighting might eventually turn things around, but ultimately the interior design, and its many mirrored walls, poorly reflected the curry class of the locale. All in all 6/10
Starters and Sides
Bavans Special Poppadoms Bhel Poori
It has to be said that Sarashwathy seemed to be adherent to French style dining (I saw David Mitchell talk about this on QI) so it's hard to say exactly where the sides started and the mains began. Anyway, as per TCB tradition a round of poppadoms was ordered. They were listed on the menu as ' Bavans Special Poppadoms' and came garnished with onion, tomato and coriander. They had a good crunch to them and the fresh dressings livened up what is a simple starter. However, fans of dip might want to steer clear, as these poppadoms were delivered solo, something which seemed to disturb the normally inscrutable Brothers in Naans.
In addition, some Bhel Poori was ordered, and the zesty crunchyness seemed to go down well among all who sailed in its puffed rice waters. Finally, a Bhaji Platter was delivered and, although they looked alright, they lacked the flavour of the deep-fried vegetables they entombed. Ultimately, they were hollow, stodgy and lacking in taste, much like Jeremy Clarkson.
Generally though, the starters didn’t quite hit Top Gear, and like JC (Clarkson not Christ) weren’t the best for reviewing. 6/10
Now despite the fact that I offered to write this post, my notes are frankly awful. I was only armed with Post-its (couldn't find a note pad) a biro (found one) and a belly full of Polish beer, consequently I can't remember in fine detail what was 'hot' and what was 'made mild for the casuals'.
From what I can piece together: the Aubergine Fried Curry was delicious, with the eponymous vegetable being cooked to perfection, lending it an almost meaty texture. Despite this, the carnivores in my company ignorantly stated ‘it lacked lamb’, however, they did ultimately concede satisfaction with this eggplant-based delight.
The Stringhopper also stood out; it was an Indian vermicelli-esque dish that melted in the mouth, and, like The Wire character it was named after, was ruthless and business-like in its delivery and loved by all.
The centre piece of the dinner was the Family Dosa, which was described on the menu as being 6ft and weighed in at a princely £12. It was definitely worth it, as the huge dosa (oo-er) bestrode the table in a simliar (but more palatable) version of those grotesque sushi restaurants where you can eat food off a naked woman-plate. The dosa itself was crispy, hollow and perhaps a bit too oily. It did come with two additional curries and, although it was really only 4ft, the novelty factor validated the purchase. 6/10
N.B. A word of warning for vegans though – most dishes contained paneer.
The less contact I have with people I don't know, the better. If you share this sentiment then Saraswathy will not disappoint. The staff were prompt, but not intrusive. My only criticism was that at 22:06 the waiter started putting chairs on tables which felt a bit defeatist. To his credit though, earlier, when taking the order, he committed it entirely to memory rather than writing anything down. This is exactly the type of showmanship we were looking for, although, as we were the only customers, it’s likely this was for his own entertainment rather than ours. This also resonated with me later on, as my approach to note taking for this review was similar, but, unlike me he was more successful in his recall. 6/10
Value For Money
“What's the damage?” Is something that a terrible person might say at the end of a meal/financial transaction. It was £15 per head. To give that amount context consider this: the following day I woke up feeling full, in fact I managed to skip breakfast AND lunch - that's three meals! In a sense you can't afford not to eat at Saraswathy. This is also taking into account the absence of meat a negative which may be a sticking point for the less ethical/morally inferior amongst you. 8/10
Bravo Krishen! Bravo! Some lovely curry coverage there. So where does that leave us? Well Sarashwathy Bavans was a pleasant enough meal and not charging corkage is always appreciated. Unfortunately, however, the distinct lack of meat did detract from, well let’s be honest everything! It’s not all doom and gloom though, it gives us great pleasure to award an X-factor point. Any establishment that can knock out a 6 foot dosa deserves some recognition; it is for these sorts of feats that the X-factor system was introduced. So with that taken into consideration overall scores are 33/50
Address: 70 Tooting High St, London SW17 0RN
Alcohol Policy: BYOB
Summary: Closed now, but was a decent enough vegetarian joint, home to the 6ft dosa. Saravanaa Bhavans is a good alternative.