14 March 23 - Saravanaa Bhavan: Chennai have some more please
My last blog entry on Vijaya Krishna was another step on my quest to renew some of the older Tooting reviews, and this one is no different.
It had been over 6 years since my last visit to Saravanaa Bhavan and that needed changing. My opportunity came in the form of German man named Johannes, a good friend of mine and, crucially, a vegetarian. Veteran of 9 previous reviews, Johannes was in town for the evening and needed feeding. A few pints and a vegetarian curry was the perfect solution.
Little has changed in my time away from this Tooting staple. The restaurant sign still boldly states Saravanaa Bhavan as the 'World's No.1 Indian Vegetarian Restaurant Chain' with an array of international locations the F1 would be envious of (ok, maybe not East Ham).
Past the long list of global locations in the window, and into the restaurant, and you're greeted by the dazzle of bright lights, aluminium furniture, and faux-mable table tops. Silver-stemmed branches form the wall-paper pattern and add more shine to the metallic-grey orgy of the interior. The result is rather kitsch but (dare I say it) fairly representative of a similar restaurant you might find in Chennai, SB's spiritual home. Metallic crockery adds to the authentic, Indian feel, and reinforces rather than improves the overall aesthetic.
Seemingly, Saravanaa Bhavan didn't get the memo from the neighbouring curry houses who have all upped their interior design game in recent years. Nevertheless, I'll give a bonus point for the quality and cleanliness of their toilets, something that is quite frankly a disgrace in many other Tooting rivals (something that could warrant a blog of its own). In total, it's a middling 6/10 for Venue.
Starters & Sides (& Curry)
Mysore Masala Dosa
Trying to delineate Starters & Sides and Curry in the usual way seems unecessary here, not least as dishes come one by one when they're ready. And the food certainly came with a sense of being freshly prepared rather than reheated, with an inimitable warmth and crispness.
First to arrive was the hot idly - spongey lentil discs that wonderfully soak up the five sides, including a perfect sambar; a tasty, almost umami flavoured chilli paste; and the usual South India coconut (thengai) chutnies. Variations on these chutnies came with some of the other dishes with the exception of the bhindi fry which was let down by ketchup and Thai sweet chilli dipping sauces. Otherwise this plentiful dish of deep fried okra was deliciously salty and crispy and could've been a meal in its own right. The chilli paneer was also abundant. This bowlful of bouncy cheese cubes came in a chilli sauce that had a slight oriental tang and an abundance of glazed onions.
The other dishes would (and I'm sure do) serve as an ample lunch, each served on their own metallic tray. Chana batura is a personal favourite, sampled recently at the likes of Tamil Prince and Tongi, and is likewise served here with a huge puffed-up puri bread- possibly the largest around. But size isn't everything, the chickpeas themselves are key, and again Saravanaa Bhavan didn't disappoint with two portions of delectable curry with a fragrant, almost nutmegy edge that hit all the right notes.
Finally, the Mysore masala dosa was a unique, soft pancake dosa spread with a tomatoey chilli paste that added a delightful kick to the potato bhaji mix inside. Highly recommended.
All told it was a strong showing and high scoring for this hybrid Sides & Starters and Curry section.
We visited on a Monday but a flurry of takeaway orders and a handful of co-diners point to a lively and busy little restaurant. This was great to see, as was the friendly service that was prompt if at times a little too attentive in terms of trying to clear our plates as soon as possible.
Dishes came out one by one which is fine as they were fresh, warm and quick to arrive. So no complaints, and the hint of a smile at times which is unusual from waiting staff in Tooting!
Value For Money
We paid just over £30 for 5 dishes before any service. I'm sure even the most numerically challenged among you can work out that's an average of £6 a dish which is superb value, even in the competitive local area. Sceptics might say there is no meat and that the surrounds are cheap and cheerful, but how often is vegetarian food over-priced elsewhere? The portions here are also more than generous.
This is top value and scores accordingly.
Saravanaa Bhavan is a simple restaurant. Simple interiors, simple prompt service, and simple honest food. It's as authentic as it comes and great value to boot. This is one that even carnivores would do well not to overlook. Simply great.
Address: 254 Upper Tooting Rd, Tooting, London SW17 0DN
Cuisine: Vegetarian South Indian
Alcohol Policy: No alcohol
Summary: Great tasting, authentic, vegetarian food that offers great value for money.