17 October 2018: Sri Chettinad - Nad too shabby
It's been along time since this blog returned to its roots to review a new curry house in Tooting. Unfortunately, the trend has been one of closures rather than openings since then, with the sad news that institutions like Sree Krishna (Tooting's first Indian restaurant) and Kabul Darbar (a blog favourite) have fired up their karahis for the last time. At the time of writing, Masaledar also lies in a state of refurbishment that shows little sign of ending, but from the ashes of one restaurant can rise the phoenix of another, as is the case with Sri Chettinad, a shiny new replacement to the rather tired looking Chennai Dosa.
In hindsight, our review of the latter may have been a little rose-tinted, following a trip to India around the time, but Chennai Dosa certainly had an integrity to it that we appreciated. Would Sri Chettinad be the same or would it be another let down in the mould of Afghan Palace that sullied the memory of our beloved Rayyan's? Read on to find out.
Sri Chettinad can be found at the north end of the Upper Tooting Road on the corner of Foulser Road. Its prominent position means it's hard to miss, especially at night with its well-lit, white sign and bold red writing.
Its style is more casual diner than the more decadent, palatial surrounds of Spice Village a dosa's length away, but at the very least its newly refurbed inside and out is a marked improvement on the dilapidated previous incumbent, Chennai Dosa.
On entering you are forced to reflect, quite literally, as the whole right hand wall is mirrored. The chrome chairs, copper lampshades hanging from the ceiling and well polished floors add to this dazzling effect. Creamy yellow painted walls, black tables and a counter in the middle complete the scene on what is a fairly tasteful, clean interior. It's what you might expect from a new venue, but nonetheless notable when compared to other similar joints.
Also distinctive is the musak filling the room ranging from the more traditional to what can only be described as some sort of Tamil Eric Clapton. Lovely stuff.
It's 7/10 for Venue
Starters and sides
The menu here is Tamil with dishes from both South India and Sri Lanka. The result is a more authentic range of dishes that might take anyone looking for a mild korma by surprise. Traditional dishes like kothu, dosa and idli are found alongside more unusual names. We started with something a little more familiar in the shape of poppadoms; these were fresh, but very greasy as a result.
We then moved onto some tandoori prawn. These reflected the prevalence of seafood throughout the menu, and didn't disappoint. Huge, fat numbers, they were charred to juicy perfection - absolutely delicious.
The naans were also pretty good, nicely buttered and fluffy, and rounded off a solid showing for starters and sides.
It's a 7/10, but we definitely need to return to get a better read - there's a seafood platter that looks particularly enticing, as does anything from the tandoor.
Vatha kulumbu (aubergine)
Nandu chettinad (crab)
Seafood was again on the menu for our mains as we adventurously chose the nandu chettinad, crab curry. Apparently 'freshly' imported from Sri Lanka the crab grabbed our attention, but didn't quite have us moving side to side in delight. It was good despite being a nightmare to eat (as always). The meat inside was delicious once it could be reached, but the rather murky brown sauce it sat in was a little non-descript, despite packing a spicy pinch.
The vatha kulumbu, aubergine dish was also firey but not the most appealing to the eye. Its rich and salty, tamarind flavour was a touch too overpowering and housed a stalk-y, root vegetable that was indigestible. We couldn't quite gather what it was called due to the waiter's broken English, but it wasn't great despite probably adding flavour.
The kadai paneer was a little average too with a sauce of tomato and peppers that spilled over the sides a little. But much better was the mutton kothu that had generous chunks of tender lamb throughout its chopped roti, egg and onion depths. Fans of this Sri Lankan classic won't be disappointed.
In general, the mains here are a little different to those found elsewhere and would be welcomed by the more adventurous curry eater looking for more variety and originality. Unfortunately, the execution lacked a little subtlety and so it's a 6/10 for Curry as a result.
The restaurant was fairly quiet, but it was a Wednesday and we struck up a nice conversation with a fellow diner who we compared notes with.
There were only two waiting staff, both of whom were friendly. The manager in particular, despite not being fluent in English, was very helpful and pleased to have a chat about the food.
Service with a smile, it's 7/10
Value for money
At around £15 quid a head for food alone it's reasonable here, but not the cheapest. However, the extra cost for the seafood has to be taken into consideration as does the fact they do allow you to bring in your own alcohol if you so choose. But the quality of the food was just a touch lacking and so, relative to other places, 6/10 seems fair.
In conclusion, the refurbishment of Sri Chettinad is definitely a welcome improvement on its predecessor's run-down state, but the more positive traits of Chennai Dosa are not lost. The commitment to authentic South Indian dishes is maintained giving Sri Chettinad a similarly, honest and original feel.
Definitely worth checking out if a fan of seafood and an extra chili kick to your curry; it's 33/50 in total.
Please now check out our other reviews in Tooting and across London
Address: 33 Upper Tooting Road, SW17 7TR
Cuisine: Tamil (South Indian)
Alcohol Policy: BYO
Summary: Cheerful little restaurant selling authentic South Indian and Sri Lankan, Tamil food including dosa, kothu and a range of seafood dishes.