Address: 254 Upper Tooting Rd, Tooting, London SW17 0DN
Cuisine: Vegetarian Indian
Alcohol Policy: No alcohol
Summary: Great tasting, authentic, vegetarian food that offers great value for money.
As meat consumption is on the decline and popular documentaries tell of the horrific implications of carnivorous activity, what better way to embrace this trend in vegetarianism than by gorging on curry.
We've done a vegetarian review before in Sarashwathy Bavans. On that occasion we sampled a 4ft long dosa. Sadly, it seems the lack of custom we witnessed that night continued as they are now closed. A real travesty. Novelty food has its place, but a place nonetheless.
Never fear though as, not only did we go in search of more veggie fare, but we also eyed a lengthy dosa on along the way too. On this occasion it was found on a neighbour's table in Saravanaa Bhavan. Intrigued? Then read on.
Saravanaa Bhavan is the third bhavan of our curry travels so far. My extensive research tells me that bhavan means building, so...there you go!
This one is situated opposite the Tooting legend, Lahore karahi, and is evidently a popular bhavan in its own right, something they are not shy in shouting about. Their sign and menu boldly claims Saravanaa Bhavan is the 'World's No.1 Indian Vegetarian Restaurant Chain' and looking at the impressive list of their locations you'd be hard pushed to argue. Tooting ranks alongside over 50 exotic venues including Hong Kong, South Africa, Australia... and East Ham.
The menu is also fronted with the message 'Gateway to the flavours of India' which, on this Friday evening, was at first a blocked gateway, as the start of a queue greeted us on arrival. Upstairs was full - a promising sign - but luckily an enterprising member of staff soon showed us and the rest of the crowd in the doorway to the extra dining space downstairs.
On both floors familiar sights greeted us: utilitarian furniture bought for function not comfort as well as signs of heavy use evident in their chipped surfaces. Likewise, Indian artwork adorned the walls, but at this particular Tooting curry house it was a bit more tasteful and uniform than elsewhere and seemingly put up with a bit more care and attention. Nevertheless, upstairs still had the standard Windows screen saver style landscape image on one wall, in case we forgot where we were.
There was also an air of authenticity, as metallic crockery and a lack of cutlery (encouraging one to eat with their hands) gave a very real taste of eating in India, much like Chennai Dosa up the road.
Nothing hugely special with the venue here, but a deserving bonus point for their international reach - 7/10
Starters & Sides
The menu was quite confusing, divided into themes and styles as much as by food type. Nevertheless, we were able to navigate towards some favourites from visits to India and previous Tooting meals.
On this occasion there was a bit of a blurred line between starters and mains as most of the breads were central to each dish, coming with a small portion of curry as a side, much like they would for a typical Indian meal.
We got a bit carried away and ordered 6 dishes which came one by one.
The chapati and parotta both came in pairs with the same sides of potato masala and a gobi (cauliflower) curry. Both breads were fresh and a great accompaniment to the incredibly delicious cauliflower curry side, but the potato masala was less exciting.
The hot idly (rice and lentil patties) were also accompanied by a range of chutnies and lentil and chili sambar (a lighter, broth type curry) which soaked nicely into their spongy texture.
The chana batura was a chickpea masala dish that came with a puffed up, oily, poori bread. This was also excellent and evoked memories of delicious Indian breakfasts.
Much like the atmosphere, these dishes were really authentic and whilst marks for presentation wouldn't be high, it's all about the taste. We really liked these! 8/10
Daal butter fry
In addition to the curries that came with the breads, we also ordered a paneer jalfrezi and a daal butter fry.
The paneer jafrezi (the two on the left) was also wonderfully rich in flavour too. I prefer the cheese to be cooked a bit more - preferably tikka - but the overall dish was very good.
Finally, the daal butter fry (on the right) was good, perhaps a dish too many for us, but tasty nonetheless. I would have preferred it to be a little bit thicker in it's consistency, but it still went down well.
Whilst we had to wait to be seated initially, the service was amongst the friendliest we've received.
The staff were all uniformly white-shirted (a rare bit of consistency for Tooting) and the waiter who served us downstairs was very polite and helpful.
I had to go upstairs to pay and waited a while, but the food came very promptly and no real complaints.
Value For Money
Saravanaa Bhavans is a BYO venue which is always welcome here. On this occasion we were well behaved and didn't take advantage of this, but did indulge in the food. Between the two of us it came to £27.70, which is pretty good going, especially if you consider how full we were left. Between two, six dishes was a bit excessive, but all were well received. Another good value curry in Tooting - 7/10.
It's fair to say that, despite its simple interior and food presentation, Saravanaa Bhavan charmed us due to its good authentic dishes and flavours. It is similar to Chennai Dosa and Dosa N Chutny in that respect if you're looking to compare or try something similar elsewhere.
We'll be coming back to try more of the dishes and recommend you do too, even the meat lovers amongst you - embrace the veggie revolution!