I’m not entirely sure why we’d not yet been to Karnavar on South End, Croydon’s restaurant street. It’s a more upmarket Indian restaurant and I think we were going to save it for a special occasion. Well, that is, until I discovered they have a spectacular deal for Sunday brunch – five courses for £25, or £40 if you want a champagne brunch, for a massive Indian style roast brunch. The menu is an Indian twist on the Sunday roast lunch but also features classics from their usual a la carte menu, making it a good first visit. We went one recent Sunday when we felt yes, brunch and yes, Indian food, and loved it.

Here we go. Five courses.

Chef Cooking Station and Starter Table

Course 1: Chef Live Cooking Station.
The station was placed at one end of the starter table (photo above). From here, you could place an order (or lots of orders) for freshly made dosas, oothapams, Indian omelettes, or Indian scrambled eggs. We shared a plain dosa (made small, just the right size for a buffet) and a beautifully made Indian omelette. We only realised after our meal that the chef manning this station was the chef-owner – he was just the friendliest!

Indian Omelette

Course 2: The Starter Table.
On the table by the window, there was a good spread of various dishes from which to help yourself. My particular highlights were the Roasted Dokla with Home Cured Sardines and Potato Salad, the fantastic Karnavar Special Golden and Candy Beetroot Chaat with Goji Berry and Moong Bean Sprout, and the Dahi Wada (Black Gram Dumplings with Yogurt, Mustard and Cumin). Take your time over them… it’s a leisurely brunch and you’re welcome to graze for as long as you like.

Starters

Course 3: Intermediate.
This course was brought to your table by a waiter wielding a massive frying pan full of Tulsi Seekh Kebab and Chicken Tikka. Both were very spicy and flavourful and I probably could have put away a lot more if I hadn’t been worrying about what and how much was coming next.

Seekh Kebab and Chicken Tikka

There was also a separate pan full of Salmon Pakora with Sweet Curry, Capers and Gherkin Sauce. This I loved, definitely putting away a few more than necessary – that sauce was like a fantastic Indian tartar sauce.

Salmon Pakora

Course 4: Mains.
Then it was time for mains. Each diner gets to choose one of the mains from the list but they can have as much of that protein as desired. My Roasted Pork Belly Coorg/Kerala style served with Mappas Sauce was fine but Blai’s Sea Bass Polichathu, Kerala Coastal style served with Mappas Sauce was finer. I think I had been hoping that the pork belly was spiced itself but most of the Indian flavour was from the onion sauce served alongside. Blai’s fish was exactly as I’d hoped for, all dusted with spice.

Roasted Pork Belly Coorg/Kerala style served with Mappas Sauce

Sea Bass Polichathu

It’s not a roast dinner though without all the sides! Garlic and fennel seed spiced roast potatoes were tender and delicious. Vegetables were an addictive Cauliflower thoran (addictive), an excellent Chef’s seasonal vegetables, which that day was Broccoli do pyaza, and my typical Indian meal must-have, Panchmel dal (think tarka dal). Carbs were a Saffron pulao rice and Butter naan (very buttery!). Like the mains, you could get more of the sides you desired. You can imagine how stuffed we were by the end of this course!

Sides

Sides and Naan

Dessert was a tasting plate of (from left to right) Rasamalai (Indian Milk Cheese Dumplings with Pistachio), raspberry sorbet, and Kinnathapan Malabar (Rice and Coconut Pudding with Lemon Sorbet). I do believe this is the only course you cannot repeat but the little sweet bites were the perfect size after we’d stuffed ourselves from the previous four courses. Actually, no, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want another of the amazing rasamalai, some of the best I’d ever had.

Dessert Platter

Bookings are essential for Sunday brunch (it’s very popular) and can be made via their website. What I noticed was that the food was highly spiced and flavourful but not chilli-hot, making it perfect for families, and there were a lot of families that Sunday. Needless to say, go hungry! Oh, and if you’re a vegetarian or dining with vegetarian, there are vegetarian options for the more meaty courses (vegetarian but not vegan).

Karnavar
62 South End
Croydon
London CR0 1DP

I wish I could say that my pre-birthday lunch at Gymkhana was outstanding but that would be a lie. In a weird way I’ve been wanting to write up the meal and yet at the same time I’ve felt entirely unmotivated to do so due to our overall general experience.

I’ll start with the good. Good: the food.

We booked for lunch last Saturday – I’d been really looking forward to trying this restaurant but as they close on Sundays, finding a day that would work for both me and Blai had been a bit of a challenge. Anyway, this opportunity arose and we went for their lunch menu: 3 courses for £30.

Drinks! Our Angoor Sharbat was the better of our two nonalcoholic cocktails, being more unique, made of homemade spiced grape juice and seltzer. The Lemon Teaser was a lemon (and lemon thyme!) fizzy drink. I really liked their nonalcoholic offerings – all were interesting and there were plenty from which to choose.

Lemon Teaser and Angoor Sharbat

Our meal started (or was supposed to start with as you’ll soon read) Cassava, Lentil & Potato Papads, Shrimp Chutney & Mango Chutney. I didn’t entirely understand until we received the basket that there would be two kinds of poppadoms here, with two distinctly different textures. I loved both.

Cassava, Lentil & Potato Papads

And both chutneys served were mind blowing. The mango chutney was the finest I’d ever had while the shrimp one was an intensely savoury and unique condiment.

Shrimp Chutney & Mango Chutney

For our starters, we chose the Soft Shell Crab Jhalmuri, Samphire

Soft Shell Crab Jhalmuri, Samphire

… and the Dosa, Chettinad Duck, Coconut Chutney. Both were excellent though the dosa just pipped the crab to the post. The crab was well spiced and tasty but that duck and dosa was really something.

Dosa, Chettinad Duck, Coconut Chutney

Dosa, Chettinad Duck, Coconut Chutney

Our main courses were the megastars of our lunch. Our Tandoori Chicken Chop, Mango Ginger, Leg Chat was amazing, easily the best tandoori chicken I’ve ever had. The chicken was just perfect, perfectly spiced, perfectly grilled, perfectly tender. And I must mention that ‘leg chat’, which was a tandoori spiced mixture of cooked and chopped chicken leg topped with crispy potato bits.

Tandoori Chicken Chop, Mango Ginger, Leg Chat

Our Hariyali Bream, Tomato Kachumber was also brilliant. This incredibly tender bream had been schmeared with a coriander paste and grilled and served with a fresh tomato relish; I’ve found the recipe online and hope to replicate at home one day!

Hariyali Bream, Tomato Kachumber

To go with our main courses, our set lunches also included a side each of Dal Maharani (creamy lentils) and Saag Makkai (spinach and corn). I loved these additions, rounding out our Indian meal.

Dal Maharani

Saag Makkai

For carbs we were given a bread basket with a naan and roti and also a large bowl of basmati rice. They were particularly generous with the rice and we didn’t manage to finish that!

Bread Basket

Desserts were very good indeed. A Rose & Rhubarb Kulfi Falooda was a ball of rose kulfi with rose petal jam, braised rhubarb, jelly bits, basil seeds and vermicelli, all served with a small pitcher of sweetened reduced milk for pouring over.

Ras Malai, Tandoori Peach Chutney

Ras Malai, Tandoori Peach Chutney was probably the finest ras malai I’ve ever had (clearly a theme throughout this meal) but I only wish that they’d been a little more generous with the fabulous chutney.

Rose & Rhubarb Kulfi Falooda

Overall, this was some of the finest Indian food we both had ever had and for that we were glad we tried the restaurant. The meal ended with these excellent passionfruit and chilli jellies but we almost didn’t get these as I mention below.

Passionfruit and Chilli Jellies

Now, the bad. Bad: the service. I’m not sure what it was about us but we were clearly getting shoddy service compared to those around us. I could see everything go flawlessly around us which really rubbed salt in the wound.

What we do not tend to expect from a one Michelin starred restaurant:

  • Waiting ages to be served. Having to ask for menus.
  • Receiving the first opening dish (the poppodoms and chutneys) after the second.
  • Watching the waitpeople roll their eyes above the heads of diners.
  • Waitpeople who try to clear our dishes about 2 minutes after we received them (yes, they were still half full).
  • Waiting 15 minutes for a single espresso, especially when we have a time limit on the table.
  • Being denied petit-fours, despite every table around us getting some. I only got them (the jellies above) after asking for them (and simultaneously making a complaint about service).
  • Waitpeople who, in general, avoid you.

Now, each event taken in isolation could have been considered an honest oversight but taken all together, it was increasing clear that we had been judged for some reason and judged to be lacking in some way and thus treated differently from everyone else. I made a complaint to our waiter but his response left me feeling very uncomfortable and I perhaps regret not speaking directly to management.

The day after our meal, a generic “we value your feedback” email popped into my inbox. I took the opportunity to send detailed email feedback to the restaurant and to their credit, they apologised and said they’d spoken to the waitstaff mentioned. But the fact that it even happened in the first place….not on, Gymkhana. While the food was spectacular, the whole lunch left a distinctly bad taste in our mouths.

Gymkhana
42 Albemarle Street
London W1S 4JH

Every so often, I need to make a trip up to Kenton (zone 4, Bakerloo line) for work and if you’re familiar with the area, you’ll know what a dearth of restaurants there is there. Luckily for me, there is Ram’s, a pure vegetarian Indian restaurant that specialises in the food of the Gujarat.

For £4.99, one gets access to the lunch buffet in the back of the restaurant. There’s always some kind of rice, salad, poppadoms and freshly fried puris brought straight to your table. There’s at least two curries and some kind of starter and some kind of sweet too. Everything tastes fresh, service is friendly and there’re always a few people tucking in. I’ve been a number of times now and here are photos from a few visits.

Bhel puri, tomato curry, channa masala, jeera rice.

Indian vegetarian buffet for lunch

Potato bhaji, mung bean curry (one of my favourites), paneer tikka masala, vegetable biryani.

Freshly fried puris at lunchtime

This was not the buffet but my friend’s lunch thali – two veg, rice, rotis. It’s a little pricier but then you get the choice of what veg curries you want. It’s now changed a little according to their latest menu and it’s £6.90 for two veg, rice, three puris, dal, papad and pickle.

My friend went with the lunch thali

Back to the buffet. Spring rolls with chutney, potatoes, chickpeas. The puris are addictive!

A late lunch at Ram's in Kenton

This was my latest meal there a couple weeks ago. I’m a bit upset that they switched their lovely compartmentalised trays for these giant platters – I like keeping my curries separate!

Dhokla, mung bean curry, dhal, green bean and potato curry. The carrot thing turned out to be dessert (gajar ka halwa), all sweet and highly scented with cardamom.

Buffet Lunch at Ram's

They’ve got an a la carte menu but I rather enjoy the lack of choice with the buffet! Don’t let the fact that the restaurant serves vegetarian food put you off – everything is wonderfully spiced and I love trying out the different curries. And come on, I mean, puris! Deep fried breads! Highly recommended if you’re in the area for lunch.

Ram’s
201-203 Kenton Rd
Harrow HA3 0HD

Ram's on Urbanspoon

One box of ready made pani puri shells. One jar of date and tamarind chutney. A box of pani spice mix. Boiled chickpeas and diced potatoes. Finely diced onion. Chopped coriander.

Pani Puri Assembly

Filled

I love putting together this classic Indian snack: punch a hole in the hollow shell (the puri), fill with stuff, dip in the spicy water (the pani) and gobble whole. It’s a good and quick TV dinner!

It must be pretty obvious now that the best stuff to eat in Leicester is South Asian food. There was a lot of immigration to the city in the last century and the majority of the immigrants were of South Asian origin and thus, there are now a lot of Asian restaurants from which to pick. Many of these are situated along Belgrave Road. My brother took us to one much further down Belgrave Road, where it changes to Melton Road. Here was a stand-alone building housing Feast India, a very popular buffet restaurant.

Feast India

I had no idea what to expect of Feast India but it wasn’t this! The place was big with lots of different counters (each given a cheesy name) and it was absolutely packed with diners made up of families and friends and work groups. Behind each of the counters was a man (or a small army of men) preparing fresh food. There was such variety but you still may not see what I got to try that night – my brother told me that a lot of the curries are under rotation.

Let’s have a look around at the food on offer! A tuk tuk greets you at the entrance. Apart from looking the part, it served double duty as a salad counter.

Tuk Tuk Salad Counter

In the middle was a big open kitchen with counters all around it – ‘Masala 360°‘, they called it. Here was a large selection of veggie and meat curries, freshly made flatbreads, rice and biryanis and fried starters. At one corner one could find all Indian-Chinese dishes – chicken and sweetcorn soup, chilli paneer, salt and pepper squid and more.

Masala 360

The Southern Indian foods and pizza stands are next to each other. The latter (‘Pizza Hatti‘) was offered slices of freshly made pizza with Indian toppings; while this was popular with children, I avoided it. I stuck to the ‘Balu’s Southern Bhavan‘ side of things with the dosa man making fresh dosas to order. From what I gathered, plain dosas, masala dosas and cheese dosas were definitely available. You could also order an uttapam or help yourself to idlis.

The Dosa Man

A variety of street snacks could be found at the ‘Bombay Chaat Waat‘. People were crowding around the man who prepared the pani puri, dipping stuffed puri bites in spiced water before depositing them onto your plate; they were all popping them right there and then.

Bombay Chaat Waat

At the ‘Great Kebab Factory‘, fresh kebabs and chicken and paneer tikkas were being grilled right under our noses.

The Great Kebab Factory

There was quite a selection of desserts too. These little cups caught my eye, all filled with jellies and yogurts and kheers. In addition, there was a selection of eggless cakes, some traditional Indian sweets and a whole ice cream display freezer full of kulfis and sorbets.

Desserts

I attempted to sample as much as possible that night. To see what everything on my plates was, please do click through on the photos to see where I’ve labelled everything on Flickr.

First, A Masala Dosa

My First Plate

My Second Plate

My Third Plate

My Dessert Plate

My Last Plate

I didn’t manage to try everything but I was utterly stuffed! The masala dosa was excellent, all thin and crispy, as were the sambhar and chutneys. The pani puri were also very good and I joined the group around the chaat man to munch on freshly prepared ones; leave them too long and they’ll be soggy. Biryanis and freshly made naans were fantastic. The vegetables and vegetable curries were all excellent and so too were most of the meat ones (the lamb curries could have been cooked to further tenderness though). The fish dishes, in particular, were brilliant – there was an excellent southern Indian fish curry and brilliant lime fish pakoras.

Skip the aloo tikki, which was hard to the point of inedible; I also found the kebabs a bit dry but perhaps I chose pieces that were too small as they were all going fast.

Desserts were fine though from my sampling of ice cream, go with the kulfi rather than the sorbet. The Indian sweets were all lovely – gulab jamun and a thick yogurt dessert were excellent.

The cost for dinner is currently £14.95 per person (£11.50 for Sunday lunch and less also for children). I’m definitely a fan! With the variety and quality on offer, it’s closer to the high-end buffets you find in Asia rather than here in the UK and gosh darn it, it’s fun. It’s a great place for large groups too but do book in advance.

Feast India
411 Melton Road
Leicester LE4 7PA

Feast India on Urbanspoon

I was up in Leicester last week to see my brother graduate and as he’s now moving down to London, I knew that this would be my last visit up to Leicester for a while. My brother had arranged to take us to all his favourite spots before he left and when I was given a choice of popular Indian restaurant off Belgrave Road (he recommends Blue Peter) or a cheap, little, out-of-the-way place where mainly Indian factory workers have their lunch. Well obviously I’d choose the latter and it turned out to be Rahat.

Rahat is more like a takeaway shop with space for eating – don’t expect luxury here. The tables and chairs are simple, there are jugs of tap water available and there’s a Bollywood film blasting away behind the counter. My brother gave me the lowdown – the menu is just a guide of sorts and not everything will be available. We interrogated the smiling man behind the counter on what they had in their kitchen. Chicken karahi, lamb karahi, chicken with spinach, lamb with spinach.

“Do you have dry meat?”, I asked. He replied, “Yes!” “Do you have keema?”, asked my brother. He replied, “No!” Another man came from the back and muttered a few things to him. He suddenly brightened and went, “We also have fish masala and king prawns!”

We made our order and in addition to naans, we asked for some pilao rice. The kind man’s face dropped – there was no pilao rice that day. We shrugged and said ok but he called us back soon after, the smile having returned to his face. “We can give you the rice from the akhni pilao. Normally this has lamb on top but we’ll just give you the rice!”. Great!

We retired to the table by the window where my father had installed himself and waited to eat. It didn’t take long before the man came along with lots of dishes to pepper our table.

A complimentary salad plate was first placed before us and I started tasting the yogurt based dressing on the side (what is that sauce called?). Despite its innocent looks and to my surprise, it was very very hot and spicy!

A Very Spicy Yoghurt and Salad

Dry Meat was less dry than I was expecting but still very moreish with lots of tender lamb.

Dry Meat

The Fish Masala was my favourite of the curries and I certainly ate more than my fair share of this. The light but highly spiced curry went well with the delicate white fish fillets.

Fish Masala

Karahi Chicken was pretty fiery and delicious but was a little let down by the use of chunks of chicken breast. It would have been ace with dark meat. I really enjoyed the different spice combinations used in the curries – it was clear that each had been cooked from scratch and they all didn’t start from the same curry base.

Chicken Karahi

The rice from the Akhni Pilao (we had two plates!) was still studded with lots of lamb and was richly flavoured and spiced. It was probably better eaten by itself than with the rest of the curries.

Akhni Pilao

Naans were fresh and hot and soft and crispy and perfect for mopping up the curries.

Naans

But that wasn’t all! The smiling man came along to our table with a gift – a “Special Salad” that he’d sprinkled with a spice mix – I think it must’ve been a chaat masala or something similar.

"Special Salad"

He then returned with another gift from the kitchen – a dish of the King Prawn Masala he’d mentioned before. The prawns were fantastic and in another highly spiced but slightly gelatinous sauce.

King Prawn Masala

It was a ridiculous amount of food and of course we didn’t finish it all. We were stuffed and it had all been excellent. I started guessing how much the total would be; my brother started with £18, I went with £22 and my father went in between with £20.

Dinner at Rahat in Leicester

(Yes, that’s an Instagram photo – you can find me there as sulineats).

So, the grand total (with two cans of soda)? A mind blowing £16. It turned out that the kind man behind the counter had judged portion sizes for us and had given us small portions rather than the medium (~£4-5) and large (~£7-8) portion sizes listed on the menu. How kind – they’re all truly friendly there! Anything more would have been too much for the three of us.

My brother tells me the naan wraps there are great for a quick lunch or they’ll serve you rice or naan and a curry for a song. It’s quite the little gem.

Rahat
1 Suffolk Street/437 St Saviours Road (it’s on the corner)
Leicester LE5 4JA/4HH

About a month ago, I met Slow Food Kitchen, sloLondon and Table for One in Tooting to explore the neighbourhood. Little did I know that what was going to be a stroll and then lunch in a Sri Lankan restaurant was going to turn into a full blown food crawl. Stomachs, on your marks, get set…. go.

With empty stomachs at 1pm and late arrivals, we early birds stared longingly at the Dosa n Chutny across from Tooting Broadway tube station. I’d heard very good things about the place from at least 3 other people and a decision was made to have “breakfast” there when everyone arrived. It would be light, really. First to arrive were Idly (2 pieces for £1.60), fluffy steamed rice and lentil pillows served with a couple of wonderfully spicy chutnys and a mild soothing sambar.

Idly

Two dosas were ordered too – we’d heard that this place sold the best dosas in London. I have no idea if that’s true but they were indeed excellent, all thin and crispy. A Mutton Masala Dosa (£4.50) was filled with a mixture of lamb, potato and onion.

Mutton Masala Dosa

The Mysore Masala Dosa (£3.50) was filled with a lurid mixture of spicy potatoes and onions. Again, both dosas came with the chutnys and sambars – one dosa would make a perfect lunch, making each quite a bargain.

Mysore Masala Dosa

Dosa n Chutny
68 Tooting High St
London SW17 0RN

Dosa n Chutney on Urbanspoon

After “breakfast”, we strolled up and down Tooting High Street and entered Tooting Market and the Broadway Market. There we found a Mauritian food stall filled with lots of things we couldn’t identify. Luckily for us, the men behind the counter were extremely friendly and helped identify most things.

Mauritian Xpress

Mauritian Snacks

Roti chaud was a lentil wrap filled with curried beans, a fresh tomato sauce and a fresh chilli sauce. The wrap has a characteristically dusty texture and I thought it was alright. I might have to go back to try it again.

Roti Chaud

I was less taken with the plateful of fritters we also bought. The bread fritters were the most amusing – slices of white bread dipped in pakora batter and then fried. Yeah, not my thing but I hear they’re quite popular in Mauritius.

Fritters

There was also a stop at Pepi’s Guyanese Food, another stall in the markets, where we tried an order of pholourie, quite moreish little lentil fritters, served with a fresh chilli sauce. They had lots of other great looking things in their display cabinet.

Guyanese Snacks

Back on the high street and further down at a street stand, we got excited over the last Alphonso mangoes of the season and also over fruit I’d not seen before. Jamuns are a dark purple fruit with a single pit and are really only edible when fully ripe and a dark purple inside. But even when ripe, they’re still quite astringent and I didn’t quite warm to them.

Jamuns

Inside a Jamun

There was also a short stop at Pooja Sweets for sweet and savoury snacks but my mind was already at our final destination – Jaffna House – for Sri Lankan cuisine. This is what we originally came here for! As it was late in the day, we managed to beat the lunch crowds but that there were still diners impressed me – people were dropping by all through the afternoon.

We started by splitting a couple of their short eats, their name for the snacks that are very popular in their country. The Mutton Roll (£1.10) was spiced meat and potato wrapped in a pancake, coated with bread crumbs and deep fried. The Cutlet (£1.10) was a mad of potatoes, fish, spices, onions and chillies rolled in bread crumbs and deep fried. They were both mildly spiced and I think would be popular with non-Sri-Lankans too (on the contrary, I once bought some short eats at a place in Wembley and while they were delicious, they almost blew my head off).

Mutton Roll and Cutlet

I was very keen to try at least one of their devilled dishes. Their Devilled Mutton (£4.50) was dry cooked, very tender mutton fried with lots of onions, green chillies and spices. Our forks were flying – I need to learn how to make this at home!

Devilled Mutton

String Hoppers were ordered with Sothy (5 pieces for £2.50). These steamed red rice flour strings were not unlike noodles and the sothy was a coconut milk gravy. I spooned the sothy all over my string hopper and then sprinkled on the lovely spicy coconut sambol. They were delicious.

String Hoppers

Sothy and Sambol

Fried String Hoppers with Mixed Vegetables (£4.00) could have been a Chinese-Sri Lankan fusion dish. Stir fried noodles!

Fried String Hopper with Mixed Vegetables

Chicken Kotthu (£4.50) was chopped up roti fried together with with chicken curry, egg, onions and green chillies. It was fantastic, so full of flavour and incredibly easy to just spoon into one’s mouth continuously.

Chicken Kotthu

I have no idea how the others found space for dessert but I tried a spoonful of their Watal Appam (£1.75). It was a palm sugar custard that wasn’t too sweet and it certainly tasted much better than it looked!

Watal Appam

Even with countless soft drinks ordered between us, our bill at Jaffna House was only £27 in total. And the short eats are even cheaper when you takeaway – I took home 3 of the cutlets for only a pound.

Jaffna House
90 Tooting High St
London SW17 0RN

Jaffna House on Urbanspoon

How in the world did we manage a whole afternoon of eating?! We only parted at 6pm and I certainly didn’t eat much else that day. Thank you, Tooting.