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

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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

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