Dosa at Dosa n Chutny

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I often forget the concept of Tooting Indian restaurants. Here’s the quick pitch:

  1. (Some of) The best curry in London…
  2. …at absurdly low prices

Okay, so this joint is a little different: it specialises in dosa, the fluffy Indian pancakes filled with potatoes / lentils / onions / vegetables / meat / etc. as you desire, and served with various chutneys and curries or dahls. But the two principles remain the same: delicious food at astonishing prices.

“[W]ith 20 different menu-options, you could certainly get return value”

At £3.50, my Mysore Masala Dosa (spicy potatoes, onions, Mysore-regional spices) is a substantial, warming, filling meal, and offers – with a selection of three chutn(e)ys and sambar (a thin lentil curry) – variety in every mouthful. I assume (I think correctly, but then isn’t that what assuming is) that the traditional (correct?) way to eat this is with your fingers, tearing a chunk off the folded crepe, and attempting to splosh it in one or more of the accompaniments without the filling spilling out everywhere. So this is what I try. Key is to make sure that every bite is different from the last – presumably a mathematically easy task, practically guaranteed if you were to make your choices at random.

It’s hard to say whether this is the best dosa I’ve ever eaten (not that I’ve had a very great number), and it’s difficult to consider them as gourmet food, when they’re straightforwardly homely, cafe-style fare. It certainly hits the spot, and with 20 different menu-options, you could certainly get return value (though it might take an expert to truly tell some variations apart).

Tooting High Street is something of London’s Curry Mile, so I could easily see the possibility that I might not return to this particular joint soon. But if I were a local, this would be a go-to spot, especially if I felt that unique craving for the eponymous dish.

Chips at Comptoir Gascon

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These chips were disappointing.

What else can I say? Well, lots, actually.

At Comptoir Gascon they serve you spectacularly delicious wine. We had some excellent red wine, and it was glorious.

“At Comptoir Gascon they serve you spectacularly delicious raisins”

 

At Comptoir Gascon they serve you spectacularly delicious starters. I had a crackling soft duck egg in a bed of truffled polenta. It was absolutely delicious, with the warm, aromatic polenta delivering a mushroom, woodland, dreamy background to an oozingly soft duck egg, perfectly poached. Rachael has scallop, artichoke and oyster tartare – a dish as fresh and marine as anything you’d find at the seaside and which brought out – impressively – the individual flavours of the constituent molluscs and subtle vegetable.

Both were presented beautifully as well.comptoirpolenta

At Comptoir Gascon they serve you spectacularly delicious burgers. I had the ‘duck burger classic’ where Rachael opted for the deluxe version. The difference: 100g of foie gras. I thought it would tip the sandwich over the edge of the too-rich cliff, and I was right. But the whole concept – duck ground, grilled and stuck in a bun – is one I must admit to having been sceptical of, but I was proved wrong. Spectacularly delicious.

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But at Comptoir Gascon their french fries, cooked in duck fat and liberally drenched in salt, were… disappointing. Limp and rather tasteless – beyond the salt – they would have let down an otherwise perfect meal, if the rest of the food hadn’t been so damn good that even with these fries you could only drop it a notch back down to ‘perfect’.

In a world of triple-cooked, molecularly-calibrated chips, these don’t cut the mustard. They’d even provided a huge bowlful (thankfully we were warned, so only ordered one portion) – so concentrating on quality over quantity would be a wise move.

That said…

At Comptoir Gascon they serve you spectacularly delicious raisins. Spectacularly, spectacularly delicious raisins. We had a portion of the ‘raisins dorés’ – soaked in sauterne wine and coated in dark chocolate. It is almost impossible to describe the feeling on biting into one of these. The raisins are almost candied, with a tingly, almost sherbet effect. Sweet but tangy and instantly moreish. I’d go back for these alone.

But the chips were disappointing.

Mince and Potatoes at Dean Street Townhouse

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Imagine taking a pot of Bovril, emptying it out into a bowl, mixing with a potful of boiling water, until you have a thick, intense gravy that is pure meatiness. Now tear tiny strips of tough bread (maybe one of those crusty, airy French loaves which are mostly bubbles with thin membranes of wheat making up their substance). Soak these small chunks into the gravy, until you have a texture that requires no biting, but has identifiable ‘bits’ in a slick of beef juice. Dollop on herby mash, and what do you have? Does it sound at all appetising? And yet, and yet…

“Pleasurable? Yes, definitely. As if you’ve concentrated a whole cow into the space of a large bowl”

I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten something quite so intensely meaty as Dean Street Townhouse’s Mince and Potatoes. This is less a story of the mince itself than the sauce, which is weirdly more unswervingly animal than the protein morsels within it. The flavour doesn’t just punch you, it grabs you by the neck and doesn’t let you go. Pleasurable? Yes, definitely. As if you’ve concentrated a whole cow into the space of a large bowl.

But there are issues (which seem mainly our issues rather than anyone or anything else’s).

Firstly, while we did each have a small starter, both Rachael and I felt pretty much completely full within about two seconds of consuming a forkful of this dish. And, whilst I’m happy to admit neither of us will ever win an eating competition, I’m genuinely amazed that anyone could get through a whole plateful of this. As a ‘total flavour concept’ you could imagine (and enjoy) a spoonful of this in a deconstructed meat stew, or even in a tapas-sized portion to eat with flatbreads. You’d get the effect, and probably all the pleasure, just from that much.

Secondly, the potatoes. Delicious. Delectable. Rich, and creamy. Wait – hold up a minute – did I just say that? Yes, sure I did. Whether by treating with cream or butter or olive oil (I suspect the first two) the clever chefs had managed to achieve some of the most voluptuous mash I’ve eaten.

But that’s exactly the problem: matched with super-rich mince, I’d have liked mash that cuts through it. I get that citrus-mash wouldn’t exactly deliver the nostalgic flavours to which this old-time dish is clearly alluding, but, then, I’m sure you wouldn’t be chowing down on such a refined version of the plate anyway. This is about as far from the cheap-cut-makes-cheap-meal starting point of mince as you can get (though maybe some DST visitors genuinely think they’re slumming it without rib steak).

I’d have preferred some boiled potatoes (it’s a rare moment I say that), or a simple plain mash. I could always stir in a slick of beef fat from below if I found it too boring.

It was a lucky escape that we were told, on arrival, that there was only a single plate of mince and potatoes left, which we promptly broke our rules and ordered. If I went back, I’d want to share this dish with three others, so I got a bit of variety and got to sample the many other treats on the menu. I suspect, though, that chucking a few plates into the centre of the table and picking at each would be frowned upon in this slightly formal (dare I say ‘stuffy’?) restaurant which is less deconstructed and more unreconstructed.

Heaven and Earth at Hix

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Black pudding isn’t for everyone. I know many people are squeamish about it, but I’ve learnt to like the stuff, though I doubt it’ll ever be my first choice.

“…this could be the best  blood-based dish I’ve eaten”

Hix has reinvented this bloody sausage, making an aromatic, soft, almost gritty ball, in a filmy skin that collapsed into a somewhat off-putting cobweb. Rather than being dense and tough, you couldn’t slice and fry this sausage. Its grainy form crumbles into dollops of not-too-irony, meaty flavour.

The “earth” half of the pairing is potatoes, somewhere between crushed spuds and mash. The pudding sits on top of this, with a drizzling of sweet appley, oniony sauce.

I can’t honestly say I’ll rush back to have this again (c.f. black pudding never going to be my favourite thing), but this could be the best blood-based dish I’ve eaten!

30/100 best dishes in London