Spicy Chickpeas at Roti Chai

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We ordered too much again. And, oddly, this spicy chickpea side is one of the larger dishes on the table, despite also ordering mains.

“I’m firmly in the camp that can be wowed by a really good dhal”

This is a fairly straightforward vegetarian chickpea curry – but the simplicity is deceptive, since it is perfectly spiced with a cheering warmth and a blend of flavours that play off one another, without dominating other dishes. I’m firmly in the camp that can be wowed by a really good dhal, and this is one of those occasions – just as you might find with chutneys or parathas – where the accompaniment completes the meal.

The chickpeas themselves still have a good protein bite and have soaked up flavour. The sauce is firmly in the Indian red spectrum, which I’d guess hides cardamon, cinnamon, ginger, turmeric and a good oniony base with lots else besides.

Roti Chai is billed as an Indian Street Food restaurant, and I’d have preferred a more tapas-like experience that fought a bit more against the meat-rice-bread tyranny of the British curry house. Instead we are offered a menu of many enticing dishes but sizes that prohibit tasting them all. So we ordered too much again! Maybe it’s a ploy to get us back again; if so, I’ll be sure to have a side of chickpeas – maybe as my main!

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.

Lamb Chops at Tayyabs

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Like many people, I have issues with lamb chops. The main thing is that I’m one of those people who thinks that lamb chops have as much meat along the bone as in the small, obvious triangle that the other faction believes to be the only edible part of the cut. Yes, that means that I’m one of those people who picks up a chop in their fingers and chews the tasty, fatty, juicy tidbits straight from the skeleton. This makes me a) disgusting to that half of the world’s diners who are overly obsessed with table manners and b) among those who find lamb chops super-fiddly and thus tend to steer away from them.

“In a universe divided into lamb chop factions, these just may be the ones to make me switch sides”

But, in a universe divided into lamb chop factions, I think these just may be the ones to make me switch sides!

They are encrusted with cracked spices on the outside, giving them a crunch before you reach tender, luscious meat. The aforementioned triangle is lamby, but without the gamey, over-obvious flavour that sheep sometimes has which can set it apart from other meats, demanding it takes the centre of attention and making, to my mind, one lamb dish often taste like any other. It has taken on a rich, hot, south-Asian spiciness which, I admit, I couldn’t imagine when hearing one should head to an Indian cafe/restaurant for chops.

And across the bone was the melting, oozing, fatty bonus, that no doubt half the world misses, and boy are they missing out. It has practically the consistency of St John’s’ bone marrow, and the same rich dripping flavour.

I can’t give a review of a dish at Tayyabs without mentioning the unique setting. Absolutely bustling, even on a Wednesday night, there is a queue of maybe a hundred, for a vast restaurant on two floors that must feed a thousand covers a night. We are lucky enough to have a booking, which I’d advise. But even with such a huge domain, the food was still brought within a handful of minutes. It must be a really well-oiled machine, both front of house and in the kitchen.

The rest of the dishes were spot on, with (very) spicy curries, excellent breads and the standard rice offer. But I definitely wouldn’t miss out on a starter of chops next time I’m here.

Pani Puri at Sakonis

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Pani Puri are a really fun Indian street food. Prepared by frying a bite-sized unleavened bread (the puri) until puffed and crisp, punching a hole in the top and filling with a selection of fillings such as onion, chickpeas, potato, chilli, but vitally flavoured water (the pani). I’m reliably informed that when eaten in the market in India, you queue with others, so the vendor can rack up the snacks for each customer, filling them with the liquid and passing them one-by-one to each. The reason this is important is that the water quickly soaks into the crisp shell, undermining its integrity, and if you’re not careful you’re soon facing a disastrous collapse!

“You don’t often see pani puri on your typical Indian restaurant menu, but I now seek them out”

At Sakonis, they serve the dish with everything already inside the shells except for the tamarind chutney and flavoured water, so you can pour these in yourself and pop each into your mouth while still crisp. The wonderful effect of the dish is that the shell bursts and you get a blast of flavour and texture. We’re required to guess at the liquid proportions necessary, but experimentation revealed a wide scope for forgiving variation, and each one we tried delivered its delicious surprise successfully.

So is there anything more to pani puri (and this example in particular) that is more than a cheap trick? The answer is definitely yes. The combination of crisp shell, crunchy onion, potato and chickpeas for ‘bite’, chilli, spices, tamarind for sour, and sweet, tangy water makes for a combination of flavours and textures that mean after the initial fireworks you get real depth and variety.

Sakonis is a real dive (in a good way as much as bad) – and I’d love to come back for their buffet; not that their cheap menu and generous portions don’t mean you can have a feast even ordering a la carte! I haven’t eaten the dish often enough to judge, but this seems a pretty brilliant rendition to me – and if someone questioned its authenticity, I’d probably suggest the real deal wouldn’t do too badly to imitate these! You don’t often see pani puri on your typical Indian restaurant menu, but I now seek them out.