NB: Pictures to follow. I have recently moved house (still in the SW postcode!) and have no internet so uploading images has been a tad tricky! When I find a suitable connection they will be uploaded!
Despite being there since November 2013, Zumbura in Clapham Old Town had escaped me. I don’t often head down to the Old Town and from a casual passer-by perspective you might not notice it yourself as it’s a little out of place in Clapham (in a good way). The interior is minimalist café-cool; greys, blues and brick with splashes of yellow.
“But we don’t care about the interior Heather! Tell us about the food!”
The reason why I am waxing lyrical about the café, trendy-feel to Zumbura is because the dishes rather reflect that too. Small plates to me have become synonymous with an overpriced expensive dinner (I’m looking at you House of Ho) and I was slightly worried Zumbura was heading down the same path. What Zumbura has over its Soho, small-plated counterparts is that its street-food style dishes should, in their traditional form I’m told, be served on the smaller side – in shareable, social portions. If you think you’re not getting your money’s worth – you’re wrong. It’s a delightful way to eat Indian food. It makes for a welcome change from the heavy north Indian curries I have reviewed on one and two occasions.
I won’t start by saying “to start with”, because that’s not really how it works with small plates is it? Our pakora was light and crispy and it was served with a tamarind, and mint dip / relish. Brilliant…next!
My dinner date for the night was The Mauritian, as he is to be known, and as his ma is a bit of a dab hand at cooking Mauritian-style bitter gourd, we decided to pit Zumbura and The Mauritian’s mum head to head (you can tell how this is going to end). Funnily enough bitter gourd (kerela) is, well, bitter (or is WELL bitter). Honestly if you don’t like strong flavours then really don’t go for this. The only thing I can really compare it against is when you accidently and rather unfortunately bite into the skin of a chestnut at Christmas. To be honest the kerela wasn’t that bad – there was some joy in the pre-acerbic flavour which coated the inside of your mouth (the texture of the gourd is really rather lovely). While you may think we’re brave (or worse, stupid) for trying something which is by namesake bitter, then well we do have a defence. You can (and most do) soak bitter gourd in salt water to remove some of the more unappealing traits of the vegetable – but Zumbura, in perhaps a test to their customers, does not! (NOTE: Please don’t interpret this as a scathing review – just not the one for me /us)!
Ghuggni is the sort of sound I make when I have my annual bout of flu but THIS dish was the bees knees of the chick pea world. Lavish amounts of black chick peas braised in onion and mango powder – is what ghuggni is. Go to Zumbura. Try this dish, it’s like crack. Thick, nutty, wholesome and well-seasoned are exactly the words I’d use to describe it. And there you go – those are the words I have indeed used to describe it.
So glad I managed to get a crack simile in there.
The pollock with mustard seeds and fenugreek (machli ka salan) was really beautifully cooked, but the accompanying curry sauce didn’t really stand out – if you’re looking at it from a fish curry perspective, which I was. I wanted it to be richer, fishier and to feel like in some way my fish and sauce had at some point been cooked together.
The Mauritian ordered lamb chops (sikkiwe chops: twice marinated in herbs) – which are his favourites. Although I don’t eat lamb he said that while tasty, they were dry. His murghi ka salan (chicken curry) WAS rich and it WAS addictive (although not as addictive as the crack-like chick peas). Yes Zumbura!
I don’t want to end a review badly, because Zumbura is a really nice venue, with fresh, delicately spiced ‘thoughtful’ food (I mean they’ve taken care to think about the ingredient combinations). But the paratha really was horrible. In my experience paratha is light, layered – you pull it apart and the layers flake away from one another. Zumbura’s paratha was thick, leathery, and semi translucent (like it had been sat in oil – or worse, microwaved). Paratha is one of my favourite Indian breads and I wanted it to mould round my hand like a ladle and scoop those divine black chick peas up. It was not to be.
While we experienced the dinner service at Zumbura, they do open for lunch and have light bites which I think would sit pretty darned well with a lunch-time cocktail (I hear they are pretty slick). I don’t normally give scores on the doors, but Zumbura secured at favourable 7.5/10. I would go there again, and I have recommended it to a friend since. So there you go.Zumbura 36a Old Town, Clapham, London SW4 0LB