SW4 – Rotli Crew @ The King & Co – Clapham

It’s not something I normally shout about, but as well as this wee blog, I also write a monthly food and drink column for the Clapham and Wandsworth Magazine.  In November’s edition which is out shortly (and is distributed to discerning households and businesses in Wandsworth, Battersea, Clapham, Balham, Tooting, Southfields and Putney), I wrote about some notable pop ups in the area. One of them was Rotli Crew, and while I didn’t have the word count to review the Indian street food specialists within the mag, I was more than willing to pen a few additional characters and sample some of the morsels on offer for this little blog. Rotli Crew’s residency is running at the independently run The King & Co pub on Clapham Park Road until Sunday 29th November

The menu is made up of small plates (or starters, if you prefer), large plates, sides and puddings -although I would say that the portions are extremely generous and there little discrepancy in serving size between them. Small plates on the menu include jeera-fried chicken wings, tomato and onion kachumber, green chilli raita; pani puri filled with kala chana, tamarind ketchup and green chutney, and aubergine, paneer and seasonal greens bhajia – the latter two were what I chose.

The pani puri (pictured below) were crunchy and of course sweetly tangy thanks to the tamarind ketchup. The dish is one of texture but I wouldn’t say particularly strong on other flavours – other than the tamarind which is obviously the main shebang here. I’d like to shove a whole one in my mouth a be greeted with a wealth of textures and flavour combinations.

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The aubergine, paneer and seasonal green bhajia below looked a lot more attractive than my dimly lit photos. The external crunch of the bhajia gives way to soft and varied texture of the ingredients within – all of which are visible and perfectly formed. The bhajia are fresh, hot and should be served more often in pubs with a pint of IPA.

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The masala cod cheeks in IPA batter, red lentil dhal, lime pickle raita (part of the largerwere really beautifully cooked – the cod cheeks were delicate and sweet and while it was my favourite choice from my order, the dish would have been improved without the dhal which didn’t really add anything other than a soggy bottom.

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For a side I chose potato achaar – with mango pickle dressing. The potatoes were soft with a delicate crunch on their corners but the mango pickle made them seem salty.

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Paratha is one of my favourite Indian breads. When I visited India back on my Gap Yah (actually it was more of a one-month sejour), I had it for breakfast every day. Rotli Crew’s took me back there – soft, buttery with delicious layers which tear and unfold and your pull it apart. More, more more!

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Rotli Crew are doing an excellent job in their temporary home, serving up manageable morsels of Indian street food to hungry pub punters. It’s a perfect stop for a pint and a bite to eat, a stone’s throw from the busy never-to-get-a-seat other Clapham alternatives.

The King & Co
100 Clapham Park Road,
SW4 7BZ

Rotli Crew
www.franceandnoonan.com/streetfood

SW4 – Clapham Old Town – Zumbura

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

SW4 – Clapham Common – Clapham Tandoori

I’m going to save you my usual preamble and jump straight in with this blogpost. On tonight’s food blogger menu is Clapham Tandoori which is opposite Clapham Common tube station.

To start…Baingan E Bahar on the menu was described as baked aubergine steaks stuffed with paneer. The image does allude to something similar, although it looks slightly different; more like an aubergine sandwiched between two chunky of paneer – not really stuffed. The aubergine was as one would expect and the paneer really was quite bland. There wasn’t any sauces or condiments save for the garnish and swirl of mixed sauce which had a bit of a skin on it – as if it has been sat under the heater, waiting for everything to be plated.

Baingan E Bahar at Clapham Tandoori The SW Food Blog

The Welshman and I ordered something more unusual I spotted on the menu as I do like to try out new things. This dish was significantly more rewarding in flavour – Patty Bola Chingri…

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The gram flour pancake, which surrounded the prawns in the mild tomato-based curry, was tasty enough and crispy on the outside. Gram flour, as I’m sure you are familiar, is made from chick peas and therefore has a similar flavour to popadoms which are made of the same thing. This pancake was crispy on the outside but a little tough as I bit through. The additional peppercorns embedded in the flour mix did give it a little more lift.  The prawn mix was well flavoured but could have done with a few more prawns. What is with these wet iceberg lettuce garnishes though? Please cut it out (or be more inventive – does anyone ever eat them?)!

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Photographing curry at Indian and making it look delicious, is never an easy task regardless of whether you have an iPhone or a DSLR. I apologise in advance.

Onto the mains, first up was the The Golda Chingri Morrisha – grilled king sized prawns, cooked with green peppers, onions and fresh green chillies in a hot sauce. Allegedly it was awarded the Best Seafood Curry of 2006. That’s not that strange, but closely followed after that statement was this – House of Commons –  in brackets. Whether or not this curry has been honoured in statute, remains to be seen. The sauce was a little cloyie (suspiciously shiny and a little gloopy) but had a decent kick which pleased my taste buds. There were more giant king prawns than you could throw a stick at, although they’d been grilled a little too  much beforehand and were slightly chewy and overcooked.

Golda Chingri Morrisha The SW Food Blog

Th Welshman ordered Chicken Xakuti; a South Indian-style curry which was prepared with freshly ground coconut – again bestowed with a House of Commons award and looked something like this…

Chicken Xakuti The SW London Food Blog

As I’ve mentioned before, The Welshman is a man of few adjectives and still he described the chicken as a stringy and dry. The sauce was fresher tasting than mine but was too coarse as a result of the nobbules of coconut. The sauce didn’t do too much to bring out the individual spices and they were lost as a result.

Chicken Xakuti The SW Food Blog 2

The Peshwari naan was pleasing enough, although why they drowned it in sweet syrup is beyond me. My saag paratha had been waiting under the heater for way too long – DRY!

The service was good and despite this not being the most favourable review, Clapham Tandoori wasn’t a terrible meal. They’ve been in the same location for about 70-odd years and the business is still run within the founding family – they’re a stalwart compared to the vast majority of Clapham Common restaurateurs. It does appear they are trying to give that ‘finer dining’ experience to that of your average curry house. The execution was haphazard in places and although there were some pleasing flavours in both mine and The Welshman’s dishes, there were the tiny details which had been neglected. It would be the place to go if you had a lot of hungry friends and were searching for a substantial Indian / Bangladeshi meal in Clapham, but if you’re after finesse and beautiful flavourings and accompaniments, it’s probably not for you.

Clapham Tandoori on Urbanspoon

I was invited by Clapham Tandoori for this review. 

SW18 Wandsworth – Amirah’s Kitchen – Restaurant review

Declining popadoms might have been controversial. I think it was controversial because everyone around us was clearly enjoying said popadoms. I also think it was controversial because our waiter did double check – triple check in fact that we were sure we didn’t want any. But that’s by the by. I wanted to see what Wandsworth’s Amirah’s Kitchen had to offer in the way of starters – to fill up on popadoms when the starter menu promised so much would have been ill conceived and irresponsible. Street food marks out the Old York Road Indian’s appetiser menu; small and intricately flavoured dishes pieced together with the grace of a skilled food-Jenga player; seared scallops with spring onions, cherry tomatoes, garlic and cracked pepper; lamb patties with cardamom and spiced yoghurt; warmed aloo tikki chaat with tamarind and mint chutney.

Criticise if you must but I opted for Amirah’s mixed pakora – fried potato and spinach bhajis, onion, and potato pakoras. Unadventurous? No, I beg to differ. When you’ve eaten something with great frequency, and it is that simple, it should be – well – simple. Pakoras can be monstrous in this country and in polarity also ludicrously divine. Eating something again and again gives you a benchmark; you know what to expect, its nuances and even its shortcomings. I had set Amirah’s Kitchen a challenge. The fried potato and spinach pakora was floury and moist on the inside, but getting there was the best part. The inaugural bites inward had texture and a brittle crunch which popped as your teeth anticipated the coarse, toasted coriander seeds on which your eyes had already feasted.

Amirah's mixed pakora

Amirah’s mixed pakora

Again to start; Punjabi fried fish. In detail, tilapia coated in gram flour and deep fried until it’s the colour I like my beer. Golden. In less detail. Melting gloriousness. And so good with the tamarind and mint chutney accompaniment which gave it the spicy slap round the face it could withstand. Tilapia really is a wonderful fish when fresh and well cooked. Haddock and cod really leave much to be desired with their wetness.

Punjabi fried fish

Fried tilapia and a spicy tamarind and mint chutney

Things done not so well? Well the onion ring in Amirah’s mixed pakora was a bit nondescript, and the batter a bit dry and thick for my liking. Plus the advertised mint chutney didn’t quite make it through the pass on this occasion which is by no means a deal breaker but it’s nice to try these things.

My main, kadhai jhinga, was small yet perfectly formed. The congruence of the red chilli, peppers, toasted coriander and the substantial, succulent prawns were not lost in a silver vat that one is often served in Friday Night Curry House X. The tiger prawns were the dish – and the thick sauce clung to them. There was no leftover watery gravy which had to be apologetically mopped up with cardboard naan. The prawns were cooked as their quality deserved. Oily? No. A very good dish, if slightly over seasoned.

Kadhai Jhinga

Tiger prawns, ginger, chilli and crunchy peppers

Amirah's Peshwari naan

Amirah’s Peshwari naan

The Welshman always chooses a lamb curry. At Amirah’s Kitchen his habitual leanings were rewarded in his rogan josh. Large hunks of bone tender lamb sat in an ochre bath of ginger, browned onion, and tomato. Robust and hearty, with only a slight hint of immiscible oil, but that’s if I am being especially fussy.

Piglet – I am. Amirah’s Kitchen was very generous and brought out desert. Shhh, don’t judge. I still had room. The warmed gajjar halwa (carrot fudge) was muted with subtleties of cardamom, and the grains of almond and pistachio gave the carrot sweet threads of texture. Served with vanilla ice cream the hot-cold combination was creamy and rounded. My initial interpretation of halwa is that it is sticky and fudgey, so I was surprised when this desert was wetter and less glutinous and cohesive. It was also not as sweet as other Indian deserts I’ve had experience of – which was no bad thing in my opinion.

Gajjar Halwa

Carrot, cardamon, almond, and pistachio halwa

Amirah’s Kitchen on Old York Road, Wandsworth, is trying to serve authentic Indian street food. Its lunchtime menu offers kathi rolls, shashlik, and other on-the-go bites. The starter menu also nods to the street food scene – like I said before structured, definite flavours stacked around a small bitesize centrepiece. Conquering street food is ambitious – the ingredients must stand out, be entirely fresh, and be of snack-worthy digestibility. There are reasons why Amirah’s Kitchen doesn’t continue their street food manifesto past 5pm which personally I think is a shame. If those reasons are financial or to do with turnover then that obviously must factor in the owner’s business decision, and I can completely see that, especially for a restaurant which has only been open 10 weeks.

For now Amirah’s must build its reputation as a great Indian restaurant in Wandsworth, and from the excellent standard of last night’s meal, I can see that it is doing this. The street food backbone is not lost, but ‘translated’ throughout the post-5pm mains. I mentioned beautifully-cooked tiger prawns, an emphasis on high-quality ingredients, detectable notes of individual spices – oh the ginger! Yes, it really was rather good.

I really hope Amirah’s Kitchen is able to nurture and cultivate its street food promise. There are so many ‘curry houses’ doing great curry very well. It would be a crying shame for Amirah’s to have to directly compete with them. I look forward to seeing a menu that is refined as the weeks and months pass. Street food and fast feasting really are in vogue in the foodie scene so I think they should make the most of it.

Old York Road in Wandsworth feels like a very homely place, and somewhere I would like to unearth in future. Fortunately I will be returning much sooner than I had anticipated thanks to the Old York Road Unplugged Festival which is happening this Sunday (16 September) between 11am-5pm. If I may put the plug back in for a second just to let you know that, as its name suggests, it’s a street festival with an emphasis on music. But don’t let the three music stages distract you from the tens of stalls, cask ale, street food and entertainment that will be lining this small south London street. I’m assisting with the event, and despite having to set my alarm for 4am, I am ecstatic to be part of such an occasion. Please join the Facebook group or visit Old York Road’s website to discover more.

Amirah's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

I was a guest at Amirah’s Kitchen.

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SW2 Brixton – Curry Paradise – Restaurant review

I am not cool. I never have been and I never will be. I was a bit of a geek in school, and even if I did have a bit of a punk phase when I was 15, it was very much a bandwagon which I was tardy to board. I am so not cool; last week I mistook my friend’s record bag as a cool bag, and although she was mortified I had confused her expensive DJ-ing satchel for a vessel that keeps your sandwiches chilled, I brushed it off – not quite realising the extent of my faux pas.

How then have I come to live in Brixton? Food bloggers flock here, you’ll spot a couple of undercuts and NHS-style prescription glasses, and Brixton Village…where does one begin? You only have to look at this infographic which has been doing the rounds on the t’interwebs.

London’s hipster neighbourhoods

I love the wave of Brixton Village restaurants which have ingeniously captured the gastronomic imaginations of this big city; quick, street-side food which relies on simple well-thought out ingredients. It’s not expensive, and great food is accessible to all. I love it, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes its bloody marvelous to eat in a place which you’ve been able to book, and where you can sit down on a chair (as opposed to an old beer crate). But it is not that cool is it? Normally one has to go to Clapham for that sort of thing (chairs).

I also found myself heading back to Battersea for a decent curry. You know, like a proper curry. There didn’t seem to be anywhere in Brixton which would fit the bill, everything is – you know –  a bit trendy. Heading up Brixton Hill though there is Curry Paradise. It has such a terrible name that I’d forgive you for not even registering it as a place to eat in Brixton, but perhaps that is something we can address in this blogpost?

Curry Paradise sits on Brixton Hill just below the monstrosity that is the South Beach Bar…yeah you know the building! It’s very pleasant inside (Curry Paradise – I’ve never been in the bar – the BOGOF offer on rose wine bottles has not drawn me in, yet). There’s no neon lighting, and I’d go so far to say that although it’s quite contemporary it’s reasonably cozy.

Our waiter was diligent and blooming friendly – two thumbs up for service. Let’s not beat around the bush; Curry Paradise has everything on the menu that you’d expect from a curry house. I ordered a king prawn channa (medium, mixed spice dish with chickpeas). It never claimed to be super hot (how I eat my curries) so I had to ask for a few fresh chilies on the side, but that’s by the by. This was the second occasion that I had been to the restaurant. The first time was unexpectedly delicious (What! I can get a decent curry in Brixton? ).  This time round I’d say my dish was too oily, which was a bit of a shame as I hadn’t remembered my previous dish being like that. The other complaint I had was that they didn’t include whole king prawns in the dish; they had been halved. I think it is always wise the err on the generous side in curries, don’t you? The ingredients were however very fresh – spices can’t always hide a multitude of sins. Yeah, I’m looking at you Brick Lane.

The Welshman’s lamb pasanda (leave him alone, he can’t take the heat) however, was very flavoursome, and the creaminess was nicely counterbalanced with some piquancy.

I never order rice with curry, and a decent naan for me can make or break the night. Curry Paradise’s naans are very soft, spongy and I know it’s a ridiculous think to say – quite bread like. They don’t top the scale as the best peshwari naans I’ve ever had, but they weren’t too sweet and were buttery and moreish.

Take Curry Paradise as you will. If you fancy a reasonable quality curry that delivers (in more than the literal sense), then it will leave you feeling more than satisfied as long as you are not expecting anything fancy. The ingredients are wholesome and there are even chairs too!

PS. No photos. Not even Instagram can make a curry look that desirable (it was too dark)!

Curry Paradise on Urbanspoon