Power to the (Tamil) people! There's a curry revolution going on in Tooting


An unheralded revolution is brewing in Tooting. This is extremely exciting news for revolutionaries and foodies alike. But before I tell you what it involves, some caveats.

First, we're not talking here about the return of Citizen Smith, the would-be Che Guevara who led the Tooting Popular Front in John Sullivan's sitcom of the same name. Though commies abound here, he's not been seen since 1980. Second, this is a revolution involving Tamils, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka.

And finally, this is not one of those reviews in which your correspondent is doing someone a favour. The good Lord Leveson would serve me on toast if I so much as dared to promote some undeclared interest. So in the spirit of full disclosure, let me tell you that though I grew up in Tooting and am the son of a Tamil father, the revolution described below is not one in which I have played an active part. Until now.

You see, Tamils do curry too. In Britain, we allegedly adore curry. It's been the national dish for a decade. But the curry you get at your local Maharajah or Taste of India is generally an Identikit, rather than Indian, product, devoid of creativity, flair, originality and difference. To the extent that it has a provenance, it tends to be the cuisines of Bengal, Gujarat and the Punjab. Now the Tamils are fighting back.

In parts of north and west London – Wembley, say, and Hammersmith – Tamils have been fighting a kind of insurgency for an age. Tooting is now the front line: in the past few years, three restaurants have opened that I wish had been there when I was growing up.

The first, Dosa'*'Chutny, has the silliest name but the best methu vada (50p), a kind of lentil doughnut. The restaurant has a non-vegetarian (and therefore basically non-Tamil) selection; but of the veggie stuff, the mysore masala dosa and onion utthappam (£3.50) are extremely good, and the basic sambar (a lentil-infested sauce) is magnificent.The dal maghani – lentils mixed with ghee and spices – meanwhile, is better than any version of this dish I've tried.

Tamil food is distinguished from west and north Indian food chiefly in its use of rice as a staple. When mixed with various lentils and fermented, this produces a batter than can be fried to make dosa, or boiled to make idli. Next door to Dosa'n'Chutny, at Saraswathy Bhavan, the idli is beautifully moist, and the rasam – a spicy tamarind soup – hot and delicious. There is a superb paneer dosa, with proper chunks of the cottage cheese-type stuff, and the chana dal, made with black lentils, is a warming goodness no autumn should go without. You could have all that plus a smooth, rich mango lassi for less than a tenner.This place does both the best utthappam – a thicker dosa, usually with some extras mixed into the batter – in Tooting, while the chutneys (tamarind, coconut and tomato) are all spicy but manageable.

Yet overall, the best of the bunch is a bit down the road, towards Tooting Bec. Saravanaa Bhavan (pictured) does a south Indian thali for £6.95 that, when you think of the greasy nonsense you can pay £7 for in Soho, must count as one of the best plates in London. There's a mountain of rice; a very good, crisp poori; excellent sambars and rasams and a fine pickle; two vegetable curries, not too hot but well flavoured; raitha; smooth curd; sweet made with ghee, cashew nut and sugar; appalam (Tamil poppadom); and best of all, a special kuzhambu – a dal cocktail you'd pay handsomely for alone.

For anyone flirting with Tamil cuisine for the first time, the dosas here are the biggest and boldest, and the potato curry is both delicate and delicious, while there's a rava kichadi (roasted semolina with onions, tomatoes, carrot, green chilli and green peas) that I will be ordering every time. I've been here thrice in the past month. Though always packed, you can generally get a seat.

So if you'd like to know what authentic foreign cuisine really means, get down to the Tamil takeover of Tooting; just mind the commies.


Dosa'n'Chutny 7/10

66-68 Tooting High Street, London SW17, tel: 020 8767 9200 £35 for two, including lassies

Saraswathy Bhavan 8/10

70 Tooting High Street, London SW17, tel: 020 8682 4242 £55 for four, including lassies

Saravanaa bhavan 9/10

254 Upper Tooting Road, London SW17, tel: 020 8355 3555 £10 for one, including lassi

South Indian stunners


9 Horton Grange Road, Bradford, tel: 01274 575 893

Zingy south Indian veggie food (plus a spot of publicity, courtesy of Gordon Ramsay) is making quite a name for this inventive spot


153 Granby Street, Leicester, tel: 0116 255 4667

Delicious and unusual southern Indian food at wallet-friendly prices – served by people who care – makes this friendly Keralan popular with all

Mint and Mustard

134 Whitchurch Road, Cardiff, tel: 02920 620 333

In a city with 1,000 identical Bangladeshi taste-alikes, this stands out – a modern and eclectic Gabalfa three-year-old that impresses with its Keralan and Goan cuisine

Reviews extracted from ‘Harden’s London and UK Restaurant Guides 2012 www.hardens.com

Jennifer Lawrence was among the stars allegedly hacked
peopleActress and 100 others on 'master list' after massive hack
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Day In a Page

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor