Friday, May 7, 2010

GET TO TOOTING! Seriously, guys - it's on the Northern line, it's not that far.

Tooting. First heard of – and promptly forgotten – in a Time Out feature last year touting up-and-coming suburbs (I’d just arrived in London and thought anything beyond Zone 3 on the tube was a provincial wasteland). The fact is, it’s a jewell in south London’s crown, considering its Primark – smaller than Oxford St but bigger than Kilburn – TK Maxx, Tooting Bec Lido being the second biggest pool in Europe (91.5 metres) and – best of all – a collection of Indian restaurants that leaves Brick Lane for dead.

We were meeting up with old mate Em who’d just arrived in town, and was staying in Streatham. First stop, for pre-d’s, was the Tram and Social on Mitcham Rd, right next to the tube station, tucked down a confusing alley that not one, not two, but THREE of us managed to miss.

Think guttered warehouse/factory space filled with mismatched velvet couches and battered chesterfields, retro touches, and all the sorts of things you dream about finding in hard rubbish but never do. For Melbournians, a bit like Little Creatures (space-wise) crossed with the Comfy Chair, if it were located just off Mitchell Road in Thornbury. I wish I’d noted the boutiquey ale we were drinking – a golden ale and a pale ale… something about a goose or a horse? – because it was GREAT. Place was pretty empty while we were there but we ducked back after dinner for another round and it was pleasantly populated – especially for a Wednesday night. It’s totally the kind of place to organise for birthday drinks – big enough to claim a corner, not too intimidating, but enough character to impress people who are trekking over from the wrong side of the river.

On to dinner. We tossed up between Sree Krishna and Apollo Banana Leaf, right next door to each other down Tooting High Street. Main consideration was that APL was BYO, but the little offy across the road didn’t look too inspiring. SK did look slightly fancier and was licensed, so we went there and agreed to try APL’s Sri Lankan fare another time soon.

I think I like South Indian curry the most of all “Asian” – I still can’t get my head around that British definition – cuisines. Coconut, fish, hot hot curries… what more do you want? We started off with long necks of Kingfisher (£6ish) and papadums – the onion, yoghurt and mango sauces weren’t anything to write home about, but as usual I could have polished off another dozen papadums. (As is always the case in these situations, I had to restrain myself from re-enacting the blessing and breaking of the eucarist… what can I say, I see a huge, circular flat biscuit and start reciting Communion prayers… That’s what you get from 20+ years of Catholic education. Mum once caught me doing it with a giant salt ‘n’ vinegar chip and went mental at me.)

As for mains, Em and I split an Alleppy fish curry (whole fish curry with spices, tomato and coconut milk, £7.50) and the Malabar chicken (chicken and veggies with coconut, coriander and spices, £4.50). Vegan BF had a dal and a veggie Malabar (£3.50 each). I think we can all agree it was freakin’ awesome. The fish had all its bones and tail bits, but what you couldn’t pick out you could eat. The spices tasted like they were fresh out of the mortar and pestle – an invigorating change when you’re acclimatised to Patak curry pastes. Bill came to £39 with all the bits and bobs included – I think we can all agree that was pretty astounding, given the fine fare and classy surrounds. In short: get to Tooting!

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