Wednesday, 10 July 2013
Apollo Banana Leaf, Tooting
Yes, I know I'm late to the game on this one. Whole swathes of curry-loving Tooting residents (I doubt there's any other kind of Tooting resident) will be rolling their eyes at the news that another food blogger has "discovered" the Apollo Banana Leaf, and will be grumbling at the prospect of tables at this tiny little spot on the High Street becoming even more difficult to grab.
But I'm afraid I'm duty bound to spread the word on this restaurant, because it is a rare occasion indeed that you find somewhere serving food of such quality at such bafflingly low prices. I just don't know how they turn a profit. Sure, we're talking cheap ingredients here - mutton, cod, chicken, various South Indian vegetables - but most curry houses charge twice this for commodity vindaloo sauce and a couple of poppadums. Here, everything is rich with lovingly-crafted spicing and careful slow cooking, served with a smile (if not always particularly speedily) and the quiet, unspoken knowledge that they are amongst the very best at what they do.
In true curry house style, we began with fried things. Green banana bhaji and mutton rolls would each have been impressive enough (crispy and perfectly dry-fried - not a hint of grease) had they not been presented with probably the greatest hot sauce I've ever had in my life. Only the fermented salt-chilli "ketchup" from Clove Club comes close, and indeed this was quite similar in taste, expertly balancing salt and vinegar with a powerful chilli hit. Quite brilliant.
Aubergine masala was one of the biggest hits of the night, and one of the few dishes that had no meat or fish in it. Creamy without being bland, and still allowing the fried aubergines to be the main flavour, it was the sort of thing you wish you could eat forever. Done in the same sauce was a just-done fillet of masala cod, possibly the only time in the last couple of years I've had a bit of fish in an Indian restaurant that wasn't overcooked.
But choosing highlights was a difficult job. Seafood string hopper was a sort of South Indian paella, with loads of lovely tender squid nestling amongst crunchy bits. Chicken and Prawn 65 were expertly fried nuggets of shocking purple, crunchy outside and utterly tender within. For a city not exactly short of fried chicken shops, it's surprisingly rare to find anywhere that's found out the secret of doing it properly. It speaks volumes that only the Clove Club's (there's that name again) buttermilk chicken could give this a run for its money.
Only a chicken dosa disappointed slightly, although perhaps this was partly a result of them forgetting a "gravy" that usually appears with this dish according to the regulars I was eating with. But the dosa itself was still tasty, and fortunately there was still a bit of that incredible hot sauce left to dip it in.
Finally, devilled mutton, and further proof of Apollo Banana Leaf's extreme command of spicing and slow-cooking. Comparable in style to the Tayyabs dry meat - and we all know how good that is - shot through with crispy fried curry leaves and onion, each cube of mutton was meltingly tender and generously coated in that thick, dark paste of spicy loveliness. Click on that image above to enlarge, and just look how utterly beautiful it is. And then imagine how good it tastes. Believe me, you're not even close.
Hopefully you'll have made your mind up by this point in the post that Apollo Banana Leaf is a serious restaurant worth anyone's time. But if you're still sitting on the fence, let me give you one final shove. The final bill per head, with everything you see above apart from the wine (ABL is BYO) came to just under £12. Even with the usual 12.5% added on - which they didn't even ask for - it still was only £13. And so, just to thank them for one of the most enjoyable meals we'd had in a very long time, we each happily handed over £15. They deserved it, and so do you. Go as soon as you possibly can.