Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Vijaya Krishna, Tooting

Over the last few weeks, have been running a series of 'best value' guides to different areas of London. Exhaustively researched and containing all sorts of insights into the history of various different ethnic cuisines in London, it made me realise two things - one, that despite the best efforts of Brexit and national populism to ruin it all, I still live in the most dynamic and varied food city in the world, and two, that I've explored a shamefully tiny percentage of it.

Such ignorance is nobody's fault but my own, and I would hope that even when making embarrassing errors in posts about modern British, Italian or Spanish restaurants, cuisines that just through sheer weight of exposure I'm relatively familiar with, there's enough elsewhere to enjoy. But when it comes to many minority cuisines, and Sri Lankan/South Indian food in particular, my entire database of past experience consists of a couple of (admittedly excellent) meals at Apollo Banana Leaf and the lunchtime special at Hoppers, and so in critiquing a Sri Lankan restaurant's output, I'm well out of my comfort zone.

Of course this lack of experience would be a bit of an issue even if I loved a particular place - I didn't know what the hell was going on with most of what I was served at ABL, but I knew I liked it - but when a meal falls short, I'm on very shaky ground indeed. Is it even fair to criticise dishes based on sheer personal preference alone, without any way of referencing how they "should" have been served? What if a Sri Lankan restaurant blogger went to Rambla and marked down their (perfect, in this blogger's opinion) gazpacho because it came served cold? Maybe they would have preferred it hot; maybe it even would have been better hot (however unlikely that seems); but does knowing that traditionally gazpacho is served cold a precursor to qualified criticism? Or does anything go in restaurant reviewing on the internet?

Anyway, all the above is permission to take anything that follows in the totally subjective and largely uninformed manner in which it was written, and that however unimpressed I was with Vijaya Krishna, there's every chance if you went you'd have a great time. A maxim which applies to all the posts on this blog, come to think of it.

Cashew nut 'pakoda' were nice enough but I wouldn't really call them a 'starter', more of a bar snack. Half the portion size, and half the price, they'd be worth nibbling on while perusing the menu but I didn't detect any of the advertised curry leaves, chilli or ginger - and I don't think I'd order them again.

'Puri' must mean a very different thing in some parts of South Asia than others because I was expecting little golfball sized spheres of pastry containing chickpeas and tamarind water to pour into them. Instead, this arrived - a kind of wholewheat bread sandwich containing a small amount of decent, if hardly earth-shattering, prawn curry. I didn't hate it, but I just really like the other kind of puri, so I couldn't help being a bit disappointed. Which is hardly their fault, but still.

I very often order butter chicken to assess the skills of a South Asian kitchen because a) I love the stuff, and b) I've had so many over the years I can generally use it as a control variable. Vijaya's was fine, but the bits of chicken were a little dry, and the sauce just didn't have the depth of flavour of other versions. If you're interested, the absolute pinnacle of the butter chicken craft is served by Jamavar in Mayfair - hardly the same budget I know, but worth splurging on if you want to know exactly how good this ostensibly simple dish can get.

We were advised to order the Cochin prawn curry as a house speciality, but I can't say it deserved the title of a signature dish. Prawns were nice and plump and moist, and there were plenty of them, but the sauce was fairly generic and about 5 minutes after we'd eaten it I'd pretty much forgotten it ever existed.

Chicken '65 had a great flavour - much like Apollo Banana Leaf's - but were cut a little small and were dry and stringy, which APL's never are. Much like what had come before, it wasn't awful, not inedible, just dull and a little careless. Plus, not a huge portion for £7.90, it has to be said.

Fortunately, we were able to end on a high, because Vijaya Krishna's paratha is absolutely glorious. An utterly addictive texture, with folds of delicate crispness enveloping silky soft pastry, it was also buttery and rich enough to satisfy on every level. A very very impressive bit of work, and really the only thing approaching a must-order.

But you know what, no harm done. haven't got round to South London in their cheap eats guides just yet, so I'm very interested to see which of the Tooting stalwarts make the list. I've heard very good things about an Afghanistani grill house called Namak Mandi, and I do hope that Apollo Banana Leaf gets a mention, but if this meal has taught me anything is that even the most-recommended restaurants need the right audience, and perhaps the joy of these lists is merely to introduce people to new places and let them decide for themselves if they work for them. I probably won't go back to Vijaya Krishna, not with so many other options in the area, but I definitely am glad I've been. And sometimes, that'll do.



Anonymous said...

"'Puri' must mean a very different thing in some parts of South Asia than others because I was expecting little golfball sized spheres of pastry containing chickpeas and tamarind water to pour into them"

You're thinking of Pani Puri. Puri by itself would traditionally be what you see above.

SluppyB said...

The Sri Lankan restaurant blogger is Arnold J Rimmer, and I claim my five pounds.