Monday, 27 July 2009

Kastoori - Vegetarian Magic in Tooting

Our trip to Kerala and Goa opened our eyes to the world of vegetarian food. The range of interesting and complex dishes we had that contained no meat or fish was astonishing. By the end of our trip we had stopped thinking of food in terms of a piece of protein plus some veggies and instead just enjoyed what was in front of us. In Kerala it is meat eaters who are the odd ones out, to the extent that places that serve meat are referred to as "non-vegetarian".

So when we arrived at Kastoori, a vegetarian Indian restaurant in Tooting, I got rather excited and tried to order almost everything on the menu. Luckily the waiter stepped in and very purposefully told me to not be greedy and calm down! Weirdly, I quite enjoyed being put back in my place by a stranger with a notepad and a mustache. Let's hope it's not a strange fetish that's beginning to rise to the surface! Luckily the waiter did allow us to order two of the best named dishes I've ever come across: Dahi Puri and the "not-un-Star-Warsy" Dahi Vada which I imagined arriving with a light saber and black mask.

The Dahi Puri are one of Kastoori's signature dishes. The menu describes them as "taste-bombs" which does a pretty good job of bringing them to life. Crispy shells are filled with "diced potatoes, chick peas, puffed rice, onions, pani sauce, sweet and sour sauce and topped with yoghurt sauce". I can't remember the flavours much, but the textural experience was sublime.

Wow - Dahi Puri

Dahi Vada was far more fun to ask for than to eat, which was to be expected. I found the yoghurty sauce a bit overwhelming and made a beeline instead for the bhajis...

Yoghurty mud bean balls - Dahi Vada

Onion Bhajia

... which were sensational. Crisp, savoury and no-where near as greasy as they tend to be. I even convinced Cowie to have one!

Our Kastoori Bhatura was a wonderfully inflated chipatti that resembled a bready woopy-cushion. Dipped in our array of sauces and spicy condiments, it was fantastic.

Not so flat bread - Kastoori Bhatura

Whilst we were pottering around India I kept missing out on having a dosa. They are large, think, rolled up pancakes filled with savoury sauces. The masala dosa at Kastoori was visually arresting, but unfortunately the spiced potato filling and accompanying sambar wasn't quite as exciting.

Masala Dosa

(Putting a slightly dull filling to one side, it has made me think that a dosa could make a fantastic left field appearance at next year's pancake competition as a follow up to our Crispy Aromatic Pork Belly Pancakes this year.)

The star of the main course was a chilli banana dish that is spiced with red chillies, lubricated with tomatoes and inspired by Africa. It was a one of the most unusual things I've eaten and had us wondering what John Torode and Greg Wallace would have said on Masterchef if you'd served it to them. I can just hear Pudding Face "Tut-tutting" and saying, "No, no. This is all wrong". But it worked. What a dish. It's worth the trip to Tooting alone.

Chilli banana

A bean-ball curry and vegetarian curry were both good, but suffered from being in the shadow of the chilli banana...

Bean ball curry - Kastoori Kofta

Vegetable curry

Desserts are always terrible in Indian restaurants, but we couldn't resist ordering a couple to test the water. Jeffrey Steingarten singles them out as being one of gastronomy's great mysteries - "they have the texture of face cream". And he's not far wrong.

Rice pudding

Rice pudding with pistachio was like someone had tipped a can of Ambrosia into the microwave that I could see through the kitchen door and then crumbled some pistachios on top...

Mango ice cream

And the comically conical mango ice cream was clearly missing from the set of Babestation.

But the desserts were never going to be any good, so let's just have a laugh and reflect on the fact that Kastoori is a brilliant, inexpensive restaurant, that happens to be both Indian and vegetarian. And luckily for us, just down the road. Just don't arrive with a yearning for chicken tikka masala.

Kastoori on Urbanspoon

11 comments:

Le laquet said...

I too was disappointed with a dosa we ordered recently and had no idea what to do with the trio of sauces that came with it! However, one of our local Indian restaurants serves warm gajrella with vanilla ice-cream ... gives Indian a new "good name!"

Browners said...

@Le laquet - interesting to hear your dosa experience. I am going to order again soon to see if it is more exciting. I hope so.

Helen said...

My boss keep urging me to visit this place - three years I think she has been saying it now! Time to go.

The Ginger Gourmand said...

The Dahi Puri look great! I love food that doesn't look like anything I normally eat day to day.

I'd love to visit Kerala - I'm sure you must have had an amazing trip! The food at Kastoori sounds very similar to what they serve at Ganapati in Peckham. Have you been? I think I might take a little excursion to Tooting sometime soon...

Gregory said...

Love the work. Must get there soon.

It's great to read about undiscovered gems prodcuing great food as opposed to the "PR invitation visit" posts that blight other blogsites.

Browners said...

@Helen - You should definitely give it a try. You won't find many better vegetarian restaurants than this. Plus Tooting is good fun.

@The Ginger Gourmand - There were certainly a few dishes that were well out of my normal frame of reference. Plus they only do their specialities once a week. So you always get something new and different. Unless you always go on a Wednesday!

@Gregory - Glad you like it. Lots more interesting places to report on in the pipeline... when I get a few days free!

mathildescuisine said...

Perfect! I was looking for a place to enjoy Indian food in Tooting, I think I have found it. Great post!

Browners said...

@mathildescuisine - great to meet you last night and thanks for the comment. You'll love Kastoori.

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Elliott Broidy said...

These all look mighty delicious! I would eat every one of them!

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