Indian cuisine and vegetarianism go hand-in-hand together, although, when you’re brought-up with food that isn’t vegetarian and from a completely different region of India (Gujarat), it isn’t something I’m drawn to. I mean why have a vegetable samosa when you can have lamb chops or even just a lamb samosa?
Having a vegetarian Indian housemate has certainly widened my eyes a little more to the joys of food without meat and Saravanaa Bhavan was a southern Indian restaurant recommendation. The only real knowledge I have on Southern Indian cuisine is that it differs from the usual northern dishes which tend to be heavier and spicier.
Just like a many Indian restaurants, there is nothing fancy about Saravanaa Bhavan, think metals plates and cups (the ones that hurt your mouth when you drink) but when you’ve been to many restaurants in Bradford it all adds to the charm. Indian fine-dining just didn’t exist where I grew-up. There’s just no market for it especially when you’re more likely to find the best food at a family gathering.
We came to Saravanaa Bhavan for the dosa but we decided to pick a few additional menu attempts to get our taste buds excited with the first being Idly Vada Sambar. The dish as an entirety was a let down, with it being too bland however the dhal was delightful and although muted in comparison, still had layers of spice that could be noted with each mouthful.
The chilli paneer was more up my street with a little more heat, a sticky glaze and enough paneer to share between four. It wasn’t my favourite paneer dish that I’ve ever consumed but it was satisfying nonetheless.
Now if there’s any other reason you visited Saravanaa Bhavan apart from to taste their wide range of dosa, then you’ll be largely disappointed. Their dosa is incredibly pleasing for a lazy Sunday afternoon and the paneer dosa in particular was a highlight; light, crispy batter and plenty of filling. For a few pounds, you really can’t get better value in London.
The problem with reviewing Indian restaurants, is I’m always going to be comparing the food to what I know; food that has an intensity of flavours you just don’t get with other cuisines. It’s nostalgic and it means more to me than any other cuisine and rightly so, it’s the food of my upbringing. So perhaps my lack of desire for the food served, was not a problem at all but instead my incredibly high standards.
Regardless of my disheartened experience, the sexist structural hierarchy is my main concern especially if you aren’t ready to go back in time 50 years; men take the orders and women do the clearing up. There were several times when our male waiter came to our table and ignored our empty plates for at least 20 minutes. Eventually I asked him to remove these from the table which he reluctantly did but it was apparent what he was thinking ‘this isn’t my job’. We also asked a lady ‘cleaner’ to take our dessert order and she mentioned she’d ask our waiter to take our order when all we wanted was a bit of ice cream…
Saravanaa Bhavan is a weird experience. I’m all for humble restaurants and comforting food but when you notice something quite horrifying in 21st century London, it really is something that leaves a bitter taste.
– Saravanaa Bhavan, East Ham