KASTOORI: TOP NOTCH VEGETARIAN INDIAN IN TOOTING
I find it hard to take advice from other people. Usually, I am right because most people who offer up sage words are numb nuts who couldn’t find their genitalia with an Ordnance Survey map.
Sometimes, however, I should really listen, like the time when I was ten and decided to see what would happen if I peed on the coal fire in our front room in Rotherham, against the better counselling of my best friend, Andrew, only to spend the next few hours explaining a room full of acrid, urine smelling smoke to my parents.
I feel like that today, only without the smell of piss.
For years people have been telling me I should head down to Tooting, where they insisted I would find any number of decent East African Asian and Gujurati eateries that offered up some of the best Vegetarian food to be found in London. For as many years, I had pushed their claims to the back of my mind consigning them to the “numb nuts” category.
Now I have finally delivered the revised manuscript, I have lots of time on my hands and, much as I would be perfectly happy to sit at home and watch re-runs of Frasier on The Comedy Channel, I keep thinking I ought to do something more productive, which usually involves food. So, I left London’s fashionable SOSHO and forty minutes later emerged blinking into the gloom of a late Summer’s afternoon in London’s not so fashionable Upper Tooting Road.
There are certainly plenty of dining choices here spotted amongst the Caribbean beauty parlours and charity shops, but I only had one place in mind, arguably the most well known of the lot. A Tooting stalwart of some twenty-one years, Kastoori and the Takni family who run it, have a solid reputation for providing freshly made and reasonably priced food for a loyal customer base and, arriving just as they opened, I had the place to myself to try it out.
A small glass of lassi showed that they take even the basics seriously. House made yoghurt combining with cardamom, nutmeg and pistachios to make as good an example as you are likely to find in the capital. Thick enough to require just a little effort to drag it through the straw.
A starter order plate of dahi puri presented me with five bite size shells of crisp puri filled with chopped onions, potatoes, chickpeas and chilli doused in more yoghurt and a tamarind based pani puri sauce. Although they could have benefited from the addition of a little more chopped green chilli, the fact that, I picked the plate up to lick clean of sauce probably indicates my enjoyment of the dish.
Along with the regular dishes, the family offer up daily specials and I chose a small bowl of Kontola curry. This is a gourd to be adored and here, with deft preparation and the use of a fresh garamasala (made they told me with over twenty five ingredients) and cooked in oil rather than ghee, it was a far cry from normal curry house slop. Deeply savoury and delicious, I spooned it from plate to mouth with the help of a couple of chapatti and some plain rice.
The absence of bloating ghee meant I had room for pudding, in this case shrikand, a classic dessert of Gujurat and Maharashtra made from more of their yoghurt strained through a cloth over night and then mixed with saffron, pistachio and cardamom to form a dense, creamy pudding.
Dessert brought the bill to £21, which, for cooking of this quality is good enough value to persuade me that I might have to start taking people’s advice more seriously next time they offer up ideas of places to eat. Just don’t leave me alone near any open fires.