In my defence, there is a method to the blandness, if you will: I aim for most of my reviews to be relevant to a pretty wide audience, and a broader range of readers will be able to experience Café Rouge or Haché by simply locating their nearest branch, rather than having to trek somewhere a long way away.
But I do take the point that independent restaurants are generally – though not always – superior, and so today I give you three of my favourite independent, one-of-a-kind restaurants. My 'chain reaction', as it were.
(OK, I'll stop making the sort of bad pun that has to be followed by 'if you will' or 'as it were' now. I can't believe I did it in consecutive paragraphs. What the fuck was I thinking?)
You might have to travel further to check them out, but these are places worth going out of your way for. Even if that means going to Tooting.
And if you happen to live locally to one of these undiscovered gems, you're in for a big fat bastard of a treat. I guarantee it.
Silka - Borough
Located in a high street basement underneath the main entrance to Borough market, it’s just around the corner from the area's excellent pubs, and ideally situated for a post-beer curry - which is why we ended up there on my stag night, obviously.
The menu goes a long way beyond the tired old Vindaloo and artificially-coloured chicken tikka masala, but avoids feeling like a trendy style bar. It’s probably fair to say the pricing is also pitched betwixt the twain – a meal for two is likely to be in the £50-75 range.
More conventional starters like samosas and prawn purees are available, but I usually like to go for something unusual where possible.
|Chicken Lavabder and more...|
This too had some interesting flavours beyond the usual generic 'curry' flavour of cumin and coriander. And at about 11 quid, including pilau rice, it’s keenly-priced for Central London.
The side dishes are fairly standard fayre for Indian restaurants these days- eg a lot more varied than they were when I was a child - and a portion of sag or brinjal is a tasty way to get one of your five-a-day.
Silka's wine list is fairly extensive - an area where it owes more to the contemporary Indo-brasserie model - though I'd really like to see Asian restaurants doing more interesting things with beer. A cool, strong, hoppy IPA would be great with so many curries, but the best you'll find in Silka and most other places is an overpriced bottle of Cobra.
For me Silka fills a useful niche, offering the best in modern British Asian food for the 2012 palette, without being overly trendy or noisy. It's a cut above your average tandoori and just that little bit quirky.
Pizzeria Sette Bello - Tooting
The kitchen isn't a hotbed of experimentation, but they do real Italian food, and do it quite spectacularly well.
|Not bad for a starter portion!|
The smoky, bacony 'Matriciana' tagliatelle is particularly lovely, while the house special Sette Bello features broccoli, prawns and garlic, and works well with fresh penne.
|The Four, no, Five Seasons!|
Troy Barbecue - Streatham
|Worth it's weight in Troy ounces...|
Mixed meze platters are a good way to get acquainted with the myriad dishes available, particularly if you're a large group with a passion for first courses and dipping flatbread into gooey messes, but make sure you save room for your kebab, which will be a big fuck-off plateful of food.
|That is one mighty plateful!|
Oh, and a pot of chilli sauce.
Just looking at it all piled up on the plate is a deeply arousing experience, and at only just over a tenner a person (even less if three people shared it, which they could do quite easily) it's also excellent value.
All the constituent parts of the big mixed kebab are available individually of course, and you can also choose from a range of steaks and fish dishes, but it's hard to avoid the meaty goodness that they do so very well.
Another highlight of these type of cuisine is the Turkish coffee and baklava at the end of the meal. Just about the only thing Troy could do to improve things would be to offer a Shisha pipe after the meal, but unfortunately the pipes hanging up above the bar are 'only for show'.
However, this may change in the future, and that would make Troy almost impossible to leave.
OK, so fuck the chains then
When I think about it, there are very few chain restaurants that seem appealing when there are exquisite places like Silka, Sette Bello and Troy out there.
Given that I've been eating regularly in all three for some time, I have to admit to the slightest pang of guilt that I hadn't blogged about any of them before today.
Where to find it...Silka
6-8 Southwark Street