(Please see the main review at http://fussyveggie.blogspot.com/2009/01/sagar-udipi-south-indian-restaurant-in.html )
As those of you who've read my main review of Sagar will know, I thoroughly enjoy the South Indian Udipi-style food that this group of restaurants serves. To me, this is pure comfort food and it transports me to the warmth and sunshine of my childhood in India.
I was therefore very keen to try Sagar's new Covent Garden outpost, which is conveniently located for public transport at Charing Cross and the Aldwych. So that's where we went yesterday afternoon. For a lazy Sunday afternoon at 3 pm, I was surprised to find quite a few patrons inside.
We ordered a plate of idlis (steamed, lentil and rice dumplings), 2 set meals and a couple of soft drinks. We were served a complimentary portion of poppadoms with a super-hot tomato chutney and another yogurt dip. Very nice and fresh.
The idlis arrived steaming hot, with an absolutely, mouth-watering sambar (lentil and tamarind dipping sauce) and a very ordinary chutney (coconut dip) to go with them . The idlis were perfectly coooked; I was transported to the cafes in Madras by the seaside. I could almost hear the waves lapping against the sandy shore and my favourite aunt cooking us a family meal while ticking off the naughty kids... And the sambar... oh the sambar... so fantastic that we requested an extra portion, which was kindly provided free of charge....
The set meal that arrived next, consisted of 2 starters, 2 sets of curried vegetables, rice, a dosa (lentil crepe), yogurt and pudding each. All served in fairly large and generous helpings !
Our starters provided the only area of weakness in an otherwise unbelievably impressive meal. So, don't get too put off by the comments I make in this paragraph. For the starters, we received upma (savoury spicy semolina) and bhajiyas. Well, you can't go wrong with something as simple as that, or so those of you who are very familiar with South Indian food may have thought. Hmm....The upma was mediocre and bland, but I hate upma anyway. So I turned my attention to the savoury delight that is a bhajiya. Imagine my surprise and disgust, when I bit into one and found it sweet inside; it was apparently an apple bhajiya. I guess it's the culinary equivalent of finding yourself eating a sweet sausage with even sweeter mash. An unmitigated disaster and a capital crime against the bhajiya and the apple. Our surly waiter informed us that this was meant to cater to the British palate. All I could think was that Sagar, Covent Garden, have done a great disservice to a grand culinary tradition if even one, unknowing guest goes away thinking that this is what South Indian food tastes like. Yuck, yuck and triple yuck. Our plates remained fairly untouched except the empty space where the treacherous boyfriend had tucked into a lone bhajiya (and mumbled that he liked it ) - well, there's no accounting for taste, is there?
Finally our mains arrived, and put me out of my misery. A perfectly-made, yummy dosa (lentil and rice crepe) crowned our plate. Alongside, they had served us some more of the superb sambar (spicy, lentil dip), a mild and fairly tasty masala aloo (curried potatoes), an outstanding chana masala (chick-pea curry), which formed a delectable alliance with the biryani-style rice which had flecks of caramelised onion and slivers of potato running through it. We were also provided the ubiquitous raita or yogurt sauce, which is meant to take the edge off spicy-hot dishes. All I could do was savour and enjoy this feast. Every delicate and strong flavour, every subtle nuance and at so reasonable a price - a humble £5.75 for this wonderful plate of food. I was in food heaven. Even the boring paruppu payasam (a liquidised lentil and milk pudding) couldn't bring me back to earth.
To sum up this review, we had a fantastic meal albeit with a couple of absolute "low"lights such as the bhajiya, the upma and the pudding. Sagar, Covent Garden, like its Hammersmith equivalent, is really good value and gives old hands such as Woodlands nearby a really good run for their money. I'd certainly recommend Sagar to anyone who fancies eating great, totally vegetarian, South Indian food, of a very high quality, in central London at really low prices.
31, Catherine St
London WC2B 5JS