A curry in a hurry | Royal Mahal, Tooting.

Last Updated on : 6th August 2021

For an Englishman I am surprisingly ambivalent about curry. I enjoy curries yes, but only up to a point and only occasionally. Many, many years ago I was taken to Brick Lane, back before it became the Benidorm of Balti’s and was treated to a food of the gods curry that has seemingly ruined the experience of all subsequent spicefests.

I’d heard about the Royal Mahal through a friend of my old flat mate. This person is rather a big noise in dining and so I was intrigued to see if I’d share their enthusiasm.

It was a hot June Friday evening when I arrived with the aforementioned former flatmate in front of the Royal Mahal’s rather elaborate exterior on the upper Tooting Road. It being a warm night and curry and lager going together well like curry and lager, I was aghast to see a sign stating that absolutely no alcohol was to be served or tolerated inside. After a quick tete a tete we decided that having come specifically to try the food out, we might be able to get by for 90 minutes without drink and pushed our way through from the elaborate exterior into the rather larger than expected and buzzy interior.

 

Friday is a big night for the Royal Mahal, and seating is offered only on a first come first served basis. We’d arrived and been immediately sat, but the signs outside suggest that leaving it much later would see you probably having to queue. From the look of the clientele this was very much a neighbourhood restaurant in it’s truest sense, with many of Tooting’s south Asian community choosing to have a family meal there.

The menu is accessed through a QR code, you know those things that prior to the pandemic had been last spotted about 2011 on the side of diet coke cans. We kicked off with some popadums, sheek kebab and onion bhajia.

The onion bhajia was delightful, it was flat rather than rounded, crispy towards the edges but with more than a hint of savoury chewiness towards the centre. The lamb kebab was equally good, combining juiciness with a moreish flavour. This was all washed down with nothing more intoxicating than sparkling water.

It was at this point I became aware of a problem…we had ordered far too much. Already after the starters even someone like me who would be on the team if gluttony ever became an Olympic sport, was starting to struggle.

For the second course we had ordered two mains, two types of bread and some rice. In my minds eye I could already see them taking out the windows and having a large lorry backing up to deliver this feast.

As it happened no truck was required, instead the staff got together and acted like a weightlifting relay team to get all the food out. There were two of us on a table for four, and even that wasn’t large enough to fit it all in.

The former flatmate had opted for her usual choice of chicken tikka masala, but with a bit more spice. Whilst I’d plumped (and plump was the word after I’d eaten of that,) for a portion of chili chicken.

The masala was indeed a bit spicier, and to my tastebuds a bit drier and less sweet than the usual concoction you have foisted one you. My chili chicken was if anything slightly milder, but again had a great flavour. The chicken itself in both cases had a good texture, and the portion size I would say went somewhat beyond generous. The garlic naan we had ordered was good, the tandoori paranthas though offered to us in lieu of chapatis were less alluring, this was really though the only misfire and was more likely down to personal taste than anything else.

An alcohol-free meal in transpired, was also a speedy and cheap one. Our stay at the Royal Mahal lasted only about an hour, and the bill for our lorry load of food was only £49. So my advice on how to enjoy one of the best curries I’ve had for a long time, arrive early, order sparingly and sharingly and enjoy.

 

Royal Mahal

32- 36 Upper Tooting Road

London SW17 7PD

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