The good thing about living in England is after weeks of sprouts and mince pies you know there are plenty of other cuisines available to rattle those jaded tastebuds. This is no more especially true in London, and after dutifully taking Grandad home to Pinner from my Mum's in Wiltshire (an almost speedy 3.5 hours this year, shaving a good 90 minutes off last years crawl up the M3), we decided to reward ourselves with some Indian food.
We decided to head to the Harrow branch of Sakoni's. Offering a vegetarian smorgasbord of cuisines from different regions; including, as advertised on their window, Gujarati, South Indian, Chinese, and, rather bizarrely, Italian. While I've certainly never seen any of their offerings on my European travels, you could almost convince yourself of the meatless menu's health giving properties. Well, if you disregard the fact the majority of the items may have been acquainted with a deep fryer at some point. That said there are plenty of healthy options and we all know that chillis and garlic are good for boosting immunity (and repelling the genreal public for when I had to return to work).
I love Indian food, and their is a plethora of pretty decent purveyors around my way. Most, however are Punjabi or Pakistani based, featuring the familiar favourites, such as kormas and dopiazas, flaky rotis and buttery parathas. While I do love a 'traditional curry' (lamb dhansak, saag bhaji and a peshwari naan, if you're asking) it is always nice to have something a little different and the mainly Southern Indian, cuisine served at Sakonis makes a welcome change.
After enjoying an all you can eat lunch at the Wembley restaurant, before a visit to watch the football a while back, this time we decided not to wait until the evening buffet, but to go al carte. A good choice as, generous and potentially exciting as buffets can be, my interest has long been waining; you always eat far more than you meant to, there's never any of the really good stuff available, and after the first few mouthfuls everything ends up tasting the same anyway. You also don't end up with any leftovers to take home for breakfast. Always a deal-breaker for me.
Spongy Idli made a great mopping device. The steamed saucers of bland, bright white dough soaking up the thin vegetable curry and green chutney they were served with. Strangely the curry bought to mind the complimentary soup we were served at out rather comical visit to Man Kee Cafe. Perhaps it was the stringy celery type stuff they both seemed to contain, or the fact they both tasted oddly reminiscent (despite this version being veggie) of a tin of Heinz oxtail.
The Dahi Puri were a nice surprise; mini puri shells that are stuffed with mashed potato sprinkled with crispy noodles and covered in chilli sauce, tamarind chutney and beaten yoghurt. I had ordered it thinking the dairy would make a welcome respite from all the spice, but I didn't expect the combination of crunchy, cool, and creamy to be quite so fresh and moreish.
The Masala Dosa was vast and crisp; a feather light pancake rolled around a comforting curried potato filling that was studded with the odd perky dried red chilli. It too came with the same veg curry and another chutney (possibly coconut based) that tasted rather like the crushed peas you get with 'posh' fish and chips.
Kachori, a fried flour ball originating from Uttar Pradesh/Rajasthan, are served stuffed with either peas or lentils. We asked for peas, but ended up with lentils. No matter, the dense filling was slightly sweet, very spicy and perfect with the minty chutney served alongside.
From the 'Indo-Chinese' part of the menu we chose the chilli paneer with a medium heat level. It was a full-on mixture of salt and spice, with strips of chilli and bell peppers and liberal sprinkling of garlic and spring onions being tempered by the crispy, springy cubes of milky Indian cheese. The sort of food that assults you with salt, and makes you sweat while eating it, yet you still come back for another forkful.
The fusion dishes also include Chinese favourites such as sweetcorn soup, Haka and Chow Mein style noodles, Manchurian vegetables, fried rice, Shanghai potato and the fabulously titled 'Mogo Ho Ho'.
Finally our lentil doughnut arrived. The Ewing's choice We had been warned that these would take about 15 minutes (at the same time that the waitress was politely trying to suggest we had ordered rather a lot of food), but they were certainly worth the wait. Predictably the Ewing was suffering from a surfeit of chillis, and food generally, so it was down to me to take one for the team.
Despite their slightly leaden and lumpy exterior the interior was all fluffy and puffy and light, and went wonderfully with the red (chilli/) and brown (tamarind?) sauces provided alongside. A little extra oomph was provided by a few chillis mixed into the dough that also help cut through any oiliness. A fab snack, and one I wish you saw alongside all the more ubiquitous samosas and bhajis (yes, wrong end of the country for most Northern/Pakistani curry houses, but so good).
If you want something to takeaway Sakonis also sells fried snacks and sweet meats from a glass counter at the front. Crisp mogo chips, samosa and bhel puri are available alongside sticky burfi and baklava dusted with silver leaf. They also stock, rather strangely, slices of eggless black forest gateaux and sponge cake.
Sakonis certainly isn't cutting edge - the utilitarian surroundings, neon strip lighting, plastic cups and laminated menus mean it's unlikely to be troubled by a visit from the Michelin men in the near future - but that, of coure, is its charm. Large portions of good, well cooked, and reasonably priced food served in a no nonsense, friendly, manner. Just the thing to prolong our festive cheer and revitalise our weary palates