Karakana

Address: 443 Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, SW9 8LN

https://www.karakana.co.uk/

A new Indian – or not so Indian – restaurant opened in Brixton in the same building as Market Place. Tim Anderson (Masterchef winner) and Rivaaj Maharaj (both in Nanban – see here for a review) are behind this new venture which provides Indian inspired food with a twist. The inside has changed since it’s reincarnation. The music is the not-too-loud kind so you can have a conversation and you sit opposite each other in booths with high backs (potentially Covid-19 proofing). There is a large centre bar that mixes lovely sounding cocktails like – Apricot Rose and a Pino Co-Lassi – that have sweet ingredients that make them more like desserts and they do go down easily. Below see the Apricot Rose and their signature cocktail Karakana (vodka, amaretto, lassi, mango puree and crushed pistachio – at least three of your five-a-day).

The menu is as it says on the tin – eclectic with small plates, big plates and tandoori and a very small dessert list (ice cream), so just choose another cocktail. Vegetarian is marked on the menu and some vegan options can be made to order. Some dishes look nothing like an Indian – Fish and chips and Currywurst, but a closer look at the ingredients shows them to have an Indian twist.

We chose potato salad chaat (with celery, shallots, lime dressing, coriander, peanuts and tamarind sauce) and lotus blossom onion bhaji with spiced yoghurt dip. The salad was crunchy and pretty heavy so do share and the onion bhaji was a whole onion shaped like a lotus blossom and was, as it should be, crispy and great with the dip. There were three of us and the final person chose from the tandoor menu – the Methi Miso Salmon (eclectic!) that came in a fenugreek and miso glaze with tandoori broccoli (although we thought they switched it on the night). The salmon was soft and definitely cooked well with a slippery caramelised outside. What was described as tandoor broccoli split the table – it was very hot, spicy and crunchy so a good foil for the salmon, but it looked innocuous and it definitely was not. Some liked it and others just wanted a health warning on the heat.

We followed this with choices from the large plates – Mutton bourgignon curry, Madrasi Machli and Aubergine Karahi Parmigiano (!). We complemented these with a couple of bowls of steamed rice, and a naan and roti.

The mutton was in a really rich sauce – it was the leg slowly braised in red wine with carrots, potatoes and picked onion. It was spicy, but not so you couldn’t savour the taste of the lamb. The Madras Machli was actually salmon curry simmered in the “house blend of spices from Southern India” – so giving nothing away. The salmon can be easily overpowered by a curry – this wasn’t and I definitely admire the chef’s delicacy with whatever those South Indians use.

The Aubergine was exactly as you might imagine – breaded and fried in a tomato sauce and topped with parmigiano. But the menu description left off any reference to spices and they were there in abundance in the breading and in the tomato sauce. It was how I like this dish, crispy pieces of aubergine with soft insides, any blandness being banished by the tomato sauce.

The menu notes only one dessert, but when we decided to order and discovered that it was in short supply so we had a couple of Hokey Pokey ice creams and a Masala Chai. They come as two large scoops, so plan to ask for a scoop of each and share – it was a labour we endured so that we covered the whole menu, but we were really too full to finish.

We have noticed blogs and comments suggesting this is an expensive meal, but actually we thought it was reasonable. You can cut down on the many courses and the cocktails (£9.50 or so each). We had two cocktails and 2.5 pints of tiger or Coldharbour beer. The total came to a whopping £95.50 with tip, but after removing everything but the food it was £18.25 per head. We will go back as the menu definitely peaked our interest, but this time knowing that unless very hungry we will try to share some dishes.

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