Karnavar, Croydon CR0 1DP – restaurant review
PUBLISHED: 08:47 26 January 2017
With the street-eats of Croydon’s new Boxpark stealing the headlines of late, it’s easy to forget that not so long ago the South End side of the town was rebranded as the ‘Restaurant Quarter’ – and it’s here that you’ll find the hotly-tipped Indian restaurant Karnavar blazing its spice trail
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine January 2017
Need to know
62 South End, Croydon CR0 1DP
Tel: 0208 686 2436
WHAT WE ATE
• Kerala Poached Egg Masala, seasonal salad, soya beans, rice and coconut pancake, £7.90
• Kasundi Jhinga: tandoor- roasted tiger prawns marinated with West Bengal mustard sauce, £12
• Organic Barley & Beetroot Chat: golden and candy beetroot, pearl barley, goji berries, £6.90
• Alappuzha Fish Curry, Kerala: salmon, ginger, cocum, coconut and curry leaves, £11.50
• Rara Mutton, Punjab: roast rump of lamb, lamb keema, cumin potato, vegetables, £15.50
• Peshawari Kulcha, £4
• Kappa: steamed casava crushed with shallots, green chilli and coconut, £5.50
• Kinnathapan, Malabar: coconut and mango layered palm jaggery rice pudding, fresh mango and lemon sorbet, £5.80
• Bebinca, Goan: nutmeg-layered cake, fresh pineapple, poppy-seed crumble and vanilla ice cream, £5.90
• Suffering B****** (rum, martini, orange curaçao, lemonade), £7.25
• Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri (rum, triple sec, lime juice, strawberry liqueur), £7.90
• Soul Tree, Sauvignon Blanc – Nasik Valley, India, £21.90
REVIEW: Now firmly established as Croydon’s Restaurant Quarter, the town’s South End has undergone a period of regeneration in recent years and, with a hip and independent vibe, this buzzing area boasts a different culinary offering for every night of the week.
Our destination of choice was the hotly-tipped modern Indian, Karnavar, and stepping off the bustling yet freezing streets, we were greeted warmly by affable business development manager, Saran Rajendran. With a firm belief in the Sanskrit saying ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’, meaning ‘the guest is equivalent to God’, and an MBA in hospitality management, Saran strives to give every guest a unique dining experience.
The first to arrive, we weren’t alone for long – within minutes, every table was taken and the atmosphere electric. The décor is smart and modern, with neutral walls, colourful artwork and atmospheric lighting, complete with flickering candles. Indian music set the scene for the contemporary dining experience that was to follow.
At the helm is head chef and owner, Manoj Karnavar, who has worked in some of the world’s top hotels and restaurants over the course of more than two decades.
The concept for his eponymously-named restaurant is simple; bringing a creative twist on traditional Indian food to the streets of south London. The man himself is an extraordinarily talented chef and humble with it too.
There is clearly a great deal of enthusiasm behind the place; the waiters know their stuff and are happy to recommend dishes if you’re overwhelmed by choice. Also, the restaurant boasts several menu options, ranging from a set lunch or dinner to a Champagne Sunday Brunch and even tasting menus with wine pairing.
We began our evening by sampling the delights of Karnavar’s extensive cocktail list. My fiancé and dining companion, Seb, indulged in a cheekily-named Suffering B******, while I chose the Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri. Both were well-balanced, not overly sweet and – surprise, surprise – slurped down with gusto.
The menu caters for all tastes and there is plenty on offer for vegetarians, with plates ranging from traditional Keralan cuisine to Karnavar’s signature starters and main courses. All dishes are served medium-spicy but, as we found, the chefs are more than happy to tweak food to cater to individual tastes.
Now I know what you might be thinking – it’s January, a time to battle the bulge after the excesses of Christmas, and not a month to be eating out. But with a focus on wholesome feel-good food and high-quality ingredients, there’s no need to ditch the detox at Karnavar.
That said, they also offer an extensive wine list here, with selections from traditional wine-making areas, as well as those from the New World. For our part, we felt that it would be rude not to sample the award-winning Indian house white wine. Our first foray into Indian wines, we found it to be fresh, with tropical notes that complemented the delicately-spiced creations from the kitchen.
Twist on tradition
No sooner had we had a sip of our wine than our starters were on the table. Seb opted for a traditional starter of tandoor-roasted prawns, remarking that they were among the juiciest he had ever tried, with a healthy dose of spice. My poached hen’s egg masala was delicious. Served with a beautifully fluffy rice and coconut pancake, the egg was cooked perfectly, and the curry was mild yet aromatic.
The chef also surprised us with an extra starter for the centre of the table, a nutritious salad containing three varieties of beetroot, puffed pearl barley and the firm celebrity favourite, goji berries. The star of the show, the dish was delightfully crunchy yet sweet, and it would certainly be a guilt-free choice to kick off the New Year.
Next up were the main courses. My traditional Alappuzha fish curry was heavenly; the salmon was succulent and the flavours wonderfully fragrant.
I had trouble choosing from the many sides on offer but Saran was happy to help, suggesting Kappa – a hearty portion of steamed cassava with chilli – and a Peshawari Kulcha. The handmade bread was superb and while the cassava was a little too creamy textured for my liking – you can’t account for personal tastes – it’s a tasty alternative to rice.
Seb chose the signature Rara Mutton: melt-in-the-mouth lamb served two ways. A modern take on a dish served in Indian roadside restaurants, this meat-lover’s dream was presented with cumin-spiced potatoes and went down a treat.
By this point extremely full but eager to do this review justice, we just had to sample the sweet treats on offer. Both desserts were exotic (see full list of ingredient, below) and indulgent – yet refreshing too – and a good contrast to the spicy food of earlier.
In spite of a full house, the service was attentive and friendly throughout. We re-emerged onto the streets of this foodie corner near Surrey with our cockles warmed, feeling merry and declaring that this was a culinary journey we wouldn’t be quick to forget.
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