19 Jul 2012

Apollo Banana Leaf

4 July 2012 - Apollo Banana Leaf: Tooting, We Have A Problem


After an uncomfortably long time, we got back on the Balti on a Wednesday night. The challenge had been set by an anonymous tipster who posted on our last blog – “Do yourselves a favour and try Apollo Banana Leaf, it is incredible!” Not wanting to disappoint a fan we rose to the challenge. The evening started with a long wait for Tom outside Tooting Broadway tube – I thought something was afoot and it turned out he’d been at the podiatrist (and grossly overcharged).


Once stocked up on BYO beers, we trekked down to Apollo Banana Leaf, boldly going where no curry blogger had gone before; one small step for naan, one giant leap for naan-kind. Mike Stone was supposed to join us, but a bout of the measles (that later turned out to be mis-diagnosed) kept him grounded. This curry mission didn’t go as smoothly as planned, but nevertheless we made it home to tell the tale…

Venue

Seemingly named after an aborted, 1970s, NASA mission, Apollo Banana Leaf, is a Sri Lankan restaurant situated on the outer space of Tooting (the borders are disputed, as the scene is constantly expanding). Unassuming from the outside, it is deceptively large inside, much like the TARDIS. Whilst more traditional in its restaurant layout than many Tooting establishments it is still more Millenium Falcon than… a more advanced space ship that I can’t think of (Star Wars is overrated – there, I said it).

The atmosphere inside was lively, as was the d├ęcor. The walls were covered top to bottom with Windows desktop-esque landscapes and in the gaps were some choice artworks; one, a painting of American Indians, seemed quite alien and out of place. We were joined at the dinner table by some ants which has to be considered a negative, however at a neighbouring table sat one Alun Armstrong (New Tricks) – our first celebrity spot and definitely worth an X Factor point. Despite attracting the rich and famous, this is all in all a pretty standard establishment (plus the ants) so a 6/10 for Venue.


Starters and Sides

Poppadoms X 5
Mutton Rolls X 5
Chappathi X 3
Parotta X 3
Chicken masala dosa

As a Sri Lankan restaurant we opted for that part of the world as we gazed down upon on our menus. After radio silence for a good hour, the waiters finally brought our poppadoms which were rather disappointing, and the sole accompaniment of mango chutney was a meagre ration size. We are sad to transmit that these were probably the most disappointing poppadoms we’ve experienced on the circuit so far.

The mutton rolls were better, but looked like giant croquet potatoes and you could’ve been forgiven for thinking they’d come from Iceland down the road. The chappathi and parotta were standard, even if we couldn’t agree on which was which, but the chicken masala dosa was pretty decent - the stand out dish. However, in general, nothing star-studded about the starters here and the sub-par poppadoms have to be marked down - 5/10

Curry

Squid curry
Vegetable Kothu
Special Kothu
Mixed Devil
Special Biryani

Kothu is a traditional Sri Lankan dish containing chopped Roti bread; we opted for the Special and Vegetable varieties. The addition of the Roti adds texture, but does feel like a break in food convention. As previously established in other reviews, the word special on Tooting menus is used about as sparingly as the BBC use Fern Cotton, and, much like the ubiquitous Cotton, often leaves one underwhelmed and let down. In fairness, Apollo bucked the trend.

The Special Kothu was one of few specials listed on the menu and was pleasantly unique. In this instance, Special meant a blend of vegetables, chicken and squid. Unsurprisingly, the Squid Curry also contained squid, but so did pretty much every dish. As someone with a mild aversion to sea food this was far from ideal, but my co-eaters enjoyed the variety, especially the most varied dish of all – the Mixed Devil. Once again, we were drawn to the most ambiguous item on the menu, in this case, a £14.99, spicy meat mountain of chicken, lamb and squid. This was an interesting and generous addition to the table, with strong flavours and a meat for all seasons (nearly).


Similarly, pleasant was the Special (yes, another one) Biryani, which notably hid, amongst its rice, an entire boiled egg. Now, I don’t know if this is the Sri Lankan equivalent to a Scotch Egg or just a confused take on the Kinder surprise, but it went down well (the Biryani, not the egg).

In general, the only real criticism of the curries on offer here was that, despite the copious amounts of sea creature hidden within, the dishes lacked moisture. In contrast to their Indian cousins, these dishes were quite dry and, dare I say it, lacked subtly as a result. Honestly, if they’d mixed all the dishes together I don’t think I’d have noticed. So, whilst different, I’ll have to give the curries a 6/10.

Service

Despite its rocket-like name, warp speed is not something Apollo can be praised for. Whilst amiable and neat when at the table, the staff were rarely there. Unlike other Tooting establishments, who have more employees than the Chinese Army, this seemed a small, family affair with only two waiters to start with (presumably father and son). Mum seemed to join in later, as a woman in a white hoody, who looked like she’d just been roped in from the sofa, added her services. Despite this emergency 50% increase in staff, the service was far from meteoric. As mentioned, we waited a lightyear for our poppadoms to arrive, and when we asked for the Nethali Fry we were informed it would take another forty minutes we just didn’t have time for. Having not experienced such a long wait before, we unfortunately have to mark ‘The Leaf’ down here; 5/10.

Value For Money

Once again the economies of scale came into play as the bill came to £51 between five of us, making it a fantastic £11 a head with a tip. With BYOB on top of this, it was so cheap it was as if there was a Ceylon! I do think that the whole experience, and not just price, has to be factored into the value for money equation though, so all in all, an 8/10.

Summary

I don’t think Apollo Banana Leaf will be rocketing to the top of our rankings, but neither will it be falling to earth. Peeling back the surface, it lacked the gravity of its Indian and Pakistani counterparts. However, like its neighbours, it didn’t scrimp on portions (with the exception of the mango chutney) and we walked out far from weightless. If squid’s your thing then get down here, but if not, maybe change your orbit and make your Milky Way over the road to Onam.

In summary, it didn’t leave a Deep Impact, but is far from restaurant Armageddon. Apollo Thirteen would be a better analogy – good effort, but didn’t quite get the job done - however, it does get the X Factor point for Alun ‘Neil’ Armstrong, giving a grand total of 31/50.

PS. A free poppadom to anyone who makes a comment containing a space related pun

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