Tel: +44 (0)20 7249 0344
Address: 55 Stoke Newington Church Street, Stoke Newington N16 0AR
Cuisine Type: Indian
Manor House (PICCADILLY) or Stoke Newington (NATIONAL RAIL)
The infiltration of Indian food into British culinary culture has been so pervasive that there is more likely to be a curry house on your high street than a restaurant serving “traditional British” fare. Chicken tikka masala has been dubbed UK’s new national dish. Yet, the food we get at the majority of Indian restaurants is neither particularly authentic (chicken tikka was apparently invented in Glasgow), nor reflects the incredible variety and diversity of cooking styles found in the Indian subcontinent.
So it was refreshing to discover Rasa, which serves vegetarian food typical of the south Indian state of Kerala, even if we had to make a trip to Stoke Newington to find it (and believe me, Stoke Newington is not a place you just happen to be passing through). Rasa means “taste”, but also desire, love, affection, pleasure and delight, so it is not altogether inappropriate that the interior of Rasa is pink – not a delicate pastel shade, but vibrant, almost lurid, a bold colour that could not have worked in a larger room.
From the menu, there are a selection of pre-meal snacks, pickles and chutneys to start, but we skipped these in favour of the hot starters: banana boli, slices of plantain fried in a light rice and chickpea flour batter and served with a piquant peanut dip; mysore bonda, potato balls flavoured with ginger, curry leaves and mustard seeds; and masala vadai, deep fried patties made with a mixed lentil batter (£2.50 each).
For mains, there is a selection of curries to entice even the most hardened carnivores. Avial, a Keralan feast dish of tumeric steamed vegetables mixed with fresh coconut and yogurt. Cheera Curry, paneer and spinach in a gorgeous creamy sauce. Bagar Baingan, aubergine cooked with onion, coriander seeds, chillies and tamarind in a rich cashew nut sauce. Beet Cheera Pachadi, an intriguing combination of beetroot and spinach in a yogurt, roasted coconut and curry leaf sauce. At £3.50 – £3.85, it is easy to over-order, but leave room for side dishes of okra, kerala salad of guava and avocado or black-eye beans, all just as tasty as the curries, or dosas, pancakes with a spicy potato filling. Even the rice (£2.25) and breads (£1.75) are delicious on their own – choose from lemon, tamarind, coconut or tomato rice, or paratha, poories, appam or chapattis to mop up the sauces.
We were too full for dessert, but had some anyway. I wholeheartedly recommend the kesari, a warm sticky pudding served with mango ice cream, guaranteed to satisfy any sweet tooth, though payasam (a fragrant rice pudding) and kulfi (all £2.50) are also good. And have the mango lassi – the best I’ve ever tasted.
I’m obviously not the only one to revel in the overdose of flavours that a meal at Rasa provides. On a Friday night, there was a sizeable queue outside the restaurant, so make sure you book before making the trip because, let’s face it, there can’t be many other reasons for visiting Stoke Newington.
* For those still not wishing to make the trek, Rasa has branches in Dering Street (Tel: 020 7629 1346) and Charlotte Street (Tel: 020 7637 0222) in Central London.