Tel: +44 (0)20 7486 3862
Address: 77 Marylebone Street, London W1U 2PS
Cuisine Type: Indian
Website: www.woodlandsrestaurant.co.uknearest tube station Baker Street

As a rule, where there is a choice, I tend to avoid the identikit branches of chain restaurants as their uniformity and predictability is the very antithesis of what I enjoy when I eat out. Designed to appeal to the masses, they can be sterile and lacking in character. However, the evening we came across Woodlands, I didn’t realise that it is one of a mini group of Indian restaurants (even if there are only four branches, spanning such far-flung locations as Wembley and Chiswick), and the place was packed, which is nearly always a good sign.

As if to conform to my preconceptions, the décor is rather soulless – certainly not worth visiting Woodlands for the interior design alone. The tables are well spaced, which is about all I thought worth noting, as I dislike cramped seating where you are virtually sharing a table with complete strangers.

The food is traditional south Indian vegetarian fare, so you won’t find your hackneyed menu of tikka masalas, kormas or biryanis here. Having said that, the starters (£3 – £4) do encompass such universal standards as poppadoms and samosas, but we opted for idlis, which are best described as steamed sponges made from rice and lentil flour, served with coconut chutney and sambar, and Upmas, spiced wheat “cakes” studded with nuts.

For main courses (£5 – £6), there is an extensive choice of dosa (or whatever the plural of a dosa is – dosai? dosas?), pancakes of various description wrapped around or served with a side helping of a multitude of different fillings, sauces and sambar. My masala dosa was soft, filled with a mildly spiced potato, whilst The Bloke’s paper dosa was almost brittle and came plain, its accompaniments (one of which was identical to one that had come with the starters) in separate dishes. Another option is to try a thali, a complete meal which feels like you are being given your starter, main course, side dishes and dessert all at the same time.

Compared to most Indian restaurants, there is a good range of desserts. Gulab jamun, slightly chewy cardamom-scented fried milk balls in a sticky syrup, kulfi, Indian ice-cream that can be found in a variety of flavours and carrot halva, a dense pudding that has the consistency of fudge, are enough to satisfy any sweet tooth. And, if you missed out on a dosa for your main course or want to continue the pancake theme, you could always end the meal with a butter dosa.

Drinks included lassis and an almond, milk and saffron drink that was a watered down version of the real thing and lacked the fragrance of saffron, but none of the food we had here was spicy enough that we needed the cooling respite that these drinks normally provide. The wine list is not encyclopaedic but, from memory, is as reasonably priced as the food.

So, whilst a meal at Woodlands did not break the bank, neither does it break the mould and although the experience has convinced me not to tar all chain restaurants with the same brush, neither has it completely revolutionised my opinion of them.

– Tracy Yam, 4/2003