Friday, 12 August 2011

Restaurant Review: Ganapati

Here's a restaurant review originally written for my South London Press column. Ganapati is one of my all-time favourite Indian restaurants in London.

Ganapati sits off the beaten track in a gentrified enclave of Peckham that you’d never guess was mere minutes from Peckham Rye station and the high street. The restaurant focuses on South Indian food and references the street food culture of the area as an influence. The thing with Ganapati, though, is that aside from perhaps naan bread, paratha and a dhal, you’re unlikely to be able to pick out a single dish you recognise from the menu as their offerings deliberately stray from the norm.

The kitchen is headed up by chef Claire Fisher, who is notably not Indian. Her passion for the cuisine started when she travelled the area in 1992, and she’s revisited numerous times since, bringing seldom seen products such as kudampuli (smoked tamarind) back with her. In Ganapati’s menu, she brings together traditional dishes which have somehow not made it onto the repertoire of Britain’s Indian restaurants, and isn’t afraid to add some of her own twists either.

Arriving at the restaurant, the first twist is announced as they bring some pappadoms and home-made chutneys. They are recommended to be paired with a glass of sherry, a proposition which is intriguing but impossible to refuse. Indeed, a glass of amontillado (£2.75) is a refreshing match for the deliciously sour chutneys and goes a step further by conjuring a relaxed, holiday spirit that compliments the surroundings. Painted wood and a collection of assorted artworks give a bohemian vibe and paired down tables and chairs make the dining area seem almost communal, a feeling enhanced by the friendly, chatty service and the general conviviality which it rubs off on.

Our waitress is happy to advise on dishes, and impressively good at explaining the ingredients which go into them. Popular south Indian street-snack Thaire Vadai (£4.50) is best likned to a savoury lentil doughnut, and it’s easy to see why such a dish would be popular. Ganapati’s version is just about stodgy enough to be considered comfort food, whilst actually being puffy and light. It comes served with a spiced yoghurt and flakes of jaggery (palm sugar). Crab Thoran (£5.50) is a more familiar dish, and certainly a luxurious one. Devon crabmeat is cooked with onions, ginger, curry leaves and coconut milk to create a south Indian “dressed crab” which makes a perfect starter.

A Kuttanadu Duck Curry (£12.25) follows, and the inclusion of duck in a curry at all is the first unusual point to note. A rich sauce of ginger, garlic and chilli along with a host of warming spices coats the meat and makes a more than suitable dipping sauce for the accompanying dosa (flat breads). In contrast to the meaty dish, a Beetroot Pachadi (£9.75) is just one of Ganapati’s vegetarian choices. Beetroot is cooked in coconut milk with mustard and cumin, and the spice flavours are as vibrant as the pink hue.

For an Indian restaurant, Ganapati has an uncharacteristically well-stocked wine list, with headliners being terroir-friendly Indian wines. Sula Vineyards Shiraz 2008 (£17.50 per bottle; £4.85 per 175ml glass) is ripe and smoky, with flavours of blackcurrant developing into characteristics of tobacco and liquorice. Trying it alone, it wouldn’t be a clear match for the spicy Indian food, but they work incredibly well together – the duck dish is a particularly natural bedfellow.

If the offerings so far have been mainly traditional, the desserts are where the innovation kicks in. A dark chocolate, chilli and cardamom cake (£4.75) is an indulgently dense and gargantuan brownie served with crème fraiche and a chilli syrup. There’s been no meekness with the spicing, either – the chilli syrup is just that, and the flavour of cardamom boldly punches through the chocolate. There’s not a lot of consideration needed before naming this the best dessert I’ve had in an Indian restaurant, so it’s worth leaving (just a little) space for it.

Ganapati, 38 Holly Grove, SE15 5DF

>> originally published in South London Press

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