For 28 years, Babur Restaurant in Honor Oak (Brockley, South East London) has had a reputation among locals for excellent Indian food. More recently, it has attracted the attention of Harden's restaurant guide, the AA Good Restaurant Guide and The Good Food Guide. The received wisdom is that it is "worth travelling to" because clearly, no self respecting person from anywhere north of the river would brave the trek to where the tube doesn't go unless the food is "pukka".
Never mind that north and central London have as many lukewarm and barely adequate restaurants as any other place in the world, somehow restaurants which are south of the river have to reach what seem to me to be far higher standards to be worthy of a journey than anywhere else. Whatever, say I. That just leaves the good South London restaurants to the people of South London. We don't need to worry quite as much about securing a table as a result. We'll live with that!
A few years ago, Babur underwent a radical refurbishment, resulting in its current mainly brick decor with some very interesting Indian influenced art and the timber bar/staff area. It's classy, contemporary and a world away from the flock wallpaper of the "curry houses" of the 1980s. This is a place for sophisticated nights out with dates, friends or family members. This is not a place for a drunken Friday night curry session after a pub visit.
We didn't opt for the poppadoms and pickles on this visit, but they are available for £ per person. This was only because I didn't want to do my age old silly trick of filling up on the poppadoms and then not finishing my meal. I would recommend them, particularly for the homemade chutneys. Tasty, spicy, beautiful!
We started by sampling the new selection of Summer cocktails.
Him Indoors chose the Roasted Pineapple Mojito £7.95
Made with Bacardi white rum, homemade spiced pineapple puree, pineapple syrup, mint leaves, this was a refreshing and Summery long cocktail. The spicy pineapple brought it head and shoulders above the regular mojito, which is quickly becoming ubiquitous and bland.
Essencially Orange £7.50
This is Babur's first wine based cocktail. Made with Orange Muscat Essencia, orange peel, sweet red vermouth, dry white vermouth, Absolut vodka and Fee Brothers' orange bitters. This is a very pleasant aperitif, particular if you are a fan of aperol cocktails. It has a sophisticated if slightly bitter flavour to get the tummy rumbling and tastebuds tingling.
When we visited, Babur was running one of its specialist menus. This is one of the real strengths of the restaurant. The A La Carte menu is run all year round, but there are occasionally special menus showcasing regional Indian cuisine and other special menus.
This year, Babur were running a special 28th anniversary menu, one taking its inspiration from a Keralan card game of "28" (Irupathiyettu), which I was informed is a trick-taking game similar to bridge. This special menu, running until 8th September is called "The Dealer’s Choice Menu" which features seven items, six of which will be available as both small and large plates. although the dessert only comes in one size. This gives people the chance to sample smaller dishes to share.
We therefore decided to mix and match between the Anniversary menu and the A La Carte.
Assamese duck steamed in banana leaf, bamboo shoot sticky rice £6.50 for a small portion (Anniversary menu)
Aromatically seasoned with cumin, coriander, black pepper, turmeric
The duck was tender, moist and not fatty at all. The banana leaf presentation was very appealing, like opening a special present! A dish which had nuanced and pleasant spicing without being too hot. This could have been a very nice main course, had it not been ordered as a starter. The small portion could equally be ordered among a selection of small mains to create a meal for sharing.
Tempura battered courgette blossom, cumin mint summer vegetable ragout (Vegetarian) £6.50 for a small portion (Anniversary menu)
Stuffed with seasoned yoghurt, ragout of broad beans, asparagus, peas
Reminiscent of Italian cooking, here the young courgette is at the end of the flower, the whole thing being fried in a light batter. It was the vegetable ragout which made this dish Indian with its use of authentic flavours and spicing. A great Summer starter with a twist.
Crispy soft-shell crab, green papaya and hazelnut crab salad £7.95 for a small portion (Anniversary menu)
Served with lemon rice cakes
I'll confess, I love soft shell crab. Hence the chances of not liking this were small. So, yes, I really enjoyed the crispy outer and soft toothsome inside. Green papaya is another favourite ingredient; Thai Som Tam is one of the dishes I crave frequently. This was always a dish to meet with my seal of approval!
Coconut lamb, tomato rice (Hot dish) £14.95 (A La Carte menu)
Well-spiced, handi-cooked to a rich, sticking consistency, from Kerala
Tomatoey rice cooked like a pulao (by the absorption method), this was a world away from the rice that many Westerners describe as bland. I appreciated the presentation, where the rice was served in a cone of grilled poppadom. The difference between grilled and fried poppadoms is quite pronounced. Jim Indoors chose this main course, mainly because he loves the way Indian cooking treats lamb and mutton. Here he was not disappointed, the lamb was tender, hot but not incendiary, and altogether balanced and enjoyable.
Vegetarian thali (Vegetarian) £14.50 (A La Carte menu)
Paneer makai tawa masala, Green bean fogath, Dal makhni, Gobi capsicum, boondi raita, pulao and mini nan bread
This was my choice. Why? Because I couldn't make my mind up and wanted to try as many small dishes as I possibly could! Was I disappointed? No! The paneer tasted like a traditional homemade dish, with spicy masala. The dal makhi was creamy, rich and comforting. The gobi capsicum was in a light sauce with lots of garam masala flavours. The bean fogath reminded me a little of a thoran, and were pleasantly studded with kalo jeera to lend a deep and earthy spiciness, without heat. The raita was light and fresh, with the boondi introducing a novel texture and slight crunch. The pulao and nan made with the high standards and technique I would expect of a restaurant with this level of pride in their output.
All in all, we had a wonderful lunch at Babur. We just wonder what their latest menu adventure will involve!
119 Brockley Rise, London, SE23 1JP.
020 8291 2400
Open from noon until 2:30 (except Sunday: noon-4pm) and every evening from 6pm until 11:30pm.
Him Indoors and I paid for our lunch ourselves. Money well spent!