East Ham may have stolen the crown from Tooting in recent years as the best area to eat South Indian food in London — but Tooting wore that crown with pride for decades. It was here that Sree Krishna, South London’s first South Indian restaurant, chose to open 47 years ago, in February 1973. Today, it has emerged that Sree Krishna has permanently closed. It is not known whether its closure is a result of the coronavirus pandemic, but the restaurant was well-established, popular, and thriving at the end of last year.
Sree Krishna — not to be confused with Shree Krishna Vada Pav and other restaurants with similar names — started as a small corner cafe, seating about 20 people, which would evolve into a spacious 100-seater venue that became a stalwart of the local community. Somewhat smarter than other similar restaurants in the area, it had an old-school look that included properly folded linen napkins, framed photos of the deity it was named after, and glossy chequerboard tiles.
It specialised in Kerala food from Cochin and the Malabar Coast, with a few specialities from Chettinad and Karaikudi in Tamil Nadu. In addition to South Indian restaurant standards such as dosa, idli, and uttapam, there was Kerala classic avial, a mildly spiced vegetable stew of yams, various gourds, drumsticks, green bananas, cooked with yoghurt and grated coconut; chicken pieces showered with curry leaves; and shallow-fried diced lamb with fresh coconut and black peppercorns. Cashew nut pakodas, crunchy but with a surprisingly soft texture, were moreish; and dishes not widely available in London included a dosa stuffed with lightly scrambled eggs, and a sweet, crisp, layered paratha filled with fresh coconut.
On a cold early autumn evening during dinner last year, the restaurant owner Pravin Pillai talked at length about the restaurant’s best-loved dishes (like those mentioned above), and how proud he was to have set up a restaurant showcasing the food of his home country so many years ago, how he had kept it going “through thick and thin”. His face beamed with the pride of someone who had jumped many hurdles through hard work and persistence.
Sree Krishna was one of the few South Indian restaurants to host an annual Onam sadhya – an elaborate vegetarian banquet for a harvest festival that’s a hugely significant date in the Kerala calendar. The next one would have been due next month, at the end of August.
Sree Krishna was at 192-194 Tooting High Street, SW17 0SF.