Behind its plain plate-glass frontage, Hammersmith’s Sagar (there are two other branches) is almost Scandinavian in its use of blond wood, with tables, flooring, chairs, ceiling and wall-panelling in similar materials. The effect of entering a box is tempered by red fairy lights and display alcoves of Hindu deities.
A multicultural bunch of diners are tended by smart, softly spoken waiters keen to offer advice. The menu bigs-up the Udupi cooking of Karnataka, from where the chefs originate, but the lengthy list consists of generic South Indian food ranging from dosas and uthappams, to bhel poori beach snacks. Kancheepuram idli rice cakes were heavier than expected, studded with cashew nuts and served with decent sambar and two coconut-based chutneys.
We also sampled mulaga podi: a lentil and spice powder mixed with liquid ghee at table and smeared on the idli. It was appetisingly nutty, yet gritty – and, as with all the food, genuine South Indian chilli heat was absent. Udupi thali, a tray of half a dozen dishes, with two puffy poori, popadoms and chutneys, was similarly restrained in flavour (little pepperiness in the rasam; hardly any citrus zest; fresh coriander the most vibrant tang), and textures were too similar, with potatoes dominating and green vegetables virtually absent. Best was suki bhaji, where nutty fresh coconut leavened the root-veg mix. A nice atmosphere, then, but workmanlike cooking.