Ragam has been on this site since 1985, serving local office workers, students and, until recently, the staff of the nearby Middlesex Hospital (which was demolished in 2008, and will in due course be replaced by a residential development called Fitzroy place). Ragam has a small dining room with closely packed tables, seating around 30 diners when it is full i.e. most of the time – on the weekday evening of our visit it was busy and tables were being turned. Ragam could never be accused of over-investing in flashy décor: this is a paper tablecloth and cream wall kind of place.
What is interesting is that the food is (mostly) Keralan. Dishes such as dosa, uttapam and vadai jostle for space on the menu alongside high street curry favourites like chicken korma. There is a short and now revamped wine list (though no vintages are listed), starting at £12.95. Example wines were Tierra Antica Sauvignon Blanc at £14.25 for a wine you can find in the high street for £6, and Gruppo Olarra Ondarre Rivalla Crianza at £19 for a wine that retails at £8. A large bottle of Kingfisher beer was £3.90.
Uttapam is a kind of Indian pizza made from a batter of urad dal and rice, and in India itself is usually seen at breakfast time (as indeed are dosas). The version here is very good, topped with onions and chillies but above all having good texture, very reminiscent of ones I have eaten in Kerala; the one tonight was particularly well made (3/10). Onion bhaji was also nicely made, with good filling, the onions slightly sweet, and the outside coating fairly crisp (2/10).
Biriani, both prawn and chicken, was competent, the rice properly cooked. I preferred the chicken version as the chicken itself was cooked through well and was not dried out, whereas the prawns were tiny cheap shrimps and had little taste (2/10 for chicken biriani, 1/10 for the prawn version). Vegetable curry alongside this was decent but no more, the spicing being rather one-dimensional (1/10). Paratha was disappointing tonight, very dry and flaking apart a bit, which is a pity as they usually do a better job than this (barely 1/10). Service was very basic, the waiter seemingly bored and inattentive, and one side order was forgotten. The bill came to just £21 a head, for lots of food and a large bottle of beer apiece. Part of the appeal of Ragam is its relatively low prices. It is not a fancy place at all; there is some inconsistency in the cooking, but the best dishes are surprisingly good, and it is fair value.
Below are notes from previous meals.
The Ragam is one of those reliable curry houses that never seems to change over the years. In this case there is a twist in that it is primarily a Keralan restaurant, though it also serves some more familiar dishes to cater for regulars more familiar with north Indian food. It has quite a small dining room near what was the Middlesex Hospital, which has now been demolished and is being redeveloped. This loss of a natural set of customers does not seem to have diminished trade one whit, and tables were being turned on this weekday evening. The wine list is of the “I’ll have the, er, white” variety, so stick to beer or lassi, though Moet et Chandon for £35 is a bargain.
Uttappam (£4.95) is the south Indian version of pizza but made with rice and lentil flour rather than a bread base, normally served in India as a breakfast dish. The base was in this case a little doughy in texture compared to better versions I have eaten in India, but the toppings of onion, plenty of green chilli and tomato gave a nice kick to the dish, and on the side was a capable sambal (vegetable curry with tamarind), which is a traditional accompaniment (2/10).
This was better than chilli chicken, which had pieces of chicken cooked a little longer than ideal with onion and green bell pepper strips, and was oddly subdued on the advertised chilli (0/10). Slightly better was prawn biriani, which had decent prawns and rice that had good texture (1/10). A paratha was made fresh and avoided greasiness (2/10), while a curry of peas and cauliflower (£3.50), while hardly exciting, at least had peas from a pod, and cauliflower that retained its texture in the cooking process (1/10). Service was pleasant enough. The bill for two, with more food than we could eat and with drinks, still came to under £20 a head. This is not a destination restaurant, but prices are fair and if you are in the area you could do a great deal worse.
Below are notes from a meal in November 2008.
The Ragam is one of those reliable old places that barely changes. Since I last came the scraggy carpet has been replaced by a wooden floor, but otherwise things are comfortingly similar. The wine list still looks like something from the 1970s, with choices like “Medoc” (no pesky details like grower or vintage), but Cobra or Kingfisher beer are anyhow more sensible things to have.
For me the best dish is utthappam (£4.95), the south Indian version of pizza made with lentil flour and rice, topped with green chilli, tomato, and onion, with little side dishes of sambal and coconut chutney. This was a pretty good rendition of uttappam, with the base having reasonable texture and the spicy toppings being in proportion (2/10). A masala dosai (£4.95) was the traditional fan shape, stuffed with potato masala, which in itself was OK but needed more spices to make it interesting. The pancake was a fraction over-cooked, but perfectly decent (1/10).
“Dry bhindi” (£3.25) was, unfortunately, rather soggy bhindi. Bhindi easily becomes soggy and you need to cook it very carefully, and very few places manage it (0/10). Coconut rice (£2.70) was fine (1/10) but a vegetable curry (£2.95) pretty ordinary and could have done with more of a spicy kick (0/10). Service was efficient and the place was heaving at when we arrived at 9:30 on this weekday evening, and was still buzzing when we left. The very fair prices help explain this popularity. I have been coming here on and off for over a decade and the general advice is to stick to the Keralan dishes rather than the long list of conventional curries.