Karma closed in early 2010. The notes that follow are of historical interest only.
Finally the much unlamented Woodlands in Stamford Brook has been sold. In its place is Karma, a first time restaurant venture from an Indian family. The room is better than before, though it has a rather particular décor. The walls are a mix of cream and the kind of wallpaper pattern that you used to see in flock wallpaper that was seemingly in every Indian restaurant in the 1980s. The room had a high ceiling, there was a wooden floor and red tinted lighting which I suppose is aiming for a warm feel. Personally I just think it makes the menu hard to read (not helped by the small font size chosen – fine if your audience are all in their 20s, maybe a less good idea for the more middle-aged like, er, me). Still, the dining room felt reasonably welcoming. There were a few wines, ranging in price from £13.95 - £16.95, but although they have taken the trouble to add tasting notes no vintage is shown. Beer is Cobra. A lassi was disappointing, watery and with not enough sugar. Given that a sweet lassi consists of the three things: water, yoghurt and sugar (and a blender) it was not an encouraging start.
The menu was mostly South Indian, though at times it can’t quite make its mind up e.g. chicken tikka masala? Bhel poori (£4.25) suffered from soggy texture, and I don’t think peanuts was a good idea in this dish (puffed rice yes, sev yes, coriander and onion yes, but peanuts?); there was spice, but only a chilli kick (10/20). Better was aloo tikki (£4.25), a decent vegetable pattie with fairly tender chickpeas, though the spicing for the chickpeas was lacking (11/20). Chill and onion uthappam (£6.50) was rather sorry for itself, the base rather soggy and, although there appeared to be some green chillis in the mix, it scarcely tasted of any spice. This was served with an utterly dull black dhal, devoid of spice (10/20).
Chicken tikka (£7.50) was better but the chicken was cooked a little long, while the meat had almost no trace of any spices used in the marinade (maybe 11/20 if I am being kind). Naan (£1.75) was rather doughy, and the first one to arrive was black around the edges, though a replacement was better (11/20). The best dish was channa masala, which as well as good chickpeas actually had some semblance of spicing and fresh coriander to garnish (12/20). Desserts were mostly made in the kitchen here. A pistachio kulfi (£3.95) tasted too much of almonds and not enough of pistachio, though a gulab jaman had decent texture. A halwa was actually quite good (easily 11/20) but was, bizarrely, served with a scoop of really cheap, bought-in vanilla ice cream.
Service was good, and the owner seemed both charming and genuinely anxious to listen to feedback. It turns out that the current chef was from the old Woodlands, which explains a lot since the food was simply poor at Woodlands. He seems incapable of judging spices, just adding plenty of chilli and hoping nobody notices - something of a limitation in an Indian chef. I gather they are awaiting (the placed opened its doors just days ago) a new head chef who has cooked at Tamarind; I’ll be prepared to give it a try when he actually turns up, but he has a lot of work to do. This part of London is chock full of Indian restaurants (further up in King Street) yet the old one that was any good (Ootapura) closed after a year. I still live in hope. The odd red lighting meant that the photos did not turn out, so I can't show you the grey appearance of the dhal in all its glory.