This is the most centrally located of the Rasa mini-chain, and unlike its Stoke Newington brethren goes beyond a purely vegetarian menu. On the menu here are several meat and seafood dishes, and although most of the dishes are Keralan, there is some flexibility in terms of the regions of India that the menu draws upon. Rasa, incidentally, means “taste”.
The restaurant is tucked away in a quiet side road just off Oxford Street, and has a garish pink exterior. The dining area is spread over two floors, seating 75 diners at capacity, and it was completely full on the Tuesday night that we visited, with tables being turned and walk-ins being turned away.
There was a surprisingly good wine list of a couple of dozen well chosen bottles. Often the wine lists in Indian restaurants are sorry affairs, but not here, though it is irritating that they do not show the vintages. Yealands Estate Sauvignon Blanc was £22.95 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £11, Trimbach Gewurtztraminer was £26.95 for a wine that retails at £17, and Rioja Crianza Vina Cerrada was £22.95 for a wine that you can find in a shop for £12. Champagne was only a little more than retail price. As with the other Rasas, the popadom selection shows unusual care. There is a wide selection of shapes and sizes, served with no less than six chutneys made in the kitchen: lemon, garlic, mint, mixed vegetable, mango and coconut (13/20).
Mysore bonda is a Rasa signature dish, and it was very good, the Keralan potato balls containing curry leaves, fresh ginger, coriander and black mustard seeds. These were dipped in chickpea flour batter and fried, served with coconut chutney. The resultant sphere had good texture and nicely balanced spices (easily 13/20). This was much better than a starter of kingfish that had been marinated in a paste of green chillies, ginger and coriander, then shallow-fried. The fish was overcooked and dry, the spices not really coming through (10/20).
A main course kingfish curry called kappayum meenum was a vast improvement, the sauce tasting of chillies, turmeric and ginger, served with cassava that had been steamed in turmeric water. The fish was fine here, the spices nicely balanced (13/20).
By contrast, vaddaka koyi biryani, a Malabar style biryani, had good rice but sadly dried out chicken, though the cashew nuts were a nice touch. The sambal with it was a let down, having little flavour and lacking enough tamarind (10/20). On the side, Savoy cabbage thoran was good, the shredded cabbage cooked with freshly ground turmeric, mustard seeds, onion and garnished with coconut (12/20). Paratha was excellent, light in texture and avoiding greasiness (14/20).
Service was efficient enough but our waiter was rather dour. The bill came to £41 a head with beer to drink. The dishes here can be a little erratic, as can be seen from this meal, but if you choose carefully then you can eat very well here.