Santok Maa's, CR7 7PA
- 020 8665 0626
- 848 London Road, CR7 7PA
- Mon-Tue: noon-10pm; Wed: closed; Thu-Sun: noon-10pm
Vegetarian Indian restaurant in Thornton Heath. They also do takeaway and delivery. They aren't licensed, but they do BYOB.
The decor and ambience are cafe-style, and it seems to be fine to come in just for a drink. It's quite small, seating about 30 at black wood-style veneer tables with hoop-backed black plastic chairs. The floor is cream and red tiles, and the walls are painted in the same shades and hung with Indian art.
A small counter with a display of savoury snacks and paan items is next to the door photo, and another counter at the back has sweets and more savouries. Orders are taken at the table, but you pay at the counter at the back afterwards.
Kake has visited several times now, both individually and in groups, most recently in June 2019. I've never seen it overly busy, but also I've never been the only person in. They seem to get more custom at lunchtime and in the afternoon; on a Thursday evening in June 2019, our group were the only customers. No music was playing on any of our lunchtime visits (the radio was on, but too quietly to hear properly) but there was quiet music when we were there in the evening.
Pani puri (£3 for six in March 2016) photo were mostly structurally sound — only one of them leaked — though very slightly staler than ideal (they were also notably non-crispy when we tried them again in June 2019). The pani was sufficiently tangy and spicy, and not too sweet. The solid fillings consisted of chickpeas and potatoes, and I wished for a bit of raw onion to liven it up a bit.
Pau bhaji (£3.50 in March 2016) photo was fine. The vegetables (carrots, peas, sweetcorn, spinach, and possibly potato) were well spiced and well mashed, and the raw onion and tomato on top gave a good crunchy contrast (though I'd have liked just a little more of both). A lime wedge on the side was a nice touch to provide extra tanginess. The bun was fine, though oddly soggy in a couple of places.
Bhel poori (£3.50 in August 2018) photo was very good; possibly the best I'd had all year. The tamarind sauce was plentiful and not too sweet, and there was a good balance of ingredients. Everything that should have been crisp (onion, puffed rice, sev) was crispy, and everything that should have been soft (potatoes, chickpeas) was soft. If I were to be really really picky then I might have preferred a bit more fresh coriander, but this is a minor point.
The house speciality of Nairobi bhajia (battered potato slices; £4.50 in August 2018) photo was also good; hot and crisp and with a flavourful batter. The chilli sauce on the side was fresh tasting and clearly home made. This was too big a portion for one person, but they were happy to pack up the other half for me to take home.
Paneer bhaji (£4 in June 2019) photo had a different, thicker batter, and overall the result was a little bland.
Garlic mogo (£3.50 in October 2018) photo had a beautifully garlicky aroma and flavour, and was fried just right, crisp and greaseless on the outside and soft in the centre.
Chatpate makai (£5 in October 2018) photo was sweet, sour, spicy, and savoury in all the right proportions, and the baby sweetcorn were cooked just right, retaining a little crunch. The tomatoes were flavourful, and although there was a slick of oil on the plate, this was appropriate and welcome within the context of the dish.
On a June 2019 visit with a large group, Kake's favourite dishes not already mentioned above were the chutney dosa (£5), hot and crisp and served with chutneys already spread on the inside; the tarka daal (£4.50); and the very nicely spiced garlic & ginger paneer (£6).
Service was friendly on all these visits. I did have to ask for tap water three times before it came on my first visit, but when it did arrive they were very apologetic for forgetting (they were pretty busy), and it was fresh-tasting and nicely chilled, presented in a glass jug straight from the fridge. There were no such issues on later visits.
As of August 2018, cards are only accepted for payments of £10 or over.
Kake's verdict: I like it here quite a lot, and try to come for lunch whenever I'm nearby.
Vegan-friendliness: All of the food is vegetarian, and much of it is also vegan. On our March 2016 visit the owner was going through the menu very carefully with another customer, asking about her dietary restrictions and making sure she was happy with the order.
Accessibility: A tiny step (more of a ridge) to get in. Toilets up three steps then down a very narrow corridor made even narrower by having stuff stored all along it, to the point where towards the end you have to turn sideways to get through.