Tooting Bec is coming up and this is just the kind of watering hole it deserves.
‘We could be in East London,’ says P looking around inside Imperial Durbar, Tooting Bec. It’s true, this eclectically furnished coffee, cafe and cocktail bar, open from 6:30 am until midnight, has that kind of vibe.
Outside it looks very small, part of a row of narrow shops a few steps from the tube entrance. Inside though it seems to go on forever like a Russian Doll in a sequence of rooms each furnished with odds and sods that seem to have been left over from the making of a classic ‘Days of the Raj’ film.
Think Dishoom. They were probably the first to monetise this look, a step away from the clichéd ‘curry houses’ of old with their flock wallpaper but still nodding to tradition. Interesting things everywhere to look at as well as read and chairs and sofas that are authentically battered by hard use and yet still remarkably comfy.
We go into a corner with a leather sofa and cane chairs and what I believe is called a ‘chilled’ soundtrack coming from hidden speakers. Just loud enough, I hate to sound an old git but I really hate having to yell in bars, it’s tiring and leaves me with a sore throat.
A fine cocktail list is one that’s well-written and this one is 14 strong and charming. The bar has 22 different gins and brew their own chai for the cafe and to put in the cocktails. We have Pondicherry Sour - Bombay Sapphire gin, mixed with fresh grapefruit juice, fresh grape juice and lime juice, vanilla infused caster sugar and muddled with a handful of fresh curry leaves, and a Mad Maharajah - scotch mixed with gifford pistachio syrup, spiced coconut milk and topped with absinthe foam.
Both are very good, I am always wary of cocktails as they cost a lot and I worry that they may not have the alcohol content they should have. I like the Pondicherry Sour very much though as I can’t stand sugary things; sour and sharp and bitter is how I like my drinks, indeed it’s how I like my people. Much more fun than the positivity bores.
These are properly thought through cocktails, as is the whole experience from decor to drinks to dinner. Feeling a little peckish we make use of the funnest thing I’ve seen for a while - a telephone food ordering system.
It’s an ancient phone booth and phone in the bar, press a well-worn button and you get connected to the restaurant a few doors away, the well-respected Cardamom Club. Or it could even be Bombay, the ‘phone is so very ancient
The menu is snacks such as bhajis, samosas and chicken wings as well as classic ‘curry house’ curries - dhansaks, pasandas and Rogan joshs. We get a selection of bits and pieces and while there is a bit of a long wait, it’s worth it when it turns up especially as it comes in tiffin tins - a nice touch.
All good food, better than average and all the better for not being tarted up into New Indian. There’s a place for that kind of food, but sometimes you just want the familiar and friendly.
Which segues me into saying that Imperial Durbar is the kind of friendly place I could happily get familiar with. It’s open all day too, making it a great spot to meet up and have a coffee or a chai with muffins and their house-baked pastries.
Photos from Imperial Durbaar website
Monday – Thursday 7.30am – 12.30am
Friday 7.30am – 1.30am
Saturday 8.30am – 1.30am
Sunday 8.30am – 12.30am