I was meeting my friend Louise at the Harold Pinter Theatre to see a new production of Pinter’s play, The Birthday Party, which has just opened with a stellar cast including Toby Jones, Stephen Mangan and Zoe Wanamaker. We wanted to eat first but the question was – where? The theatre is in Panton Street which runs between Haymarket and Leicester Square; a bustling hub of central London. There are hundreds of restaurants, mostly chains, nearby; the challenge is to find something a bit different. We went into Yori, a Korean restaurant, right next door to the theatre first but it was full. So we crossed the road to Woodlands – directly opposite. Louise had been there before and remembered it being good.
Woodlands is a vegetarian Indian restaurant serving mainly food from southern India. It’s a very simple place; definitely no frills.
This too was busy and looked full as we went in but fortunately there was one free table close to the door – from which we had a perfect view of the queue into the theatre as it got close to the time for the play to begin.
With limited time we decided to order quickly and catch up on each other’s news once food was on its way. We both chose dosas. Dosas are a South Indian crepe made from fermented batter. There was a choice: Rice & lentil dosa; Rava dosa made with crispy semolina (for which you had to add 15-20 minutes wait time which we couldn’t risk); Ragi dosa made with millet grain; and Perarettu dosa made with green lentils, chilli and ginger. There were also Uthappams, a thick pancake-like dosa. All dosas are accompanied with Sambar (lentil dipping sauce) and freshly made chutney.
Louise chose a Ragi dosa filled with potato, onion, red chutney and butter spinach (£9.50). My choice was a Perarettu dosa filled with mushroom masala (£9.50).
I put the accompaniments to the side and opened up the dosa to reveal the mushroom filling.
I’ve only had dosas once before, as street food at a festival. I wasn’t quite sure how to handle the accompanying sauces but in the end dipped the drier bits of dosa into them; the lentil dipping sauce was so delicious I ate it by the spoonful! The dosa had a good taste, was nicely light, almost crispy at the edges, and the mushroom masala filling lovely; quite spicy but not overly so. The red dipping sauce was hot though. It was in essence a very simple meal; a perfect light supper to eat early evening before going to the theatre. There were plenty of other choices if we’d had longer or were hungrier: chaat (starters), vegetable curries, hot street snacks, a variety of Indian breads, and desserts.
We both drank Vedett, an Indian pale ale, with our dosas (£4 for 33cl).
The service wasn’t perfect – our beer was slow to come and after a few minutes a passing waiter (I think the guy in charge) looked at our table and asked if we’d ordered, so there was some attention to what was going on. Overall it was fine and friendly. It was certainly a good find for going to the Harold Pinter Theatre (which I’ve now been to a few times). As for the play, it was brilliant.