When I decided to venture to Sagar’s new restaurant on Catherine Street, in Covent Garden’s Opera Quarter, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Having only just opened, there’s little to be found out about it online. Their long-established restaurant in Hammersmith has received a widely differing mix of customer reviews, leaving me cautious and confused.
I shouldn’t have fretted. Conveniently located close to The Strand, Sagar is perfectly placed to cater for lunch hours, after-work hunger pangs and the theatre-going throngs. But ‘restaurant’ is something of a grandiose label, with no hint of the incense, music, opulent flock wallpaper or heavy linen tablecloths that caricaturise other, more traditional, Indian eateries. Instead, Sagar is simple, clean, cheap and cheerful, with whopping portions served by helpful and attentive staff.
The menus are occasionally baffling, but made easier to navigate by the knowledge that Sagar specialises in Udupi cuisine. This means that all their dishes are vegetarian, natural and additive-free: temple-style cooking from the South Indian coastal region Karnataka. And if you do end up lost in translation, waiters are on hand to explain or recommend menu choices as required.
Flavours range from subtle and sophisticated to strong enough to reduce me to an embarrassing bout of coughing and spluttering. Depending on your tastes, milder options are available, including the vegetable kootu; a deliciously creamy vegetarian equivalent of the traditional korma, made with copious amounts of coconut milk.
Other dishes include garlic rice, roasted aubergine and mixed vegetable curries, and rice and lentil dumplings with pepper and cashew nuts. Massive rice and lentil dosas (a sort of crispy pancake curled into a tube: think poppadoms but not so oily or crinkled) are perfect for picking at long after you’re full, and are served with dipping sauces such as a spicy sweet chilli chutney or a cool coconut and mint paste.
And if you have a sweet tooth that needs appeasing, the mango lassis and milkshakes are sinfully, satisfyingly thick. But be careful to leave room for dessert; the gulab jamoon, a small but perfectly formed sponge confection served in sticky sugar syrup, is all the more heavenly for knowing it’s additive-free.
In an area of town with an apparent absolute commitment to ripping off both residents and tourists, Sagar has a welcome change of attitude that should serve it well. Just as long as they can keep up their current levels of quality and customer service when popularity increases.
31 Catherine Street
The Opera Quarter
Tel: 020 7836 6377
Images by Kspoddar and Ewan-M courtesy of Flickr