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Dosa Park, Oxford - Never mind the decor, the food's great
Katherine MacAlister discovers dosas, vadas and idlies are on the menu at an eaterie that’s had a total makeover
The packed interior said it all. On a wet, windy Thursday, when even the ducks were struggling, and everyone was scurrying indoors or staying at home, Dosa Park was still busy.
We reviewed it a while back when the former fast chicken food outlet opposite the station has just switched cuisine to the traditional South Indian food its owners were brought up on in Madras. But decor-wise it was lacking, so they closed up shop for a while, revamped and reopened, and while the interior is still pretty bare and minimal, it’s a vast improvement.
And yet from the outside you’d never know it was such a foodie haven because the walls are still bare, the restaurant front still a plate glass window, the tables wobbly and the counter stainless steel. Put it this way, you won’t be coming here for the atmosphere.
Or will you? Because if you manage to find a seat, you are enchanted by the sheer enthusiasm for the food being experienced all around you. Word-of-mouth has spread and the groups, couples and friends surrounding us were all there to try the famed dosas. For example, the group of women sitting nearby meet at Dosa Park every week for lunch.
Which can only mean one thing – the food is unbelievably good. Taking curry brother Tim Hughes along, a hard man to impress, we were both stunned by the menu because it was crammed full of dishes we had never heard of, let alone tried. Which means you’ll need to come back for a revisit just to taste them all.
The menu is frustratingly unhelpful however – a long list of dosas and other delicacies without any descriptions or pictures to enlighten us, we eventually gave up and sought advice from the owners behind the counter, to whom dosas are like sandwiches.
In case you are as ignorant about South Indian food as us, dosas are a very thin Indian crepe which come on a metal divided dish complete with homemade dahls and pickles, for around a fiver.
We tried the potato masala one (£4.50), which although lovely, the mash was one carb too many for me, but entirely my own fault, considering there were 59 other dosas to choose from.
Vadas on the other hand are like savoury Indian doughnuts and come with two kinds of dahl (the dahls here are astonishingly varied and delicious) so we attempted the sambar vada (£2.99), a thick soup made with three types of lentils which was beautifully flavoured. We also opted for the rasam vada (£2.50) which was a thinner tamarind-based soup and much more delicate.
But what really caught my attention was the idly menu. What’s an idly? It sounds like something the oompaloompahs would eat. It turned out to be a smaller, fatter kind of pancake, and we also tried the paratha which arrived as a sort of Indian cheese on toast and is absolutely delicious when dipped in its own little pot of dahl. Washing it down with a mango lassi (£2.75) and the delicately spiced masala tea (£1.50), we ate like kings, resorting to our fingers like everyone else eventually as it’s the easiest way to scoop up the delicious dahl. You can order separate curry dishes like Tim did, just to get a measure of them and try his favourite food, and the huge chunks of lamb in the chukka (£6.25) a dry dish, was served on the bone and very tender, a rich and generous serving.
Even more astonishing than the food itself are the prices. It’s hard to spend a tenner a head here, and with food this original, tasty, healthy and filling, Dosa Park really is hard to beat.
Dosa Park is at 25 Park End Street and offers free home delivery.
Go to dosapark.co.uk or call 01865 791197