Sagar’s Covent Garden branch is opposite the Theatre Royal, serving South Indian vegetarian dishes at low prices in the Opera Quarter.
Positioned close to several theatres in Covent Garden's Opera Quarter and a short walk from the Covent Garden Piazza, Sagar seems well placed to draw passing trade. Perhaps because there are so many other small restaurants along these quiet Covent Garden back streets, though, this doesn’t seem to be the case and at all times there’s a member of staff standing outside to try and get customers into the restaurant.
Sagar’s blond wood interior is warm and pleasant, with back-lit statuettes in little alcoves decorating the walls and a winding staircase in the middle of the restaurant. There are other, longer-established Sagars in Hammersmith, Twickenham and Percy Street, and this one is the newest.
On a weekday evening, it’s extremely quiet and the only customers are two twenty-something girls, two older women and a middle-aged couple. The atmosphere is far from buzzing, but it’s easy going and fine if you want somewhere quiet to eat and talk. The staff are attentive and efficient, and the food and drinks arrive quickly.
Sagar is a vegetarian restaurant and its South Indian menu features a number of house specialities, such as uthappam with homemade sambar and coconut chutney (£5) and dosas (rice and lentil pancakes).
For starters, medu vada (£4.25), a sort of ring doughnut made from lentils, are browned and crisp on the outside and soft, light and white on the inside. They’re served with oniony sambar to dunk the doughnuts in, and a wonderfully fresh-tasting, bright green coconut and coriander paste. The pyramid shaped samosas (£3.95), golden and bubbled on the outside, are filled with a spicy, fragrant vegetable stuffing of peas, sweetcorn, carrot and potato that’s a bit on the stodgy side.
Thalis (£12.95 - £14.95) are a good way to try lots of different dishes but beware: these portions are super sized. The poppadom and a platterful of crisp fried vegetable bhajia arrive first, and are accompanied by an array of sauces and chutneys, including a fiery-coloured coconut and chilli paste. The north Indian Rajdani Thali, served on a silver tray, includes a selection of curries: tomato-rich chickpea curry, aloo gobi, cauliflower masala, mattar panneer (a green pea curry with cottage cheese), all of which are fairly mild. The other accompaniments are cooling cucumber raita and a very sugary yellow cardamom and saffron pudding. In the middle is a large but bland-tasting serving of pilau rice, topped with cubes of carrot and peas.
Brinjal bhaji (£5.25), large chunks of soft aubergine cooked with tomato, is packed with warmth from the chillis and spices, and has a good tomato tang to it as well. The house speciality garlic rice (£3.95), topped with crisp slivers of fried onion, contains whole dry chillis too, but the roasted garlic tastes rather acrid and overpowers everything else.
For dessert, pistachio kulfi (£2.95) is moulded into a shape resembling a pinecone and is creamy, nutty and very, very sweet, with a crystallised, slightly grainy texture and a dusting of crushed pistachios.
Homemade mango lassi (£3.25) is extremely sweet, with the sugary creaminess of condensed milk and the intense flavour of ripe mango. The house lemonade (£2.25) is more refreshing: cloudy, sweet and sour, and full of juicy bits of lemon. Beers cost between £2.75 to £4.95 depending on the size of the glass and include Kingfisher, while soft drinks are priced at £1.80 for fizzy drinks and £2 for fruit juices. Tea and coffee come in at around £1.50 to £2. The wine list is international and features seven whites, two roses and six reds from £3 to £3.50 a glass and £12.95 to £25.95 per bottle.
The Last Word
Although some of the dishes are disappointingly bland, others are satisfying and robustly spiced, and offer good value for money. Sagar’s menu has enough variety that you could almost forget it’s totally vegetarian – just be sure to go later on in the week if you’d like a more charismatic atmosphere.