Anand George’s return to Whitchurch Road has a feeling of history repeating itself.
Cardiff’s godfather of southern Indian cooking first made his name in the city at Mint & Mustard on the same street when it opened in 2007. And next door, he subsequently launched Chai Street, a more informal street food interpretation of his spice-packed cooking.
There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then, with Anand departing both businesses and building an even bigger reputation for himself at Purple Poppadom in Canton. He’s also opened Tukka Tuk, a street food venture in Cardiff Market and Barry Goodsheds, alongside his business partner Rupali Wagh.
But, there’s clearly unfinished business on Whitchurch Road as it’s where Anand has now opened Tukka Tuk Canteen, a destination where he can showcase a wider repertoire of southern Indian and Sri Lankan canteen-style cooking.
The dining space certainly fits the brief with its colourful cartoon adorned walls and bench and banquette seating. Tukka Tuk Canteen’s menu features a broad range of short eats, kothu roti, tiffin meals, kari, and sides. If you’re unfamiliar with this style of cooking then there’s a handy glossary of terms on the back of the menu and the exceptionally friendly front of house team are on hand to talk you through the dishes on offer.
We visited with a pair of mates and shared a heap of dishes so we could put as much of the menu through its paces as possible.
Pints of cobra (£5.85) and a bottle of Allan Scott New Zealand Riesling (£30) were well-suited accompaniments to the big-spiced cooking.
Bone marrow varuval (£10.90) was the star of an illustrious line-up of starters. A pair of beef bones were loaded with soft and buttery marrow which we are advised to mix through a rich and spicy coconut curry sauce.
It was epic dolloped onto the flakiest, buttery homemade parotta, which were probably the best I’ve ever eaten. There are well-known street food businesses which have built their reputation using frozen parottas; these knock spots off them.
Beef fry (£8) was a little bowl that packed a big punch. Stupidly tender nuggets of beef were coated in an intensely garlicky, gingery and peppery spice rub that was lifted by the fragrance of curry leaf.
A refined take on chicken kothu roti (£11.90), one of my all-time favourite southern Indian dishes, was packed with comforting flavours and textures. Soft pieces of homemade roti had been stir-fried with pieces of tender chicken, egg and mixed vegetables, and seasoned with warming spices. Just hand me a bowl of this and a spoon and I’d be a very happy man indeed.
Lamb rolls (£7.50) were as good as I’ve eaten too, the uber-crisp breadcrumbed cylinders densely packed with an exceptionally tender and intensely spiced mix of minced lamb and potato. A tangy chilli ketchup provided zingy contrast.
Keralan fried chicken (KFC) bites (£7.50) were the only short eat which was merely enjoyable rather than excellent. I didn’t think this version of the dish was as good as the one they serve at Tukka Tuk in Cardiff market as the meat was a little bit bouncy and the coating less crisp.
Following round one, we moved onto a selection of kari, tiffin meals and sides.
A behemoth of a folded masala dosa (£9.90) was commendably thin and crisp and stuffed with a spice-spiked potato masala. Its accompanying homemade chutneys provided a medley of flavour contrasts. There was a vivid green coriander chutney, a creamy coconut chutney, rich and sweet tomato and onion chutney, and an earthy lentil stew (sambhar).
A palate energising side of batu moju (£6.90) was one of the other highlights of the meal. Well caramelised soft discs of aubergine were coated in a potently sweet, spicy and sour sauce.
A trio of curries were all excellent but perhaps the most questionable when it came to value as each dinky bowl weighed in around the £13 mark.
Jaffna lamb (£13.90) was our pick of the bunch. Gorgeously tender pieces of meat bobbed in a gravy which was both intensely meaty and heady with spice.
Mangalorean fish curry (£13.90) saw meaty pieces of the halibut bathed in a creamy coconut sauce that was twanged with the distinct tang of tamarind.
A vibrant green chicken curry (£12.40) was fragrant with the aromas of coriander, coconut and curry leaf.
More of those superb parottas (£3.50) and a nei choru (£3.50), a bowl of buttery rice topped with cashews, raisins and almonds, were lovely with all the delicious curry sauces.
I’m normally stuffed by the time I get to dessert at Indian restaurants but we were still raring to go at Tukka Tuk Canteen. It was just as well, because their pudding selection is a cut above the ubiquitous bought in ice cream filled coconut shells.
A knickerbocker glory (£8) was layered with a kaleidoscope of sweet treats. There was fruit jelly, fresh kiwi, grapes and strawberries, thick creamy custard, rose-scented vermicelli custard, dried glace fruit pieces, and nutty chia seeds.
Pazham pori (£7.50) was a rather grown-up take on a banana fritter. Utilising less sweet ripe plantain that was stuffed with aromatic cardamom, toasty jaggery and grated coconut, it was coated in crisp batter and served with a scoop of cleansing berry sorbet.
Finally, a coconut pudding (£7) was a lovely riff on a panna cotta. The wobbly, not-to-sweet set creamy coconut milk was accompanied by the balancing sweet sharpness of berry coulis.
We had a fabulous meal at Tukka Tuk Canteen and Anand George’s return to Whitchurch Road is a triumph. Tukka Tuk Canteen is one of Cardiff’s best openings of 2023 and if this was a London restaurant opening then national critics would already be frothing at the mouth.
Address - Tukka Tuk Canteen, 90-92 Whitchurch Rd, Cardiff CF14 3LY
Telephone - 029 2063 0704