Every now and then, dear reader, I am assailed with the longing for the sort of crisp, paper-thin, ghee-soaked dosa that reminds me of home. At those times, no pale imitation will do. A few months ago, crammed into a congested street in Pettah that heaves with people, vehicles and activity by day, I found a non-descript restaurant that satisfies that specific craving.
A classy saivar if there were one, Sri Suryas is a respectable vegetarian joint on Sea Street that disarms you with its sparkling clean floors and general cleanliness. Having always visited at night, I have only tried the a la carte menu of dosas, vadais and other snacks, apart from a few north Indian dishes. If you visit for lunch, you can try the south Indian thali (and tell us how it is, in the comments section).
Getting straight down to business, we ordered the ghee roast dosa (Rs. 230), the golden standard by which I evaluate any south Indian joint. Suryas passes the test with flying colours.
A crisp, butterscotch-coloured cone that you can smell even before you have torn off a piece and popped it in your mouth, Suryas' ghee roast throws down the gauntlet to all the other competition other there. Decadent and fragrant, it renders the accompanying chutneys and sambar irrelevant. Having demolished one in record time, our fingers greasy after just a couple bites, we ordered a second one — and it met with the same swift treatment. If we had one gripe, it would be that the dosa was not as hot as we would have liked it. Speedier service would have heightened our enjoyment of it by one crucial notch.
The general opinion was a little less unanimous when it came to the sambar vadai (Rs. 180) — two ulundu vadais soaked in a vat of sambar, crowned with a topping of finely chopped onions and coriander. If you prefer to eat your vadais fresh off the fryer, you may be disappointed by the soft, crumbly texture they acquire when dunked in sambar. On the flip side, the thick and tangy sambar laced with tamarind is hard to find fault with.
If you focus on the fact that the deep-fried masala papad (Rs. 120) comes with a small smattering of spicy salad on top, you may less guilt about the deep-fried carb fest that is inevitable while eating at Suryas. Essentially a large papadum laden with finely chopped cucumber, onions, tomatoes and coriander stems, spiked with chilli powder, the masala papad is a textural treat. It is usually ordered as a starter to whet your appetite for the courses to follow. But the tardy service at Suryas ensured that we got it midway through our meal. Not like that did anything to dampen our spirits, because it vanished before I could say pa-pad.
After scanning through the exhaustive menu that lists well over a dozen north Indian and Chindian (or Indian Chinese) dishes—including peculiarities like gobi manchurian or crisp-fried cauliflower in a red sauce that my mum would wholly disapprove of—we narrowed down our choice to the paneer butter masala (Rs. 435) and garlic naan (Rs. 185). Although the paneer could have been less rubbery, the tomato-based gravy was rich, tangy and nearly perfect, except for a slight additional sweetness that was unnecessary. It was a respectable rendition of a north Indian classic that many restaurants get wrong, especially when paired with the soft naan.
I've already waxed eloquent about the filter coffee at Suryas (Rs. 110), but indulge me for a moment while I tell you about the sweet, hot, frothy brew that I was positively overjoyed to discover. In a close race with Thalis for the best filter coffee in town, Suryas' version is a wonderful way to wrap up your meal, if you're not enticed by the attractive display of Indian sweets at the entrance.
Except for the fact that some of the food wasn't piping hot when it reached our table, we didn't have any major issues with the service. The energy dips by the fag end of the day, but that's totally understandable.
A clean, air-conditioned space separated into booths by glass partitions, Suryas is fairly utilitarian in design. But the tables are spotless, the floor isn't grimy and everything looks kosher in general. That's more than you can say for most saivars in this city.
With dosas going up to nearly Rs. 400 and north Indian dishes costing close to Rs. 500, Suryas isn't what you'd call dirt cheap. However, after a couple of visits in the recent past, I can vouch for the fact that the standard—especially of the dosas—is uniformly high. The location may be a tad inconvenient and parking a nightmare to find, especially during the day, but at least you can be sure that for your toil, you will be rewarded with a ghee roast beyond compare. In our book, that's plenty.
Go down Bodhiraja Mawatha from the main road, and when you reach the Main Street roundabout at the end, turn into Sea Street. Keep going a few hundred metres past all the jewellery shops until you see the Kathiresan kovil on your left. Sri Suryas is situated right next to the temple, across the road from New Saraswati Cafe.