Murder aside, this vegetarian joint is tops for south Indian food
Chain restaurant. The term usually bodes ill for food quality. Why this should be so, though, isn't actually logical. The wonderful British-based Leon is one chain that shows it can be done right. Saravanaa Bhavan is another.
Saravanaa comes from south India and is one of the largest vegetarian chains in the world. Started in 1981 in Chennai, it has branches all over the world.
With two separate families of south Indian origin telling me it was the best option in Joburg (the only place in fact, to consider eating south Indian), I had to go. Being vegetarian, it might not seem to be for everyone, but the great thing is that unless you're a truly relentless carnivore, you'll not miss a thing.
The fact that the chain's founder, P Rajagopal, was found guilty in 2009 of organising the 2001 murder of Prince Santhakumar (a maths teacher bethrothed to the woman Rajagopal had his sights on) might make the mango lassi seem less sweet to some diners; it might simply add a thrilling twist for others.
If you can get past the murder thing, Saravanaa is fantastic. My favourite from the wide swathe of dishes we worked our way through was the folded (rather than rolled) dosa with a spicy mashed pea filling. In an ideal world this would be a daily meal for me. A close second was the Uthappam, a toothsome rice and lentil pancake.
The Channa Batura, a puffy bread with channa masala on the side was my daughter's best dish of the day. The bread comes to the table as an inflated ball; so light, stretchy and flaky that it puts most French patisserie to shame.
Indeed, though the food uses cheapish ingredients, the spicing and preparation show such a light hand that everything has the subtlety of a far more regal cuisine. And the one thing the chain does have in common with most other international chains is that it's cheap as chips. Murder aside, Saravaana is a hit.
Saravanaa Bhavan is at Shop F3, Rivonia Junction, 011-234-4270
• This article was originally published in The Times.