Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
Published June 3rd 2013
Hiding in Mitcham's Crown
The Casuarina Tree Restaurant is inside The Crown Inn.
I discovered the Casuarina Tree entirely by accident. After a leisurely walk through Mitcham's playing fields, I decided to grab myself a quick sandwich for lunch. Earlier I had seen a pub called The Crown Inn not far up the road, and since I did not know of anywhere else in the vicinity, it seemed like a good choice. When I walked inside, however, I found myself in an Indian restaurant.
Casuarina Tree Restaurant & Bar took up residency after the pub closed down, but for some strange reason, did not change the sign above the door. I think this is because they were trying to keep all the original features of the building, and although commendable, is rather confusing. There is a small sign outside that mentions the restaurant, but 'The Crown Inn' is far more prominent. Anyone looking for an Indian restaurant are just going to drive straight by, which is a shame, because they do very nice meals.
My confusion didn't end with the name. When I walked up to the bar, all I could find was the takeaway menu, and since the waitress was on the phone, I couldn't ask where the main one was. Since most takeaway menus offer pretty much the same thing as the dine-in menus anyway, I took it and sat down in the lounge.
Drinks display at the bar.
Casuarina has quite an extensive offering, which includes not only Indian food, but Sri Lankan specials, a number of Chinese dishes, and three 'continental' options. The menu calls it continental, but it is generally the kind of food you would expect on any traditional British menu: steak, fish, or chicken breast.
Everything seemed to be at very good prices, and there were some interesting choices beyond your typical samosas and vindaloo curries. For example, there was a starter called beach side nethili fry, which is anchovies marinated in spices with deep fried tamarind pulp and a main dish called paneer tikka masala, which was cottage cheese marinated in yoghurt and cooked with tomato gravy.
When the waitress finished on the phone she apologised for keeping me waiting, which hadn't been a problem because it gave me a chance to plough through the menu. I wasn't quite sure what some of the dishes were, but when I asked about the bindi/brinjal masala, I had a bit of difficulty understanding her accent. After repeating twice, I still didn't know what 'bindi' was, but caught the word 'aubergine' for 'brinjal'. Not wanting to ask a third time, I went for that. She asked if I wanted rice with it, but I opted for one of their restaurant speciality naans.
On the menu, both dishes were priced at £3.25, but that was for takeaway only. To eat in was an extra 70p each, which still sounded pretty reasonable to me.
While I waited, I took a look around the restaurant. Everything was a melding of opposites. With original pub beams and contemporary furniture, it fuses old and new to great effect. The relaxing low lit surroundings is brought to life with upbeat pop music by The Carpenters, such as Please, Mr. Postman, and an unusual mixture of Indian and British decor creates a comical combination: a traditional bear wood carving sitting underneath a portrait of the Queen.
I took a seat in the corner, where there was a window looking through to the kitchen. It is interesting to be able to see the chefs at work when the restaurant is quiet, but I would recommend sitting somewhere else if it is a busy time as the waitress will be constantly going back and forth to pick up orders.
When the waitress arrived with my food, she asked if I wanted something to drink, and just requested a glass of water. I then looked down at what I had been served and was astonished by the size of my curry. The binjal masala was served in a small, but very deep silver dish. That one portion must have been enough for three people.
My kashmiri naan was a little less intimidating, so I started by tearing off a piece of that. The only sweet naan bread I was familiar with until now was peshwari, which is filled with nuts, but this kashmiri version had dried fruits. Delicious. I next tried it with some of my curry, which provided a great contrast between sweet and hot. My only problem was that the naan was finished long before the masala, and I think I should probably have gone for the rice after all. Then again, maybe not, I was so full that I was unable to finish what was left anyway.
Halfway through my meal I noticed that the waitress had yet to bring my water. As she walked past on the way to the kitchen, she suddenly realised, and once again apologised. She brought me a glass along with the dessert, and then offered to wrap the rest of my masala up to take away.
Their desserts are also a very good price; a scoop of ice cream is £1.75 or £1.95 with jelly. They also served payasam, which is Indian rice pudding. I chose gulab jamun for £1.95. These are sweet deep fried dough balls soaked in syrup. I had tried this once before at Jimmy's World Grill and loved them, but on this occasion, I thought they were overly sweet for my taste.
I'm really glad I found the Casuarina Tree, and although the portion sizes are probably too big to dine alone, I expect that I will go there again sometime with my family, or even order a takeaway.