Freelance writer and journalist based in west London.
Published March 24th 2013
Become a Tota-l Convert
It's heartening to hear that a neighbourhood restaurant, which has only been open since January, had to turn some thirty people away the previous Tuesday night - unless of course, you were one of those hapless customers. Tota in Tooting Broadway has clearly become something of a favourite in the local area. It's clear about what it is on its website; a place to eat, meet and relax, serving simple, delicious food. This whet our appetite in every sense, ahead of our visit on a Saturday night.
The place was packed when we arrived. Tota is not big, but it really has its own personality and the lively buzz of happy diners welcomes you immediately when you walk in. The staff are very friendly and relaxed but efficient, what you want on a weekend. Arch windows, low lights and luggage racks on the wall give the impression of an old-fashioned station, but it's a style not a theme. The bar and kitchen are tucked at the back and connected to each other, so despite the modest size of the restaurant, it doesn't feel cramped.
Tota is open for breakfast and brunch, lunch and dinner. The menu for each is pitched well; big enough but not overwhelming for either guest of chef. Food is divided into Healthy Stuff, Eggy Stuff and Other Stuff for early risers. Lunchers can enjoy a choice of hot or cold sandwiches, burgers, salads or tacos. A take-away service is available. As expected, dinner steps it up. A terrine of the day (duck on our visit) is served with toast and red onion marmalade. The wild mushroom tortelloni is handmade. The gruyere soufflé with toasted hazelnuts is absolutely delicious. You'll spend between £5 and £7.50 should you opt for a first course.
The food may be described as simple, but a real flair accompanies it. The roasted hake with white beans and chorizo was perfectly cooked; the steaks come with a slight char grill edge. The staff are keen to make recommendations to ensure you get the most flavour out of the three cuts available; bavette, rump and ribeye. All come with rocket and a choice of fries or baked sweet potato. You can also have a sauce, which comes in a little pot on the side so it doesn't overwhelm the meat. Pork belly, shoulder of lamb, and baked aubergine with a herb and parmesan crust are some of the alternatives and all come in between £12 and £16 pounds. Mains on the children's menu are £3.95 each and include fish-fingers, mash and peas, macaroni cheese and a veggie burger.
The wine list is modest; six red, six white, four fizz and some dessert options, with a sensible range of prices. Artisan beers are an alternative. As for afters, the salted caramel chocolate tart is a real winner. The tart is soft with a caramel spread on the base and the salted caramel ice cream has chocolate chips and is delivered in a little biscuit basket. It's just the right size so as not to be too much. We were also impressed with the cheese; nicely presented and with a mix of accompaniments. The menu is completed by an apple tart tatin and Eton mess. Sweet puds are just under a fiver; cheese a few pounds more as usual. You're certainly full if you go for three courses but not unpleasantly so.
Room for Pudding? The Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart
Tota reinforces once again that it's not the size of a menu that matters but the quality of the food served. Some patrons may not care that the curing and smoking is done in house, or the coffee comes from a single estate, or that they're building partnerships with local producers. But they should. Because it's the reason why their newest neighbourhood eatery will continue to be successful.