Saravanaa Bhavan is a Vegetarian, South Indian restaurant chain with 48 locations across the world. One of them ended up here on West Broadway in the exact spot that once housed a previous incarnation of Phnom Penh. We heard they had Dosas.
We strolled into Saravanna Bhavan knowing very little about the restaurant. We didn’t even realize it was a chain until after we walked outside and saw their sign proudly proclaiming their other locations including several back East. The interior structure has remained largely unchanged from the Phnom Penh days. However, the bar has received some upgrades making it resemble something like a South Indian version of Starbucks — slick, modern, with all sorts of shiny coffee and tea making contraptions occupying the table tops.
We didn’t know that for weekend lunch it was buffet time, so as we sat at our table there were all sorts of comically uncomfortable blank stares thrown around by ourselves and the servers. Finally, Case flagged one of the servers down and asked for the lowdown. She looked visibly disappointed when informed of the lunch time buffet, but the friendly server replied that Dosas were to be had as well — freshly made dosas would be paraded around and offered to guests as they came out of the kitchen along with other freshly made goodies.
(Clockwise: 1. Big Dosa. 2. Vada and Idly, donut and rice patty. 3. Poori, a puffed up whole wheat bread — don’t worry, it’s deep fried, so it tastes like its not good for you.)
I won’t even attempt to try to identify the various dishes we picked out, so I’ll just present to you what their weekend lunch buffet menu is: Dosa, Idly, Vada, Potato Masala, Rava Kichadi, Rasam, Sambar, Vatral Kozhambu, Porial, Spicy Potato Masala, Kootu, Special Rice Of The Day, Rice, Channa, Aloo Baingan, Mutter Paneer, Dal Fry, Naan, Parotta, Poori, Curd, Rice, Pickles, Pachadi, Thogaiyal, Papads, Payasam, Kesari, Gulab Jamun or Rasmalai.
Case and I also ordered two cups of tea, which arrived in a stainless steel teacup with a layer of foam. It was like a milder Chai Tea, but was still very flavourful. The food was okay, but we weren’t completely blown away. Most of the flavour had a sour and salty note, possibly from the heavy use of cheeses and yogourts in the ingredients. There was a lot of deep fried foods: the Poori — a round, puffed up bread with a wonderful crunch; Vada, a deep-fried donut made from lentil; and rice papadum, which has a similar texture to an oversized shrimp chip.
(Clockwise: 1. Fancy foam tea in a stainless steel cup. 2. Gulab Jamun, milk balls deep fried and drenched in syrup and rose water. 3. Some sort of tapioca and noodle dessert in sweet milk.)
As for the Dosas — well, they were okay. Perhaps the the non-buffet Dosas are better, but the crepe on this one was a bit tough and the flavours weren’t all that distinguishable. The service was quite friendly, and although the experience didn’t overwhelmingly wow us, the large variety of vegetarian-only dishes — many of which we didn’t get to try — looked intriguing enough for another visit. Our meal with two teas came to just under $30 with taxes and tips, which is a much better deal if you arrive after a really long fast.
Perfect for: an afternoon of gorging yourself on a vegetarian smorgasboard.