Although I've lived in Oxford for years and love Indian food, it had never occurred to me to eat at Chutneys until I received a Twitter recommendation last week. There's just something about it that doesn't look particularly inviting from the outside. Inside, the decor's on the no-frills side of minimalist, but it's bright and clean - and busy (they had 165 covers on Saturday night, according to the waiter).
The menu is much more extensive than at most Indian restaurants: there's a page and a half of starters to plough through before you even hit the main courses. As soon as I spotted the dosa on page 2, the rest of the dishes didn't even stand a chance: I had a holiday romance with this South Indian rice pancake in Malaysia last year, so I was more than a little excited to see a number of vegetarian variations on the menu (£7.95 each). Herbivores have plenty of choice at Chutneys, with almost two pages of meat-free options ranging from the classic (vegetable bhuna) to more exotic specialities such as sarso baigon, aubergines fried with mustard seeds in a medium-spiced curry sauce (£6.50 each). Chefs' specialities feature heavily on the rest of the menu too, and D bypassed the tandoori, seafood and 'Unabashedly Indian' sections in favour of kalimirch chicken (chicken tikka cooked in a medium-spiced sauce with black pepper, onions and garlic, £8.65).
After 40 minutes and deep regret at not ordering any poppadoms, our mains turned up accompanied by a side of saag paneer (£4.50) and a cheese naan (£3.10). My sobzi dosa was stuffed with lightly spiced mixed vegetables and served with both a curry sauce and a mint yoghurt dip. My Malaysian memories weren't rose-tinted, nor did Chutneys didn't let me down: my holiday love was just as tasty back in the UK. D's dish was deceptively large, with plenty of delicately-spiced chicken - no fobbing you off with a couple of chunks drowning in a sea of sauce here. I can't say I was overly impressed with the saag paneer: the flavours didn't seem to blend well, with the onion overpowering the slightly soggy spinach. Sag paneer conoisseur D disagreed with me entirely though, declaring the spinach good quality and the taste just right.
Chutneys may not be much to look at, but let the dosa not the decor do the talking: if you're after a tasty Indian meal with some slightly different choices on the menu, it's definitely worth a try.
Chutneys is at 36 St Michael's Street, Oxford OX1 2EB. Tel: 01865 724241. Booking is recommended at weekends.