Here's something you probably know but don't always act upon. Meat, and even more so, fish, is expensive. Vegetarian eating should be a whole load cheaper. But while most mainstream restaurants in London feature a series of vegetarian options, the prices of these dishes is usually only a little cheaper than the carnivore alternatives.
It's easy to understand why. Restaurants don't like linking the price of ingredients to what they charge. And if the vegetarian dish was really that much less expensive, they would sell loads of it, leaving them with unwanted meat and fish – and lower earnings.
So looking for non-meat value, that largely leaves you with the cheap and cheerful Indian restaurants on Brick Lane or Drummond Street – good food, low prices but rarely places where you would linger long or consider fine dining.
Sagar Vegetarian – the name comes from a town in Madhya Pradesh, central India – tries to square that circle. And it largely succeeds. It's posh tablecloths, shiny cutlery, good location (actually two in central London and two more further out) and good service with waiters eager to show their knowledge of the food which will be strange to many.
It's also great for those with special dietary requirements. Kosher and Halal are no problem as there is no meat. And there are menus catering to vegans (most of the food is acceptable), and for the wheat-intolerant and those who can't abide onions and garlic.
I started with Medu Vada, it's a south Indian dish of fried lentil doughnuts. Like traditional doughnuts they are soft in the middle but with a crispy outside. Good, but not for calorie counters.
My companion went for Rasam, a spicy soup which delivered loads of taste. But she wished she had tried something more adventurous than a soup.
Both of us had dosas for our main course. The dosa is a filled crispy (but thin) pancake. Mine was a Rava Dosa, basically a wheat pancake filled with sautéed onions while my companion had a Paneer Dosa, a rice & lentil pancake filled with cottage cheese, potato, onion, carrot and capsicum (red & green). These are not take the top off your mouth Indian dishes – most are cooked with mild spices.
They were were delicious. Alternatives include Thalis – a big plate filled with several small dishes (rather like a set tapas meal) and lentil pizzas.
The desserts are less inspiring – seemingly dominated by ice cream or balls of condensed milk soaked in sugar syrup – and very fattening. Many – including us – simply omit this course.
Sagar's website does not currently include many prices but including an Indian beer, (large Kingfisher or Cobra) you should not have to spend more than about £20 – a bargain given the locations.
Sagar Vegetarian (Covent Garden)
31 Catherine Street, London WC2
020 7836 6377
Nearest stations: Holborn/Charing Cross/Temple
Also at: 17a Percy Street, London W1.
020 7631 3319
Nearest station: Tottenham Court Road
(also at Hammersmith and Harrow).