Thursday, January 8, 2009

Raving Restaurant Review: my favourite London Curryhouse

It’s been absolutely donkey’s months since I’ve done any sort of restaurant reviewing as thrift and frugality has been the overriding theme.

So, in an unusual ‘throwing thrift to the wind’ gesture, when I arrived in London last Sunday night, I decided it was about time I ate out. And so I did. Two days in a row no less.

Numero Uno: 5* - HIGH recommendation

Now, before I get more entangled in my little tale, let me set the background on my relationship with Indian meals.

I am not a natural curry fan.

It’s the result of too many years of disgusting, cheap and terrible Indian meals whilst at uni, meals which tended to consist of £10 deals (1 curry, 1 beer, 1 case of chronic indigestion and a serious dose of self-loathing), during which us uni students tended to behave atrociously (naturally), get drunk, disorderly and ending the evening with the odd food fight.

Now, before I hear your sharp intake of breath that I could be so uncouth, let me make it clear right away, I wasn’t one of the ones throwing food – clearly to me that is the ultimate sin. But seeing curry splattered against the walls wasn’t terribly conducive to giving me a raging appetite for the spicy stuff.

This, coupled with making the mistake once of watching a TV programme entitled ‘The Top 10 Worst Restaurants in Britain’ (I know, don’t ask what possessed me), and witnessing what sort of tricks the Indian restaurant topping the list pulled on its unsuspecting punters (great big vats of ‘different’ curry sauces, into which washed off uneaten meat from previous customers’ dishes were unceremoniously dunked). It was toecurling, stomach-wrenching stuff.
And as a direct result about three years ago I was pretty much refusing to touch curry.

Cue my job out in Dubai, which couldn't have come at a more perfect time, to reinstate me with an appreciation for good indian food. No comparison. There you'll eat mostly southern indian food, a heavy slant towards the vegetarian. Clouds of delicately spiced potato mixture in potato dosa, mental lentils. Curry and I slowly rekindled a tentative love affair.

So you see, I’m possibly one of the most discerning British curry critics there is available to write. I am extraordinarily difficult to please. You might have noticed that this goes against my usual bounce-off-the-walls excitement and enthusiasm at eating out/being taken out, but there it is – I am curry critical.

So, it is with great pleasure, that I announce….
..drummmm rooooollll….. THE BEST curryhouse in London, bar none. Tayyabs, in London's East End, or Shoreditch, to be more precise. Widely tipped as exceptional, I’d first been invited by one of my bestest buds (Sam the Tea man, should you be interested) for his bday bash back in November. I couldn’t make it. At the time, apart from the fact I was missing the festivities and the chance to smother a best bud with birthday smooches, I wasn’t too too bothered about missing out on ‘yet another curry’.

Until, that is, all sorts of raving rants written about the merits of this mysterious Tayyabs starting creeping into my line of awareness, and I started to rather kick myself for the missed opportunity. London-town bound, therefore, I got StTM in on my plan for a Sunday curry sesh. By gum was I excited.

The very first thing you notice as you walk alongside the restaurant, tucked deep in the bowels of Shoreditch, is that it is veritably heaving with people. In spite of it being a Sunday evening, the tables were overflowing with happy customers, all noshing away. The door opens and the second thing you’ll notice is a delicious medley of scents of cumin, curry, tamarind and other spices I couldn't quite put my olfactory finger on. The queue to eat was snaking right round the restaurant. Hm. This boded mouthwateringly well.
We entertained ourselves admirably until, not long after – oh joy! – we were allocated our table. By this stage I was in such a paroxysm of hunger and excitement that I clean forgot how one is supposed to behave in a restaurant. Our poor, patient waiter had to deal with an overexcited, gibbering fool making orders (me, should that not be clear). As it turns out though, my choices were outstanding:

  • Spicy grilled lamb chops – miniature mouthfuls of succulent, juicy meat, dripping with a biting, spicy sauce. An excellent appetite whetter. Although, frankly speaking, it would be a restrained restaurant-goer whose appetite wasn’t already whetted by the sights and smells of dishes gliding past.
  • Lamb & Lentil curry – what was so brilliant about this, in comparison to most curries I’ve eaten before, is that the lamb was in modest, bite-sized pieces, rather than great big walloping hunks (most offputting). Tender meat surrounded by more-ish, comforting daal (lentils), with a gentle kick to it which nudges you out of getting dangerously comfortable. A real spirit-lifter of a dish.
  • Aubergine & Lentil – you’d expect this just to be a variation on the above, substituting the lamb out for the aubergine, but let me assure you that this wasn’t at all the case. Still with the same ‘gwon-gizza-hug’ element of lentils, threaded through with melting strips of garlicky aubergine. Aubergine, when slowly cooked, has a remarkable ability to absorb smoky flavours which surround it. This dish packed a serious garlic punch, yet another mechanism which made each diner reach back again and again for ‘just another spoonful’ (I was mortified when, at the end of the meal, I realized that for quite some minutes our waiter had been patiently waiting to remove our dishes, only waiting the vulture to finish her scavaging. Ahem.)
  • Saag Aloo – soft, delicate green spinach, tender, garlic infused potatoes. Together. Seriously, what more could you want from a dish? This particular dish has the potential to become heavy and leaden. Tayyabs’ rendition was light as a feather, and not too filling.
The ideal amount between three, generous but not overly so. The meal was rounded off perfectly with a mango, pistachio or yoghurt ice-lolly. We agreed collectively that this was just what our over-spiced mouths were in need of. As a difficult to please critic, this ‘un gets all my rarely allocated curry points.

Go. Go, go, go! You won't regret it.

No comments: