Delhi has probably overtaken Bombay as the premier food city in India* but there are a number of cuisines for which Bombay is rather obviously superior. Malvani, Mangalorean and Parsi are three of these cuisines and Gujarati is another. And if you are in the city the very best place perhaps to eat Gujarati food is the venerable Swati Snacks in Tardeo. A Bombay institution that first opened in 1963, Swati Snacks is the kind of place where you can get a handle on how difficult it is to talk glibly about “traditional” food in the Indian and especially in the Gujarati context. Culture does not stand still and there’s no tastier way to confirm this truism than by taking the measure of the menu at Swati Snacks where thalipith with pitla can be had alongside bajri paneer pizza. A meal at Swati Snacks is a must for every first-time visitor to Bombay. Me, I go on every visit to the city. Continue reading
Okay, I’m finally getting started on the food reports from our trip to Scotland in June and first up is a review of our first dinner in Edinburgh at a popular Indian restaurant named Mother India’s Cafe. This was one of two Indian restaurants we ate at in our four full days in Edinburgh. I don’t look to go to Indian restaurants in the US but I’m always game to try any in the UK, where baseline quality is much higher. Mother India’s Cafe, an offshoot of a Glasgow original, has very good reviews (as does the Glasgow mothership) and promises a mod’ish take on Indian food, serving their food “tapas style”. This might lead you to expect that they specialize in snack’ish “small plates” dishes a la the excellent Gunpowder in London, but the reality turns out to be small portions of more or less regulation curry house fare served in tiny dishes. Still, I’m glad to say that most of the food tasted pretty decent. Read on for details. Continue reading
Not counting lunch at Pret a Manger at the airport the next day, this was our last meal on our big UK trip earlier this year. We returned from Glasgow that afternoon to find that in the 10 days we’d been gone a heatwave had hit London. We managed to get from King’s Cross to Heathrow with our luggage without dying of heatstroke and took a cab to our hotel (in the ring of business hotels around Heathrow). The dinner options were to eat expensively at the hotel or to look for things close by. Sipson Tandoori was a short cab ride away and as the internet did not disclose mass deaths by food poisoning among its customers, it was there we repaired. It’s a regulation curry house but it seemed appropriate to end our UK eating at a regulation curry house. As it happened, it was not a bad meal. Continue reading
Salaam Namaste in the general Russell Square/Bloomsbury area, within walking distance of Chilli Cool and Noble Rot—and also the British Library and the Dickens Museum, for those whose lives are driven more by their brains than their bellies—would be one of the best Indian restaurants in most American cities. In London it occupies a middle ground between curry houses like Punjab and Ajanta and far more ambitious and fancy (and expensive) Michelin-bait places like Tamarind, Trishna, Quilon or the Cinnamon Club (yes, I know Cinnamon Club doesn’t actually have a Michelin star). Of the last mentioned set they’re closest in conception to Tamarind, presenting updated curry house fare along with putative regional fare. I organized a large group dinner here towards the end of our London sojourn. Continue reading
No, I am not reviewing a sex toy store in Delhi. Desi Vibes is a north Indian restaurant chain with three outlets in the Delhi area: in Connaught Place, in Defence Colony and in the hellhole that is the Sector 18 Market in Noida, which is where I ate. As to whether these are three outlets operated by the same people, or if one or a couple are franchises, I do not know. I also do not know which is the original. You may remember, from my reviews of meals in Delhi in January 2016, that the wildly popular Punjabi by Nature‘s original restaurant is in Sector 18 in Noida as well. Desi Vibes is not located very far away from Punjabi by Nature and is close to the erstwhile location of Golconda Bowl Express. Its menu is not very far away from Punjabi by Nature’s either. Continue reading
I’ve already reviewed a London curry house with no ambitions to being anything other than a curry house. Here now is a review of a Sunday lunch buffet at another: Cinnamon Lounge. It is located even further west than Shepherd’s Bush, on Twickenham Road in Isleworth. Isleworth is part of the London borough of Hounslow—but I confess that I don’t quite understand London’s political geography: if Isleworth is not actually in London, please let me know. I can tell you with confidence that Hounslow and environs have a large South Asian population, and this is the kind of thing that gives you confidence in a curry house’s Sunday lunch buffet. The other reason for confidence was that this lunch was part of an extended family shindig organized by one of my cousins (who, indeed, lives in Hounslow). And everyone on that side of my extended family is obsessed with food. I am pleased to tell you that this confidence did not founder on the harsh shoals of reality—this was a nice lunch. Continue reading
This review is intended partly as a continuing counter to any impression my reviews of Indian restaurants in London might give to people who’ve not visited that most Indian places in London are either Michelin-bait or trendy “small plates” spots (see also Punjab, Lahore Kebab House and Tayyabs). Ajanta, on Goldhawk Road in Shepherd’s Bush, has no pretensions (it also does not have the history of the three aforementioned spots). But it’s only partly intended as a counter to false impressions. I was genuinely curious about the quality of food at unheralded Indian spots in the UK and I was always happy if anyone I was dining out with wanted to stop somewhere for a quick curry. This was the case in mid-May as a friend and I left a performance of Guards at the Taj at the Bush Theatre, and Ajanta was close at hand. Continue reading
eastZeast, or however it is they write their name (I have even less of an idea of how you’re supposed to say it), is a northern English chain of Indian restaurants, with locations in Manchester, Liverpool, Preston and Birmingham. I have no clue what the other locations are like but the Liverpool branch’s design is a monument to bad taste. It looks like it was modeled on the mansions of international smugglers in ’70s Bombay cinema. People who fill their lobby with such couches and lamps are capable of anything. An urge to run out the door (past the burly man in kurta-pajama and a turban who might or might not have been South Asian) came upon me as I entered but I had to feed 15 people and the only other options in range were a branch of Pizza Express or the inevitable fish and chips. And so we stayed and waited for a table to be put together. When it was ready we sat down on shiny silver chairs and watched massive naans go by us, hung from metal hooks like so much tortured laundry, and contemplated the menu. Wouldn’t you know it, when the food arrived it was pretty good. Continue reading
Okay, I’ve recently written up an iconic curry house (Tayyabs) and a hip, newer, small plates place (Gunpowder); for the next review of an Indian/South Asian restaurant let’s go back to a more formal restaurant. Tamarind, which opened in 1995 in its Mayfair location, holds a Michelin star and has done so for most of the time since it became one of the first Indian restaurants to receive one in 2001 (in fact, it may have been the first Indian restaurant to receive a Michelin star). It has been a major restaurant in the Indian food world for some time. So, even though its star has dimmed in recent years in comparison to newer places like Gymkhana and Benares, I’ve wanted to eat there. I was particularly interested because Tamarind is quite different from the other high-end Indians we’ve eaten at in London on this trip. Continue reading
A few weeks ago I reviewed a meal at Lahore Kebab House, the iconic Pakistani Whitechapel curry house established in 1972. Here now is a write-up of lunch at their even more iconic contemporary and near-neighbour, Tayyabs, also established in 1972. I noted in my review of Lahore Kebab House that there seemed to be a pattern to the recommendations for one or the other: while both are very popular, I seemed to get more recommendations for Lahore Kebab House from South Asian friends and come across more raves for Tayyabs on food blogs and forums populated largely by non-South Asian foodies. Nonetheless, I said at the time of the first review, published on the morning of the day I ate at Tayyabs, that I expected the differences between the two kitchens would be negligible with preferences for one or the other down to loyalty. This would certainly seem to be indicated by their menus—which are both abbreviated (as curry houses go) and more or less identical. As it turned out, however, I thought my meal at Lahore Kebab House was clearly better than this similar meal at Tayyabs, and I much preferred the spartan mess halls charms of Lahore Kebab House to Tayyabs’ interiors. Continue reading
A few weeks ago in a review of the Chilli Pickle in Brighton, I smuggled in a critique of the new forms of kitsch deployed in the design of hip new Indian restaurants in the West. I noted there that it’s by no means necessary to deploy (new kinds of) exotica to be successful as an Indian restaurant and cited as proof the extremely successful Gunpowder in Spitalfields in London. Here now is my review of my lunch there about a month ago. Despite being in one of my least favourite dining formats—small plates eaten in crowded spaces after standing in line—this may have been my favourite Indian meal so far on this trip. Continue reading
My review of the The Chilli Pickle in Brighton, posted two weeks ago, included a critique of certain developments in Indian restaurant culture in the West in recent years, having to do with both food and interior design. Here now is a review of a place that continues to ignore all culinary trends and has no interest in decor of any kind: the venerable Lahore Kebab House in Whitechapel.
Before I get to the review let me deal with the objection that this is not an Indian restaurant per se, and that this is signaled in the very name of the place. This is, of course, true and it is not my intention to enact a campaign of culinary colonialism. It’s also true, however, that Lahore is only about 30 miles from Amritsar and passports aside there’s nothing separating the cuisine of Lahore Kebab House from that of the average north Indian curry house. So while it is of course correctly described as a Pakistani restaurant, at least from a culinary perspective we can refuse to go along with partition. Or we could just ignore national markers and call it Punjabi cuisine, which it is. Continue reading
Back to the United Kingdom, and this time a little further south from London, to Brighton. But first some half-baked thoughts on two major developments in Indian restaurant culture in the West that have gone hand in hand in the last half decade or so.
The first is a move away from the heavy cuisine of the old curry house—ye olde north Indian staples awash in cream and nut paste. This has been a move towards menus that either putatively zoom in on foods of specific regions or offer a pan-subcontinental tour or various versions of street food. (I say “putatively” because it’s the rare restaurant that does not hedge its bets with dal makhani or chicken tikka masala or naan somewhere on the menu.) This development I largely endorse: curry house menus are all substitutable and the difference between fancy curry houses and crappy ones is largely that of price. More places should give us other things to eat. Continue reading
I had to take an unexpected side-trip from London to Delhi recently on account of a family emergency. Fortunately, everything went well and things seem to be returning to normal. I myself am now back in London (where we’ll be for another six weeks or so). I didn’t really have a whole lot of time in Delhi for things that didn’t rotate around hospital visits but did manage to find time to lunch with two old friends. The first was this meal, a quick lunch in Connaught Place. I was for some reason longing for idlis and vadas and the CP outpost of Sagar Ratna is where we went, Continue reading