Friday, 10 August 2007
I'm always rather wary of writing about "ethnic" foods - not being able to provide any particular insight into the style of cooking or a bunch of ingredients I've never heard of, I'm worried I might end up coming across as even more of an amateur than usual. I can bluff my way through French cooking, even Spanish or Italian on a good day, but when confronted with a curry all I can usually do is mutter "oh that's good" but have no idea why. The reason I'm breaking my own embargo for Tayyabs is because it's probably the best Indian meal I've had this year, and just because I have no idea why is not going to stop me writing about it.
Tucked away on an improbable anonymous backalley somewhere near Whitechapel, the place itself is notable first of all for the huge queue of people waiting to get in, this at 6:30 on a Thursday night. I've mentioned before that this is usually a good sign, so along with the healthy buzz of recommendation I'd been receiving over the past few months, my interest had certainly peaked. Inside, a throng of excitable diners tucked into some spectacularly noisy (due to the hot plates) dishes of bright reds and greens under claustrophobically low ceilings, surrounded by almost as many waiters in smart black & white outfits.
After a 10 minute wait or so (pretty good really considering we hadn't booked - in fact I'm not sure you can anyway) we sat down and a the whirlwind of activity began. Popadums were popped down with the requisite sauces and salad before we'd even caught our breath. Our order was taken about 30 seconds later. 30 seconds after that the food began arriving, and didn't stop until there wasn't a single spot of tablecloth left.
It was all delicious - the mixed grill of tandoori meats (lamb chops, chicken and kebab thingy) were cooked perfectly and spiced to perfection (as far as I know). Dry Meat, despite the offputting name, was actually a moist bowl of what I'm guessing is lamb with strips of tasty fried onion. Karahi King Prawn (the most extravagant item on the menu) was creamy and tomatoey, if a little bit chewy, and Sag Meat (why so shy about saying which meat? Maybe it depends on availability) also drew a chorus of approval. Even the popadums were unlike anything you'd get at your average takeaway - a lot drier, interestingly spiced and incredibly moreish.
We wolfed it all down in about 20 minutes, with the last of the empty plates being whipped out from under our noses even as the last forkful of rice was still airborne. The bill was slapped down almost immediately, we paid with cash and were back out on the streets of the East End about half an hour after we'd been queueing up to get in. Out of the corner of my eye as we strolled away I noticed a fresh serving of popadums appearing in front of the next set of stunned diners at our table. Service therefore was nothing if not efficient - but pulled off the impressive feat of being very friendly too, so you ended up with the impression that it was in fact your idea to get in and out of there so quickly, and not just a clever ruse to get more covers done in an evening.
On our way home we passed a mosque and a synagogue literally right next door to each other. Probably some town planner's idea of a joke, but it was nice to see, and with our bellies full and wallets only £15 lighter each, we wobbled off into the night.
P.S. I've been reliably informed Tayyabs is Pakistani. So now I know.