Tuesday, 2 September 2008
Mirch Masala, Whitechapel
Well, you could have knocked me down with a poppadum. For weeks, if not months, a friend of mine had been trying to persuade me to try Mirch Masala on Commercial Street, and of course I thought the very idea was insane. "Why on earth," I would say, "if I was going to eat anywhere in Whitechapel, would I go anywhere other than Tayyabs?". And given the sheer consistency and quality of the food there, I think you would agree I had a point. But more recently the buzz of recommendations for Mirch Masala had reached a even more deafening level as I learned a couple of colleagues at work at been and declared it (brace yourselves) "possibly" even better than Tayyabs. So that was that - on Friday evening I wandered down.
The menu was reassuringly Tayyabs-like in style, though perhaps slightly more extensive with a much larger vegetarian selection and some interesting Karahi options. We ordered a plate of sizzling lamb and chicken wing tikka, and on arrival you could immediately tell this was a kitchen with a supreme command of the grill. They were - and it almost pains me to say it - every bit as good as the grill from Tayyabs, succulent and salty and dripping with fantastic tandoori spicing.
The chilli naan was decent enough (nothing has yet beaten the garlic naan from Lahore over the road in my book, it's just a shame everything else there doesn't live up to it) but the Masala Bhindi was amazingly rich and meaty for a dish containing no meat, and the Karahi Chilli Chicken, despite containing slightly dry pieces of chicken, had such a wonderful tomatoey, herby sauce that I almost licked the bowl clean. Great stuff.
So, and here comes something I never thought I'd say, Mirch Masala may have done enough to replace Tayyabs as my curry house of choice in the East End. It's not just because of the food, either - although Mirch will certainly give them a run for their money. The problem is, thanks to people like me going on about how good Tayyabs is, it's more or less impossible to get in these days unless you turn up at 5:30pm or are willing to wait for two hours. And once you're in, securing a spot with enough room to use your elbows and not have people knocking you on the back of the head on the way to the toilets is yet another challenge. Mirch Masala serves tasty, cheap food (our feast for two came to £19 in total) in infinitely more relaxed (if rather canteen-y) surroundings and is a big enough restaurant that you don't have to sprint there after work to get a table. It has everything going for it. Let's just see how long it takes for the rest of the city to catch on... can you keep a secret?