Tuesday, 1 December 2009
Needoo Grill, Whitechapel
I don't have a problem with the ex-restaurant manager of Tayyabs setting up his own restaurant. I don't have a problem with the carbon-copy menu, the suspiciously familiar décor, tableware, table setting, water jugs, black-clad waiters, etc. etc.. What does irritate me, however, is its location. 90% of London is crying out for a decent Pakistani grill. Nobody outside of certain parts of Tooting or Southall can get their fix of seekh kebabs or dry meat, and Needoo Grill could have done a public service by bringing their mixed grills to Battersea or East Dulwich or Hampstead or Paddington. Instead, this Tayyabs-clone is parked literally around the corner from the mothership, on New Road - about 30 steps away. So now Whitechapel has Tayyabs, Needoo Grill, Lahore Kebab House AND Mirch Masala, and the rest of London can get stuffed and go to Masala Zone. Thanks very much, Needoo.
You can see their reasoning though. Tayyabs, despite the huge new basement room, is still vastly oversubscribed. I spotted a queue out of the door at 6pm last night, and even if Needoo existed purely as a kind of unofficial Tayyabs overflow, I'm sure it would still make a killing. But what Needoo does not have, so far at least, is any strong case for being destination number one instead of one-and-a-half. Let's begin at the beginning.
House popadums were served with the familiar "ooh wonder where I've seen those before?" array of dips, but had some pleasingly subtle variations. The yoghurt-y mint dip was particularly nice, sweet and fresh with a lovely vinegar kick. The popadums themselves were as you might expect, perfectly good, and only the vegetables were a bit disappointing, the cucumber being a bit old and dry.
The mixed grill certainly looked the part, and the seekh kebabs, at the very least, were as good as any I've tried, moist and lean and packing a decent chilli punch. But the chicken tikka pieces, though spiced perfectly well, were rather dry, and the lamb chops were not in the same league as the Other Place at all, being too sweet and sloppy and missing an extra layer of hot spices. I still wolfed it all down, of course, Tayyabs on a bad day being at least a thousand times better than most other ways to spend your food money in London, but you can clearly see the difference thirty-odd years experience can make.
Karahi chicken was also rather dispiriting - tiny, dry pieces of chicken in a relatively tasty but rather oily sauce - but it arrived with two of the loveliest roti I've ever had the pleasure to eat. Expertly cooked to split-second perfection, with a very healthy pattern of delicate browned bubbles on the surface, these were supremely light, bursting with flavour and with an extraordinary texture contrast between the brittle surface and the doughy insides. I may have issues with the protein at Needoos but someone definitely knows what they're doing in the bread department.
In conclusion, then, what we have here is a perfectly decent, friendly and convenient place to try after the queue for Tayyabs reaches the 45-minute mark, and I didn't begrudge at all one penny of the pathetic £8 or so my meal cost last night. There's a tendency, when faced with the embarrassment of riches that are the grill houses of Whitechapel, to compare one with the other and of course this is fine - a bit of healthy competition is probably why they're all so good in the first place. But it was while tucking into my lamb chops a thought struck me - if this had been served anywhere in London other than Whitechapel, and I didn't have anything better to compare it to, I would have declared it the finest culinary discovery of the decade. In the name of all that is good, and on behalf of the poor deprived residents of Battersea and elsewhere, can one of you lot please consider opening further afield? We're waiting for you, you know.