Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Tayyabs, Whitechapel

Two things are guaranteed to happen whenever I post about Tayyabs on social media. Firstly you get the usual fanboys, of which I count myself a very loyal member, who confess their undying love of seekh kebabs and lamb chops and chicken tikka, and can't wait to head back to Fieldgate St and try it all again. Secondly, without fail, there is another equally vocal group of Tayyabs skeptics, who claim variously that it's not as good as it used to be, it's too big, too noisy, the prices have gone up and "you should really try [Needoo/Lahore Kebab House/Mirch Masala/Insert Your Favourite Pakistani Grill House Here] who are definitely where it's at these days".

There's no denying Tayyabs has changed - a lot - over the years. What used to be a single room café set up in an old shop to serve the local Pakistani workers in the 1970s has expanded into four floors of noisy, frenetic restaurant, overhung with onion smoke from the skillets of mixed grills flying around the place, carried by a small army of smart waiters in black. Almost every table was taken on a wet Tuesday evening, families with toddlers, raucous work parties with their carrier bags full of beer from Tesco's down the road, and even the odd food blogger annoying his companion by taking photos of the food with his big camera.

But has the food offering really changed noticeably over the last few years, as some claim? Well, the first thing to note is that, like most restaurants - in fact like any restaurant that has its food made fresh by a changing brigade of chefs - variations will always occur in dishes, even ones that have been made hundreds of thousands of times by the same kitchen. For example, sometimes the seekh kebabs are more spicy sometimes less so; sometimes the lamb chops are a deep paprika red and sometimes a lighter yellow of yoghurt and garam masala. Sometimes the tinda masala is more buttery, sometimes it has more of a bitter (though never unpleasantly so) note of burned onions; sometimes the dry meat contains huge chunks of lamb bound with paste, other times it's something more approaching a standard, albeit dense, curry. These variations are why I love Tayyabs, and they're what keep me coming back, because there's always that chance a dish may be even better than the version you fell in love with all those years ago.

Take my most recent meal, for example. The seekh kebabs were sausagey and moist, not as spicy as they have been but full of flavour. Lamb chops were on the reddish end of the spectrum, densely flavoured and with the ribbons of fat along the bone as deliriously moreish as ever. And the chicken, glossy with tikka spice, were little bundles of joy.

But the tinda masala (pumpkin curry) neatly justified my faith in the place. Put simply, it was the best I've ever known it taste, and believe me I've eaten a lot of tinda masalas over the years. A deeply complex and satisfying paste of spiced butter, with notes of toasted seeds and caramelised onion, bound huge bulbs of pumpkin so tender they completely dissolved in the mouth, creating a dish that is, in its own way, completely unique in London and worth the trip to Whitechapel alone. It's also worth noting that although Tayyabs is Instagram-famous for its mixed grills, you could come here, order the tinda and veggie samosas and tadka daal and naan bread and have a very bloody good vegetarian (though not vegan - this stuff is ghee-tastic) dinner.

Look, I realise I'm not going to change anyone's mind about Tayyabs, and nor do I really want to - as one of the most consistently oversubscribed restaurants in the whole of London, with queues regularly snaking down the street on a Thursday and Friday evenings even despite the vast numbers of tables inside these days, they're certainly not desperate for the extra publicity and yes, as so many of you so bloody regularly point out, there are plenty of other places to get lamb chops in Whitechapel alone. But I don't care. You can keep your pretenders because I will remain a Tayyabs loyalist and for as long as I have a craving for lamb chops and dry meat, and I'm guessing that will be for a very long time to come. It's not perfect, but it's mine, and for introducing myself and so many others to the joys of Pakistani food, it is forever guaranteed a place in my restaurant hall of fame.



Tony A said...

Needoo also does a great tinda :D

Anonymous said...

Gunpowder's lamb chops are better tho.

Kasia said...

The best food ever ,nothing can compare to Tayyabs.

Sophia Mattingly said...

I absolutely love Tayyabs and it is my favourite restaurant in Whitehapel it never disappoints me. I travel far every week to enjoy the wonderful food and atmosphere with friends not forgetting the great price of the food, it is excellent value for money! Carry on doing a fantastic job at Tayyabs!

Carlovski said...

I took my Girlfriend there a while back, she had never been, I hadn't been for years (last time may have even been an old eGullet meetup...)
Still loved it, it's not longer stupidly cheap, but still a london bargain.
Service is as friendly as it ever was (i.e not at all)
Actually best thing is that the dry meat is on all the time now as far as I could tell, didn't it used to be a one day a week special?
Not tried the pumpkin, next time maybe.

Anonymous said...

Tinda isnt actually pumpkin, its a type of gourd.