Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Gifto's Lahore Karahi, Southall

Having spontaneously decided that it had been too long since I'd travelled to far West London for dinner, and having picked an evening to put that right, the next step was to decide precisely where to eat. Various parties have, over the years, come to the conclusion that the Brilliant was the top of the charts in that part of town, but an unfortunately lacklustre meal in their sister restaurant recently in Fulham Broadway meant we didn't quite have the nerve to risk it. So instead, we found ourselves one fateful Friday night travelling (slowly, oh so slowly, thanks to the fact that Southall appears to be one continuous traffic jam) towards a very similarly well-regarded (according to an Eater list I read) Gifto's Lahore Karahi, occupying a large and brightly-lit chunk of the Uxbridge Road.

First impressions were good, thanks to a very friendly welcome by the staff and that all-important heavenly aroma of tandoor-grilled meats. It's a functional, rather than objectively attractive, dining space, as these places tend to be, but give me a wipe-clean surface, a laminated menu and the ability to order a Mixed Grill and that's more than enough to put me in the frame of mind to enjoy myself. With a mango lassi to provide liquid refreshment (they don't sell alcohol, and though a review in the Guardian from 2001 says they allow BYO, this is apparently no longer the case) we were very much looking forward to what followed.

It continued successfully enough at first. Pani puri came with a very generous measure of tamarind liquid and chick pea filling; too generous, really, for the only six pastry casings provided - we had to leave about half a cup full of each. But the flavours were great, the pastry was glistening straight out of the fryer, and these were really very enjoyable indeed.

Also good was something called Maash Dal, new to me but using split urid lentils (more like grains of Arborio rice than chickpea) and of a thicker, dryer consistency than the more common tarka dal. Very nice it was too, with a good complex spicing and buttery feel in the mouth, and something we'd both happily order again.

Next this absolute beauty of a naan, delicate and bubbly and crisp and slicked with ghee, a very fine example of its kind. You'd expect somewhere like this to produce a decent naan, perhaps, but it's never less than delightful when it happens.

But the mixed grill. Oh dear the mixed grill. At first glance it looked the part, not arriving with as much sizzle and smoke as you might expect perhaps, but colourful and piled high with the usual suspects of lamb chops, chicken tikka and seekh kebabs. But almost immediately we noticed something just felt wrong - a kind of sadness, a lack of life and love. The lamb chops were cold and dry, clearly having either been cooked a long time ago and kept warm or (even less forgiveably) reheated. Both chicken and lamb tikka were dry and mealy, presumably subjected to the same mistreatment, a nice rich spicing for each hardly improving matters, just making the whole thing more upsetting. Only the seekh kebabs were worth the effort, being moist and full of flavour and feeling very much like the only element cooked to order.

Had the starters and sides been a bit lacklustre but the mixed grill good, I think we would have felt a lot more positive about our visit to Gifto's. Yes, nice bubbly naans and fresh puri are lovely things to enjoy, but you don't come all this way (an hour from central London on trains and a bus) for nice sides - you need the main event to be worth the effort. And this really wasn't. It wasn't even cheap, £19.80 being about £5 more than the equivalent offering from Tayyabs. And I'm yet to notice Tayyabs reheating anything.

A day or so after the meal, under an Instagram post on That Naan, alongside a few people urging us to give the Brilliant another try there was a comment from a food writer who had been sampling various places in Southall for an upcoming article. They had noticed a drop in the standards in the restaurants of Southall over the past decade or so, and attributed it to (amongst other things) 2nd and 3rd generation Indians having little interest in working in the restaurant industry. Which I suppose is understandable - restaurant work is hard; often rewarding, but hard - but doesn't make it any less sad. Perhaps Southall's best years are behind it, and we will look back on the early 2000s as some kind of golden age of Punjabi cuisine in London. Or maybe I just need to try the Brilliant after all.



Chz said...

Not just the children not wanting to work in the industry, but also the Home Office making it impossible to import the required talent. Standards of subcontinental food have been slipping everywhere in the UK. Though what I've mostly seen is that places still have *someone* who knows what they're doing, but it's all too frequently just the one person and so the place becomes unreliable - very up and down - depending on who's on shift. Which is worse, really. I'll take a consistent "okay-to-good" over "great-to-bad, depending".

Walking While Eating said...

I still mourn the passing of Kastoori in Tooting. It was one of my very favourites in London. Tayyabs is great obviously, but I've still yet to find anywhere that replicates the flavours on offer at Kastoori.