Archive for the Whitechapel Category

London – Whitechapel Curry Crown

Posted in England, London, United Kingdom, Whitechapel with tags , , , , , , on March 23, 2011 by gannet39

Not being a fan of fine dining in London, I tend to head to Whitechapel for a cheap curry. Not only is it easy on the wallet but the area has some of the best curry houses I’ve ever been too. These are my favourites in order of preference.

My Google map of London is here.

Needoo’s (Intermediate A-) at 87 New Road in Shadwell is my favourite. It’s the best for food (great curries, sublime breads) but the service isn’t as cheerful as it was when it opened just a few years ago. The Bollywood surroundings give it a bit more atmosphere than the others, and you don’t have to queue.

The Lahore Kebab House (Elementary B+) has been a legendary East End destination for lovers of good Bangladeshi food since 1972. Whether it deserves its self-awarded title as ‘the most famous Hal-al restaurant in the world’ is another matter.

Modest LahoreSomeone didn't see the warning sign

 

Kitchen

The place is certainly popular, with queues down the street on weekend nights.Fortunately we arrived early on a Thursday evening and were seated by the head-mic wearing greeter within a couple of minutes of walking in the door. The decor is downmarket, plain and simple cafe-style, except that it’s in a very large room. Every one of the 100 or so seats seemed full when we were there, most noticeably with big groups of raucous middle-aged Bangladeshi men enjoying the bottles of Johnny Walker Black Label that the BYOB policy allowed them to bring in. On the way to the table you pass the kitchen with a small army of chefs labouring away over rows of pans.

Masala FishMutton TikkaMogoA quick survey of the tables told me that the lamb chops were the starter of choice. Sadly though due to one of several language confusions with our waiter these, along with any sign of a popadom, were not forthcoming, although we did get a plate of wilted salad and a bowl of yogurt to look at while we waited for our other starters.  Although these were poorly presented, slapped on the plate rather than arranged in any way, they did include some delicious chunks of Masala Fish (B), a small but tasty Mutton Tikka kebab (B)  and something called Chilli Mogo, which we tried because we’d never heard of it. It tasted and looked something like parsnip to us but our struggling waiter tried to tell us it was potato (I later discovered it was cassava). It was interesting and tasty, but we couldn’t finish it all (B-).

The mains were pretty good too, the Lamb Curry (on the bone) being a good choice (B+).

Lamb on the boneThe chef’s special Batera (Quail) was nicely gamey but the curry sauce it came with could have done with some more kick (B-)…

Quail

…and the Saag Panneer was fine but unspecial (B-).

Saag Panner

The star, as so often, was the Taarka Dahl which had a slightly unfamiliar but sublime spicing (A). The Coriander Naans were nice as well (B).

Taarka Dahl

Coriander NaanSo the food is good but not the greatest (although better than anything I had in Bangladesh!) but at £15 a head for seven dishes with rice and naan you can’t really complain. You can get drinks from the corner shop over the road (large Cobras are £2.50).  I’d definitely come here again, but try to make better selections next time.

Two weeks later and I’m back in town again, this time to check out Tayyabs, another famed curry spot that’s been packing them in since 1974.

Tayyabs

Again we grabbed a few Cobras from a shop on the main road before we came. The queue inside on this Saturday night was insane, as usual,  running the full length of the restaurant and spilling out of the door. There must have been over two hundred people crammed into their seats with forty others standing waiting to take their places (Overheard: ‘I don’t queue for clubs but I’ll queue for this place!’). Fortunately we had booked ahead and were seated by a polite greeter (not everyone’s experience on some forums but maybe they didn’t deserve it) within five minutes of stepping in the door (although I have waited for twenty minutes before, with a reservation). Compared to the stark walls of its competitor, the lighting is lower here and the rooms smaller, making the atmosphere (once seated) more relaxing.

After some preliminary popadoms (served with mint yogurt, chutney, an amazing tomato and chilli dip (A) and a wilting salad) and Sarah’s very pleasant Onion Bhaji (B), Stuart and I were reduced to groans of pleasure as we tackled a joint plate of wonderfully delicious Tandoori Chicken (A+) and sublime Lamb Chops (A+), which have to be some of the best we have ever tasted.

BhajiChicken and chops
Our mains were recommended to us by a friend and weren’t apparent on the menu but the waiter seemed to know what we wanted. The vegetarian Karahi Mixed Veg (B+) and Aubergine Dahl (A) were great too and Baby Chicken Karahi was another winner (A). A karahi is a big pot, like a flat bottomed wok, that the curry is cooked and served in.

Aubergine DahlBaby Chicken Karahi
The rice was perfect and the garlic naan was crispy yet soft.

Nice naan
Seeing all this on the table together (everything arrived simultaneously except the bhaji) was quite daunting but unbelievably we did the lot in.

Karahi Mixed Veg

 
The restaurant has a sweet counter with a huge array of Pakistani sweets which, although very pleasing to the eye, were a bit too bulky to contemplate putting in our bulging bellies so soon.

Balls of delight

 

 

 

 

Mmmore sweetsMore sweetsSweetsThe bill came to £50 for three, slightly more than at the Lahore but then we had less meat there. Good luck getting in!

The winner!

 

Whitechapel – Brick Lane Beigel-Off

Posted in Brick Lane, England, London, United Kingdom, Whitechapel with tags , , , , on March 14, 2011 by gannet39

Aah beigels, little gluten-packed balls of pleasure. What distinguishes the London beigel, apart from the spelling (the rest of the world spells it ‘bagel’) is its harder surface (achieved by boiling the dough before baking) and the coarser texture of its interior. Originally Jewish, they are ideal for breaking fast after the Sabbath because they can be prepared beforehand and left to prove on the day of rest.

Beautiful beigel

Two shops have been fixtures on Brick Lane for donkeys years Beigel Shop (to the left as you’re facing the shops) claims to be Britain’s first ever beigel shop, opening in 1855, and the Beigel Bake (aka Brick Lane Bakery, to the right) which opened in 1974. Along with the local synagogue, they are last historical vestiges of the local Jewish community, many of whom settled here after escaping persecution in Eastern Europe during the 30s.

Beigel Shop

Legend has it that the Beigel Shop at #155 was owned by two brothers who fell out and one went off to open the Beigel Bake a couple of doors up at #159.  Still others say they are the same business. I’ve never had the courage to ask the stroppy staff which story is true but I suspect both are just urban myths! Here’s a video about the Beigel Shop.

Brick Lane Bakery

 

Both shops are open for 24 hours and  sell bread and cakes as well with most of the baking being done in the small hours.

Sweet stuff

This was how I first discovered them, at 4am in the morning after a hard night on the town, as part of a long queue of hungry clubbers, policemen, refuse collectors and other assorted nighthawks. There’s something very warming about coming into a bakery while it’s still dark outside.

stack em high

What blows me away are the huge tidal waves of beigels pouring out of the ovens and moving glacially down the production lines (the Bakery alone produces 7000 a night).

Ready for boiling

I try to drop in whenever I’m in nearby, eat two on the spot and take at least a dozen plain home for breakfast and the freezer.

Beigels for days
So which one is the best? I decided to have something from each to decide.

First I had the classic Hot Salt Beef beigel from the Brick Lane Bakery; thick slabs of hot salted meat, topped with fiery mustard and a cooling slice of pickled gherkin on request, although they forgot the gherkin (A-). The beigel itself was perfectly baked with a nice shiny firm surface all over, uniform colouring both top and bottom and a softer yet firm interior that was a joy to bite into. I bought half a dozen plain beigels here as well.

Hot salt beef and mustard
At the Beigel Shop I had the Chopped Mackerel option, the pickled vinegary taste of which appeals to my Nordic taste buds (A). Sadly however, the bun was disappointing, nicely firm and browned on the base but overly soft, pale and squashed on top, as were the half dozen plain ones I bought on the side.  It seemed I’d been unlucky and hit a bad batch. At 25p a throw you can’t complain too much though. Not that you’d want to, as service can be brusque (but generally friendly) in both places.

Mmm, chopped mackerel

As you can see, quickly filled beigels aren’t particularly photogenic but I can assure you they are much tastier than they look. Equally classic would have been the Salmon and Cream Cheese version but you can make those at home. I also had a huge apple turnover from here too which was hearty and tasty if lacking in finesse (B).

Price listThe next step was to cross reference my findings with a couple of local friends who I had blind taste the two plain versions as well as tell me their usual preference. The results were split, with current tastes conflicting with historical experience. It seems the Brick Lane Bakery at #159 had the best tasting beigels on the day, but usually the Beigel Shop is better.

However, it was pointed out that my testing was fundamentally flawed due to not having the same fillings from both shops. Seems that I’ll have to rerun the tests a few times to be completely sure. Bear with me.

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