London: For The Love of Desi Food
How deep is our love?
They say that if you want good desi food in Paris, you should take the Metro or RER to Paris Nord and then take the Eurostar across the English Channel to London. They are not joking!!! We realized this within weeks of moving to France, and the foodies that we are I could foresee multiple trips to London to get our desi fix. A few weeks ago I came across a Eurostar New Year promo and it was too good to pass up on an "all you can eat Desi food weekend" in London. What can I say? Desperate times call for desperate measures, maybe? :P
We love train travel for many reasons. Views, no long security lines, food and drinks at will in the bar car, walk and stand all you want, and above all, no need to arrive hours before departure. This time we really cut it too close though. We nearly missed our 11:15 am train to London thanks to French rail employees' strike. The French love their "les grèves", something us Americans are quite unaccustomed
to. Ugh. We had never ran so hard for so long to catch anything in our lives before. Somehow, despite a series of the train line and RER cancellations and several detours we stepped onto the train with the door closing 2 minutes behind us. Phew, that was close!
Thankfully, the journey was smooth from then on and we arrived at St. Pancras Int'l a little after noon. A quick top up of our
that we saved from our last visit to London, and we were on our way to our first stop. No, not our apart-hotel to check-in; yes, Lahore Kebab house for lunch :)
Lahore Kebab House - the good, the tasty, and slightly ugly
Tired and hungry, we rolled our luggage in and were warmly welcomed by the same uncle who seated us last time. Do not expect anything fancy at
. What you can expect is a restaurant full of equal parts desi and white crowd, full Lahori mahol, loud Punjabinglish sounds (even at lunch :P), and authentic food.
They take pride in their Lamb Chops, so they were first on the order list as was Qeema Naan (because I have always had a savory spot for them :P). After our last trip we were no longer scared to order lamb. At least, not in England. The chops were fresh, tender, juicy and had just the right amount of spices. Chops done right, and we definitely did justice to them. The Qeema Naan was yummy too. Husband thought it lacked meat but, I think maybe it was all pushed to the side that I had :P The kids had Mango Lassi and they loved it. But, let's be honest, one has to try really hard to mess that one up.
For mains we tried their Chicken Kebab Karahi and Beef Nihari, Tandoori Paratha, Roghni Naan, and Butter Naan. The nihari was sizzling hot and on first glance looked a little too thin and watery. As it cooled down a bit, it definitely looked more and more like nihari but, more importantly, it tasted just like one. The Chicken Kebab Karahi was equally impressive. It was a perfectly satisfying meal till greed took over and we made the mistake of ordering dessert at lunch time. The Ras Malai was disappointing, to be kind. The milk was neither sweet nor creamy enough. The Ghulab Jamun was not too bad but, they overheated it and made it all mushy. Even more disappointing was the fact they did not serve Chai. What? What kind of a desi eatery does not serve Chai? That is just plain wrong. They won us over in the end however, by bringing us a couple of cups from a tea place nearby. So all in all it was a good meal for an even better price.
We checked-in to our
operated by the same company that we had a great experience with in Dublin. It was conveniently located in Greenwich right across from a DLR station with an easy 20 minute ride into central London. No prizes for guessing what we did next? Zzzz :P
Tayyab's - walking the talk for years
Ever since our first time at
in 2014 we could not wait to go back. So, no surprise that it was our preferred dinner choice on day 1. As soon as we made a turn on Fieldgate Street, we could see people gathered outside in groups, drinking away (it is a BYOB FYI), and waiting for their table quite patiently. I am sure the bar style bouncers outside with their "Tayyab's Crowd Control" shirts had something to do with that. We made our way inside and the first thing we saw is people, people everywhere, and definitely not as patient as the ones outside. This was when I patted myself on the back for making a reservation through their website. Our next goal was to find a guy in a light blue button down because he was our only hope to be seated.
A few minutes passed and we were able to spot him and somehow made our way to him and screamed out our name and and he lead us to your table. It might not appear as such but, there is a definite method to Tayyab's madness. Food is prepared fresh, service is prompt, and the turnover is fast. That I think is how they keep their customers from complaining about the initial wait because once they are at the table there is none. A quick look around the nicely done restaurant and you find the crowd to be as diverse as the people of London. I love that their menu is simple with tons of meat options (grilled or othewise), and right amount of vegetarian dishes, lentils and of-course desserts.
We quite enjoyed the complimentary Papadums with Sweet Mango Chutney and a Spicy Red chutney.We had Tandoori Chicken to start off, followed by Tayyab's Special Dry Lamb Masala and our favorite from last time Baby Chicken Karahi (I know it sounds pretty inhumane but, it just means it is a young chicken of a smaller and supposedly tastier breed. So relax! :P). The Tandoori chicken looked good on a sizzling hot plate and tasted just as good but, we have had better. As a side note, the number of hot plates and all that smoke going around the entire two floors of the restaurant = very smoky and curry smelling clothes when you come out :P The Baby Chicken Karahi was ok this time. The chicken looked like a regular chicken unlike last time. However, the Dry Lamb Masala was a pleasant surprise. Delicious boneless lamb in dark dry masala was cooked to near perfection.
The Tandoori Parathas were like your traditional Punjabi Tawa Parathas. How can you go wrong with a paratha? You cannot. The Tandoori Roti was as your basic Roti should be. As good as kids' Mango Lassis were, my Sweet Lassi was actually pheeki and patli Lassi (not sweet enough and watery) much to my disappointment. Clearly, someone was rushing in the kitchen. If it was not for the amazing, individually wrapped Malai Kulfis at the end, and my inability to eat more, I probably would have asked them to fix it.And, I am sure they would have. The atmosphere of Tayyab's, with all the nice little touches like branded still water bottles and after-meal mint chocolates, the warm scented wet wipes to clean your hands, and of-course, the delicious food at super affordable prices make it a forever winner. The owners deserve every penny of the money they are minting although, I have heard lately they have been dropping the ball :( I hope they realize word gets around like wild fire and one too many bad reviews is enough to ruin years of reputation.
Nagina - A Gem of a Brunch
I had heard of this place and its authentic Halwa Puri and Paye Brunch a lot but, we could not quite make it to East London last time to try it out. It is a little out of the way from Central London and you have to make a couple of connections, but what is a 50 minute commute for a good brunch, right?! It also means you'll really have an appetite by the time you get there (just look at our faces waiting for the food :P)
Lahore revisited <3 (the writing on the wall)
It is a tiny place and we were expecting lines considering it was the weekend. Looked like we beat the rush around 1 pm as it got really busy by the time we left. We ordered the Halwa Puri Chanay combo for 4 and it was enough despite us being extremely hungry. The Puris were nice sized and crispy yet soft with all their greasy goodness. I take my Chanas seriously, very seriously, and I can make pretty decent ones myself, so mediocre just does not cut it for me. These were good, really good. Add a huge glass of Sweet Lassi and now we were really talking. This place knows its Lahori Brunch. The halwa could have been a little sweeter, although it is probably a good thing it was not. We passed on the Payas and the Kulchas but man, did they look inviting or what! We had a scrumptiously fulfilling brunch for 4 all for a price tag of 25£.We probably packed
on 25 pounds in exchange, so it was a fair and pretty sweet deal, we think :P
We needed to walk off all those lbs we just put on so we headed to Greenwich to explore the area and show kids the Cutty Sark, the Meridian Line, The Painted Hall of The Royal Naval College and The Observatory. The whole area is just lovely and on a good Spring/Summer day Greenwich Park is a great place to have a nice little picnic.
Zayna - Cool Kid on the Block
After an elaborate evening tea at a friend's place we were running late for our dinner reservation at this place in the city I had read about online.
had raving reviews and has been on the Micheline guide so I was quite interested in "dining the Zayna way." All the spices are ground in house, and only halal meat and free range chicken is used. We arrived 30 minutes late to a full restaurant but, were still welcomed and seated at our table on the lower level of this intimate eatery. I loved the atmosphere of this place. The ambiance was refined and elegant, the decor simple yet tasteful, and songs from Coke Studio Pakistan's latest season were playing in the back. Sounds pretty perfect, I know.
After the promising start, we were really hoping the food would not be a let down, and delightedly it was not. We had the starter portion of the Lahori Pusli (glorified lamb chops) and it was good. As was the Jheenga (prawns) Biryani that I quite enjoyed. It was a nice diversion from the usual chicken and goat rice dishes. The Tringa Tarka, which was a blend of three lentils had to be ordered just for its clever name. It was nice that it actually tasted pretty good too and the "tarka" was spot on. But, the star of the night by far was their Murgh Taka Tuk (named for the sound of cutting and cooking on the griddle). Chicken leg meat, off the bone, marinated overnight and cooked to perfection on the griddle. We could not decide if it tasted better with the Tandoori Paratha or the Garlic Naan. The struggle was real :P
They had a good choice of Western and Eastern desserts but, we just had no room for dessert and decided to finish off with the Zayna Spicy Chai out of their vast selection of teas. Now that I think about it, I kind of regret not trying the Falooda or the Gujrayla. Sigh. I guess we will have to re-visit soon. :P I forgot to mention their extensive drinks menu with lots of varied options and recommended pairings for desserts. It was the most expensive meal we had on this trip but, by no mean outrageously expensive. You have to keep in mind you will be paying for the whole dining experience at Zayna as opposed to just paying for the food. I actually wish we had more sophisticated Desi dining options similar to Zayna in the US. Even Desi hubs like Houston and Chicago seriously lack them and you end up having to choose between ambiance or authentic food. Highly recommended despite the slightly lofty prices.
Good thing we had an early train back to Paris the next morning as we were at the brink of a food coma. We surely would have ran out steam before London ran out of food options.
For London Sightseeing r
Other Desi restaurant options to consider that we have tried or wish to try on future trips -
and a gazillion others :P