– Daneesh Majid
After leaving quite the colonial footprint in South Asia for about 200 years, England’s food scene has somewhat been colonized by the very same people it ruled.
Plus, as awesome as fish and chips are, there is a reason why Chicken Tikka Masala is Britain’s national dish. However, Desi food in London is much more than an imported national dish and a poppadum waiting to be dipped in chutney!
Such is the case with Central London though.
So if your palates aren’t patient enough to embark on a few tube 45-minute tube and/or national rail rides, your loss!
For the most part, the South Asian enclaves around the city are representative of the cuisine. But even in the predominantly Punjabi paradise that is Southall, the seemingly Bengali bastion that is East London, or the South Indian stronghold known as East Ham, there is ethnic and epicurean diversity with respect to food. It is also most as if they resemble the multi-cultural states and provinces that comprise that melting pots that are India and Pakistan.
Sometimes one’s appetite in a city inhabited by a diverse South Asian diaspora is enough to experience the region without even boarding a flight.
Although the innermost seems like the apt place to start, it still leaves a lot to be desired.
So even if a one simply refuses to sail into uncharted waters outside central London, all hope is not lost for foodies who venture outside their comfort zones (by ‘comfort zone,’ I mean Zone 1).
White tablecloths, watered down offerings (not just in terms of spices, but overall taste as well), and upscale fusion cuisine?
That too, only for a big fat cheque to grace the table?
Then zone 1 is the place for you!
Although there are only two exceptions!
Raavi Kebab – 125 Drummond Street,
Despite the minimal décor, small size, and relative lack of space compared to other central London restaurants, the food here has the potential to cure anyone’s pretentious foodie habits and claustrophobia. The wallet-friendly menu includes the usual nehari, lamb chops, and the best doodh-patti chai in the city. Though the saag paneer and the sweet tasting chicken korma are very much the underrated gems.
But if someone living right in the center does not wish to venture towards the far end of the city for some genuine kadai chicken, then look no further than Raavi.
2) Lahore Restaurant London, 2-4 Gateforth Street, Marylebone
Once the cultural capital of a united Punjab, the glorious city is a namesake for many Pakistani eateries. However, most of those places are merely Lahori in name just to project some artificially exotic authenticity.
But not the Original Lahore Restaurant.
Although a bit pricier than Raavi, one will know where the extra money went after paying the cheque. The parathas and the huge lassi jug will even make you forget that you are in a slightly upscale Marylebone area and instead transport you to a highway dhaba.
The lamb chops and their chutney are clearly a winning combination here as well (see picture below!).
And unfortunately with respect to proximity, Raavi and Lahore are the best anyone can do in the most bustling part of the city. For more legendary Pakistani restaurants, one has to venture east of the center to Bengal lands of London!
When exiting either the Aldgate East station or the Whitechapel station, a pungent aroma of Rosgulla wafts through the air. That may signal that you have entered a very Bengali enclave that only offers ruimaach and seafood. But the thing is that, it’s the Pakistani joints that have a monopoly over the food.
With humble beginnings that lead to a legacy that resonates all over England and its diaspora and the best lamb chops in town, it is no wonder there is a huge line where people happily wait 30 minutes every evening outside this legendary dining establishment.
Like many aspirants hoping to make it big in a foreign land, Mohammed Tayyab arrived to London in 1964. His mother was sure to instill him with a very important culinary ability that a new immigrant would need when trying to establish him/herself in a new country.
And that instilled skill set included the ability to cook an excellent curry.
After the restaurant where he used to grab his morning paper and tea closed down, he took over Tayyabs and he hasn’t looked back since. Besides, the signature lamb chops and the Kadai chicken, the Saag Gosht, and Peshawri Naan deserve to be devoured with equal zeal.
Lahore Kabab House
Lahore Kabab House is another big Pakistani fish in the Bengali pond that is Whitechapel. This is basically a more casual dining and nocturnal version of Tayyabs. The minimal décor and the later hours end up catering to people who are very much immersed in the Whitechapel nightlife as after 10:30 am, many pub hoppers come to enjoy a hefty meal.
There is not a single item on this menu that is undelectable. My Lahori friends have told me that this kulfi is the closest one can get to experiencing famous Miya-ji’s Kulfi.