Monday, December 20, 2010

On Tayyab's and the paucity of good Indian restaurants in London

Another one bites the dust
Sid's and my perennial search for a good Indian restaurant led us to the famed Tayyab’s this weekend. I had reasons to be optimistic. Whenever, we mentioned the general hideousness of Brick Lane's Indian fare, people whispered of Tayyab’s as an authentic alternative. And the Time Out London Food & Drink guide had nice things to say about it.

The snaking queue at the restaurant gave us more reasons for hope. Though the chaos was not conducive to a relaxing night, it was a positive indication of the kitchen’s efforts. Luckily for us, we were the only people in line for a table-of-two and found ourselves seated soon enough and being served by a polite, dishy-looking Pakistani émigré waiter, his soft Punjabi accent yet to be sandpapered away.

Unfortunately, he turned out to be the dishiest thing in the restaurant that night. My guess is that the saag gosht, fried daal and paneer tikka that we ordered were very tasty when they were initially made, but each subsequent reheat through the day had taken something off the flavour. So by the time it reached our table at eight in the night, I could almost taste the oil and spices crying in protest against the day's torture. The naans were tasty but without the reinforcement of good curry they couldn’t save the night.

It is really funny that the closest we have come to truly yummy, value-for-money Indian food in England is at a Burmese restaurant (Mandalay on Edgeware Road) and a Nepali one (Yak Yeti Yak in all the way in Bath). 

Sid says that the popularity of any foreign cuisine is inversely related to its authenticity. The reason our Nepali and Burmese restaurant have been able to maintain their high standard is because they are the only ones in the market – a small niche clientele is enough for them to survive. But the more ubiquitous a cuisine gets, the more a restaurant finds itself pandering to popular tastes in order to attract patrons – even if it means playing fast and loose with authenticity. So it is to the very popularity of Indian food in London that we can blame for our inability to find a good Indian restaurant in London.

But that is our theory. If you have any others, feel free to share.

On the most interesting Indian place we have found in London, Dishoom in Leicester Square, read this.


Virginia said...

I think it's quite possibly the case. I still have to find a decent Italian restaurant in the UK. Things such as garlic bread or this constant present of gigantic peppermill or cheese grater are nowhere to be seen in Italy. I guess a restaurant could be striped off the licence for doing something so much against good food!

But I also think we are more demanding when it comes to our own country food. Food's a big, massive part of a nation culture and common roots, so we are more forgiving when it comes to other countries' cuisine. But not so ready to see our food, the one we grew up with, being changed to accomodate different taste buds.

globalbabble said...

Hi Virginia,

Yes, I think we are quite pernickety when it comes to our own foods. And my husband and I love Indian food so much that anyone messing about with it gets our ranting :-)

That said, even I agree with you that London lacks a good Italian restaurant. I may be wrong but even the simplest pastas that I had in Hamburg or Amsterdam had a satisfying quality about them which I don't find in Italian restaurants in London. You are right that they do the parmesan and pepper and all that here, but the meats and sauces and pastas leave me unsatisfied.

But if you find a good Italian place, you must inform me :-)

Notes from Freetown said...

The best Indian restaurant in London is Lahore Kebab House or Govinda in Soho for vegetarian. Fantastic homestyle Bengali food in Shoreditch and amazing dosas in East Ham. All I can say is good Indian food will not find you in've got to find it.

globalbabble said...

The problem is the same people who spoke of Tayyab's with a bated breath, talk-up Lahore Kebab House. But I will definitely give it a go.

As for Govinda's, yes it is wonderful. Shh.... we don't want to share that with everyone ;-)