In retrospect, I could not have made a better choice of restaurant for my premier review than New Tayyabs. It successfully showcases the idea and ideals of my Food Snob i.e. one who seeks and admires superior, tastier fare and NOT one who’s focus is limited to haute cuisine or ‘posh nosh’. For those of you unfamiliar with NT (and there cannot be many) it is one of London’s great bon marchés – authentic Pakistani cuisine served in generous portions with a BYO policy and no corkage, all for under £20 a head. The restaurant is ubiquitous among blogs, restaurant reviews and discussion boards, always highly rated and recommended, indeed often highlighted as an essential stop for anyone visiting London.
Thus, equipped with my Google-sourced map of East Aldgate and a vivid sense of adventure, I set off in search of Fieldgate St and the legendary bastion of Asian cookery that is New Tayyabs. It is a short and straightforward journey – I work in the City and am heading there after work on a Friday – but I have the constant impression I am going the wrong way and in the wrong place. A few minutes walk from Aldgate East, leaves me on Fieldgate Street and although I know I must be close, I cannot shake my doubts; could one of London’s most popular eateries be hidden on this quiet backstreet between a mosque and apartment blocks? I am not sure what I expected: bright lights, hustle and bustle in the streets, long queues of hungry diners….I cannot say, but expectations are high.
When I reach the entrance, there is no fanfare, no circus awaiting me, instead a smiling waiter waiting to show me to a table. The décor is simple, quaint and Asian in style, there is a carafe of water and assortment of condiments (chutney, raita, etc) already on each table and the simple menu offers a decent choice of starters (mostly tandoori dishes), chicken/meat/vegetarian mains (mainly karahi style), daily specials and customary rice/bread. Apologies if I start to hurry here, but I am eager to describe the food.
I am placed very close to the kitchen and the aromas wafting towards me are exotic and enticing; this is probably why I proceed to order much more than I can finish! For starters (yes, plural, but at such prices why not?), I opt for lamb chops (£5.20), panner tikka (£2.80) and a sheekh kebab (80p).
The lamp chops (above) with the dry meat main are arguably the two most talked about dishes on the menu and with good reason. The four large juicy chops have been smothered in a spicy garam masala marinade, which after roasting, encrusts the meat with a deep and rich, smoky flavoured coating. Possibly still intoxicated by those aforementioned aromas, I lose all sense of decorum and find myself unabashedly, but quite rightly, eating with, then licking clean, my fingers. The chops steal centre stage, but the sheekh kebab is also tasty and flavoursome and is served together with the chops upon a sizzling skillet, whilst the panner (below), resembling my favourite cheese, hellim (also known popularly as halloumi), is firm yet velvety and complements the meat well.
For the next course, I order the dry meat (£5.60) and karahi chicken (£5.60) with a nan (£0.80) and later, tandoori parata (£1.80). I cannot do the dry meat (below right) justice; it is simply the tastiest curry I have ever had. Beautiful morsels of lamb are roasted slowly until they literally melt into the satisfyingly intense sauce. What is left is the most delicious spicy caramel paste that should be lovingly ladled from the pot to the lips with the aid of a freshly-baked nan or parata (both excellent). The karahi (below left) is nice too, made with juicy chunks of chicken, but is thoroughly eclipsed by the lamb.
At this point, I am totally stuffed, well, almost totally as I still ask for a dessert. I know I will not, I cannot, fully appreciate it after such a gross amount of food, but as those that know me would testify, I cannot not order dessert. As I am relatively naïve when it comes to Asian sweets, I ask the waiter for his recommendation and he brings a portion of gulab jamun (£2.00). These are basically small balls of dough, cream and flour in a sugar syrup infusion, somewhat similar to Turkish lokma. They are brought piping hot and prove intensely sweet; a decent offering, though not one I am eager to retry.
The bill comes to a princely sum of £24.60 – regulars will tell you what an achievement it is to break the £20 barrier and one only realised by me ordering two starters and two mains i.e. enough food for two people
It is hard to find fault with New Tayyabs; at what they do, they are terrific. The food is delicious, the staff are friendly and there is a nice buzz generated by the open kitchen and large groups of diners. However, if I really wanted to be captious, I could complain that the waiter asked me twice whether I was ready for my main dishes, whilst I was still very obviously enjoying my starters and that my nan order was misplaced, forcing me to wait anxiously for something to dip into that delicious lamb dish, but such minor blunders can easily be forgiven.
I thoroughly enjoyed the meal and will surely return the next time I fancy a curry. Indeed, were I a bigger fan of Indian cuisine (I maybe eat it 2/3 times a year), I would most probably proclaim NT as one of my favourite London restaurants, but instead, I am afraid it will have to make do with being only my favourite Asian restaurant.
83 Fieldgate Street, London, E1 1JU
tel: 020 7247 6400
nearest tube: Aldgate East, Whitechapel