I love watching a chef work the tandoor. It’s something about the calm, economical movements, I think: the minimal fuss. You appreciate their efficiency, especially knowing, from limited experience, how ferociously hot those ovens are; and how reaching in and slapping the dough-laden gaddi ‘pillow’ against the sides- and getting it to stick- is harder than it looks, when your priority is to get your forearm out of there sharpish without needing a skin graft.
And the tandoor at Lahore Kebabish is very busy indeed. The orders crowd in as I wait: one for seven nan, stacked on foil at brief intervals and wrapped for takeaway with massed chapli kebabs, another for three bags of rotis and dhals and curries. Family sized orders. A good sign, that.
The menu is full of familiar Pakistani favourites- we are in similar territory here to Khyber Cuisine (close by on Corporation Road and reviewed recently) with its paya (trotters), nihari lamb and bone-in curries. There are some vegetarian choices but they are outnumbered two to one by the meaty, as you might expect.
A good haleem is a lovely thing. Seven kinds of lentils, wheat and minced beef have been cooked together for four hours and then pounded into this thick, murky paste. It’s hefty stuff, finished with the slivered heat of raw ginger and carrying real body and spice, a sturdy stew you’ll find hard to forget.
If I had been taking notes, I’d have scribbled something like this: ‘Keema nan? 2.50? ffs!’ And that’s as eloquent as I need to be, really, because this old favourite is every bit as good as I want and need it to be, and ludicrously cheap, too.
It’s hard to fault the texture, flavour or finish of the chicken tikka, so why bother? Thighs a striking scarlet, some lovely tandoor singeing: they should be charging more. Most do. Obviously at these prices you’re not getting chicken with farm to fork antecedents detailed on the menu (‘Our chicken comes from a nearby farm, has a decent golf handicap and runs a charming little boutique refillables business in its spare time…’) But it absolutely hits its mark and it’s all yours for £3.50.
And if the value here hasn’t quite slapped you round the chops yet, their wholewheat tawa roti are three for a pound.
No, that’s not a typo.
They’re soft and nutty and just the thing to scoop up my meat curry. The plain-speaking menu calls this a ‘hot and spicy slow cooked curry that has loads of flavour’ and they’re not kidding. It’s a thin, loose gravy with spades of garlic and chilli punch, sliced green chillies dotting the surface and seeds speckling its depths. The lamb comes on the bone, and it’s very good too: there is one boneless chicken curry on the memu but otherwise it’s roll up your sleeves and get busy. Don’t be put off by that.
Now, by the time you read this, Lahore will be in their final days at this address. Happily they are moving to much larger premises just a few doors down, so you’ll find it easier to get a table. Have a pint in The Grange, then come here and feast and consider it time well spent. Everyone needs a place like this on their radar and in their repertoire. Somewhere unpretentious and unvarnished.
Lahore does something it is easy to take for granted. It doesn’t serve Instagrammable plates or cosy up to social media chancers. Why would it? It doesn’t need to. It just feeds people well and simply and heartily. Would it flourish in most other areas of Cardiff? Of course not. But it fits here in Grangetown: owned by, run by, and hugely popular with the Pakistani community. This isn’t polished ‘restaurant’ food, but no-frills cooking popular with people who know this stuff. And that’ll more than do, won’t it?
Lahore Kebabish, 160 Penarth Road, Grangetown, Cardiff CF11 6NJ
12-11, open every day
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.