Tayyabs seems to have a strong foothold in popular folklore as one of those places you just have to try. As a result it is noisy, hot and crowded.
Tayyabs is famously BYOB- sweetest of all acronyms- and having drawn a blank on the haul from the Tube, we happened upon Shelly Food and Wine at 193C Whitechapel Road- an oasis in a desert of identikit omnibeers, with an insanely good selecton behind unassuming frontage. Thus fortified with a selection of Sierra Nevadas, Flying Dogs, Beavertowns and the odd Brooklyn and Brewdog, we rolled up just in time for our 9.15pm reservation…
Or that was the plan anyway. It turns out that having booked online after 5pm doesn’t guarantee you a table, as that’s when they apparently run a printoff of their reservations for the evening. And weren’t on it. Queues are inevitable, even on a Thursday night, so booking a table merely guarantees you a place in a slightly shorter line.
The restaurant sprawls over five or six distinct ‘zones’ and the unflappable staff were a blur of perpetual motion, gliding through the ranks of punters and up and down stairs and between tables, all the while bearing sizzling skillets of food which trail pungent plumes of garlic and ginger and chilli potent enough to prickle the eyes and catch at the back of your throat. That they do this with enviable levels of surefootedness and radiating calm is all the more remarkable.
Having to wait for 40 minutes when we’d booked, on a humid evening: your mood scarcely lightens when empty tables can be glimpsed here and there and every fresh minute seems to bring more hungry people… that would normally seem a prescription straight from one of Hell’s inner circles. And yet, I’d go back there tomorrow.
But you don’t come to Tayyabs for curry and rice. You come for meat: we have, anyway. You come because they understand some fundamental things here: the alchemical action of fire on flesh for one, with their lamb chops achieving quasi-mystical status. In the interest of balance, I’ve heard very good things of their vegetarian menu, which does them credit when so much of their reputation is red in tooth and claw.
So meat it was, then. In the (surprising) absence of a formal mixed grill option on the menu, we made our own: chicken tikka, lamb kofte. A few tightly-packed and crisp samosas. And they are all excellent, the onions grilled til they give up their sweetness and the lamb- so often overdone elsewhere- is tender and sweet. The breads- one peshwari, one keema naan- are superb examples in lightness. A token dish of saag aloo was anything but, arriving thick and rich and glossy. These act as a tease for the main event before the arrival of the lamb.
Two sorts of lamb chops, naturally; the Thursday Special lamb is highly regarded among local regulars, so was a foregone conclusion. They came smothered in the fiery massala whose fumes had tantalised earlier. Then- sizzling, spiced dry chops. The meat has just the right amount of ‘give’ for knife and fork, and then it’s down to the business of tearing and sucking the last, tandoor-singed, scraps from their bones. Finicky dining, this is not.
This isn’t the place for an intimate date anyway, but rather somewhere where formalities can be abandoned and the serious business of separating flesh from bone can take centre stage.
You won’t enjoy an intimate evening here: the closeness of the tables and the clatter of intense busyness is not conducive to whispering sweet nothings. If you can take the queuing and the hubbub and the heat and the constant movement around you, you’ll be rewarded with some memorable food.
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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.