The reputation of The Grand Trunk Road goes before it. Chef Dayashankar Sharma was head chef at Michelin-starred Mayfair Indian restaurant Tamarind. and Kensington classic Zaika while the owner, Rajesh Suri’s restaurateur credentials hail from management experience with the Oberoi hotel group in India followed by a portfolio of five star and Michelin restaurants, most recently the Tamarind Group. The inspiration for this unique restaurant in South Woodford came from a five-week trip that the pair took along the Grand Trunk Road, the 2,000-mile road that connects Kabul in Afghanistan through India and Pakistan to Bangladesh. Every recipe on the menu at the Grand Trunk Road comes from the research they did into the food they encountered along the way.
It’s a place I’ve been meaning to visit for some time so I was delighted to travel to South Woodford. On a rather damp and chilly September evening, there was no chance to sit outside on the small terrace, but the restaurant has been carefully adapted to meet COVID-19 guidelines with discrete perspex hygiene screens dividing the tables (which just make it look as if I can’t take a photo in focus) and with all staff wearing masks. So, although the Grand Trunk Road was refreshingly busy, there was no lack of social distancing.
Greeted by Rajesh Suri, we sat down to check through the menu. There’s a good mixture of options with plenty of choices if you happen to be looking for a vegetarian dish – and with everything labelled to show gluten-free, dairy-free and nut-free dishes. We nibbled on pappadums with homemade chutneys while we worked out what to pick.
In fact, Chef Sharma made it easy for us by offering a platter of three of the appetisers each. We both particularly loved the pan-seared sea scallop which came with a spicy tomato, roasted garlic and pepper chutney and a garnish of peppers in olive oil. Cooked to perfection, it had just a little spicing so that the delicate seafood wasn’t overwhelmed. Rawalpindi Ka Murch Kebab was a tiny kebab of ground chicken with baby spinach, spices, red onion dip and creamy yoghurt while Kukure Bhajia was a tender potato cake served with a duo of delicious chutneys (I think tamarind and coriander?). Presentation and the flavours both lived up to Chef Sharma’s Michelin background.
For our main courses, we picked one dish from the Grill and Tandoor section and one from the main section. My Punjabi Grilled Choosa (a half chicken) was a deceptively simple dish of marinated chicken served on the bone. Cooking spiced grilled chicken without ending up with dry meat or overwhelming the natural taste of the meat is in my view a little like cooking a perfect omelette – much harder than you might think. My dish was immaculately prepared and presented, with tender and moist meat and accompanied by a mint chutney
My companion was truly impressed with her generous portion of Awadhi prawn curry. Not only were the king prawns moist and flavoursome but the sauce was rich with fresh, ripe tomatoes.
We enjoyed a few side dishes too. I loved the Jeera Aloo – baby potatoes with cumin seeds, turmeric and fresh coriander – enough to go check the Great British Chefs site where chef Sharma has shared a few recipes (that one isn’t there, but I’ve found a few others to try!).
And, Dal Bukhara, a rich lentil dish with tomato and fenugreek finished with cream, is something I could eat as a main course in its own right. I avoided trying the naan, as I always do, simply because I know that once I start eating a good naan I won’t leave space for dessert!
As it was, we were both unable to consider the idea of anything more than a little ice cream. The Grand Trunk Road’s signature rose and avocado flavour is something that should be mandatory, as is the delicately citrus clementine.
We were both impressed by our cocktails too. For me, a Lahore Bramble with Gin, Cassis, Lemon juice & homemade aromatic spice syrup was an excellent start to the meal, while my friend who was driving loved her Wild Berry Mojito which was good enough not to miss the alcohol!
For reservations at Grand trunk Road call 020 8505 1965.