This destination Indian restaurant is well worth jumping on the Central Line for
Age: Just over three.
Where exactly is it? About a 15-minute walk east from South Woodford tube, which is, for the oblivious, just a couple of stops from Leytonstone. On your way to the restaurant you might wish to pause halfway for a snifter at historic boozer The George.
So what goes on there? Upmarket Indian dining, created by Head Chef Dayashankar Sharma from his experiences travelling along the 1500-mile trail that connects Bangladesh with Afghanistan. Since 2016 his baby has garnered a host of gongs, including nods from Michelin and Best Indian Restaurant in London at the Asian Curry Awards.
What should I eat? Pairing classic flavours with more cutting-edge ideas, Sharma’s new menu for 2020 majors (inevitably) on vegan: a good example on our visit was the stem broccoli with crushed black pepper, unusually flavoured with roasted cumin and lime juice. But we couldn’t resist diving into the classic dishes too, from butter-soft caramelised seared scallops to a smooth seafood cake of prawn, crab and tilapia – both lifted by a spicy tomato, roasted garlic and pepper chutney. And we enjoyed an extremely tender chicken thigh masala, the sauce effortlessly balancing the mild fire of ginger with fruity acidity.
Any must-have dish? Hell, yeah: the lamb chops. These big boys are marinated for five hours – at room temperature rather than in the fridge, said the chef when asked afterwards – before being blackened on the grill. The resulting meaty lollipops were probably the juiciest we’ve sampled in recent memory and, for once, carried plenty of meat on the bone. Though it wasn’t needed, an accompanying smooth mint sauce was outstanding, too.
What about sides and snacks? Be careful when you order: it’s easy to fill up as these were all ridiculously tasty. Non-greasy crisp poppadoms come with moreish dips, while garlic nans are best used eagerly to mop up the delectable black lentil dahl, another highlight. Pilau rice is seasoned with whole spices, cumin and saffron, and you simply must try the chaat, a delicious bowl of wheat crisps, spicy chickpea, lotus root crisps, yoghurt and fresh mint. Yep, we waddled back to the tube.
The interior: discuss. More Mayfair than Zone 4: it certainly felt akin to West End dining, all sexy dim lighting, taupe banquettes and dark mahogany tables with warmly illuminated gold walls.
And what do I drink? Wine and beer options aside, the comprehensive cocktail menu is a good place to start. We rode the Dry January wave, with an alcohol-free wild berry mojito to start, just the right side of sweet, followed by a mango and passionfruit, with lime and mint, which matched the lamb rather well.
What’s the service like? Friendly and laidback, but not intrusive. And it was nice to see the chef wandering the room mid-service saying hello to regulars and chatting about the dishes. In fact, it was all so slick that we found ourselves ordering dessert, too: the blood orange sorbet is a real palate-cleanser.
Do say: ‘Honestly, it’s only two stops from Leytonstone!’
Don’t say: ‘But can we BYO like at Masala India?’
Leytonstoner ate as guests of the Grand Trunk Road.