Saturday, June 23, 2012


On the summer solstice I had my first experience of legendary Punjabi restaurant Tayyab's in Whitechapel. Regularly listed as one of the best - and cheapest restaurants in London, it was only because I happened to walk past it on my way to a private view of C's upholstery class that I ever thought of going there. I'd always thought it was probably one of those over-hyped places that's listed in every London guide book and eventually loses its touch.

We hadn't booked and thought it might not be too busy on a weeknight. Ha. After managing to get inside we finally worked out that we should join the end of a long, long queue snaking around the edge of the restaurant, standing inches from people dining and with waiters pushing past carrying sizzling dishes every now and then. This is when a vague memory kicked in of having read something about it being crazy there, so we just took it as part of the experience. We'd been told we'd have to wait 20 -25 minutes, which seemed impossible as the queue was so long and was hardly moving. But just at the 25 minute mark, we were whisked to a table and seated not far from the open kitchen.

Being starving and having absolutely no idea what to order, we asked our waiter to recommend one meat dish and one vegetarian, and I made us order a Peshwari naan because I love them so. They had yummy looking lassis - and a huge counter full of really amazing looking desserts/sweets in fact, but we'll have to go back and investigate those next time. Oh, and I now realise why everyone else was eating lamb chops, so back for those too.

Since it's a grill, everything comes piping hot in sizzling dishes. C remarked that it was like being in a disaster movie, with waiters veering around at high speed carrying heavily smoking red hot dishes all around us, inches away. It was pretty much like being in a scene from Towering Inferno.

The level of spice in each dish is not really indicated on the menu, so you just have to pour a glass of water and go for it. At first even the poppadom tasted unusually spicy - ok I coughed a bit and had to drink water. Then the rest of our food came and I ended up scraping the bottom of the dish. It was totally delicious: chicken in a spicy red sauce and lentils with baby aubergines. The Peshwari naan was excellent. By the end of it everything sort of merged into perfection, despite the fact that this wasn't exactly St. John - there was a huge TV screen showing a football match, stark lighting and a not very photogenic interior. It didn't need to be, the food was enough. And the bill? £10 a head. I would always walk the extra fifteen minutes away from Brick Lane to come here now - the food is miles ahead of any Indian or Pakistani restaurant there. 
I know, *newsflash*: Tayyab's is good. Hold the front page.

When it was time to go we glanced outside. The streets of Whitechapel look pretty bleak at the best of times, but it was so cosy in there with all the smoke and fire and spice that we hadn't noticed it was blowing a gale and raining sideways outside. And was pitch black. Oh, and freezing cold. At 9.30pm on the summer solstice? Welcome to my home city. Yes, I was wearing suede ballet flats, no socks, no jacket and had no umbrella.

We dodged puddles on the way to Commercial Road, clutching a small, ineffectual umbrella between us. Thankfully the amber light of a free taxi appeared out of the mist and I, having spent only £10 on dinner, very gratefully clambered in and C blew away with her umbrella like Mary Poppins. (Then I had to get out of the cab a ten minute walk from home because I didn't have enough cash to get me all the way, thanks to red lights and traffic; but that's another story.)

So Tayyab's = good. Go there. They don't serve alcohol but you can bring your own and they don't charge corkage.

{I don't have a single photo, but C took this lovely one of me outside!}


ephemerette said...

Glad you enjoyed it Claire. Yes it's full on but it's a million times better than any of the horrid places on Brick lane. *craveschopsforbreakfast*

earworm said...

aah london adventures, I can never get enough of them!

Anonymous said...

I went there a few years ago!! My cousin's husband Balvinder took us there, carrying a bag full of booze. And yes, I did like it very very much!

charlotte said...

I'm still thinking about that peshwari naan.
We must go back (armed with booze and umbrellas) for lamb chops!