Monday, 2 November 2009

East Meets West

East London is a long way away. To a tribal Londoner like me, East London and South London are similarly foreign. However the difference between East and South is that there used to be no reason to go to either, but now, East has become cool. And popular. And rife with the type of laid-back well-sourced reasonably-priced food that I love. So I have to go there from time to time.

I have been meaning to go to Tayyabs for some time now. It has been open for 37 years, 26 of which I have been alive and 25 of those 26 have been spent eating “solids”. So it really is long overdue. To those of you who either don’t read any London restaurant propaganda, don’t work in the city, or aren’t Punjab families living by Whitechapel Road, you may not be familiar with Tayyabs. It is one of those places that people like to brag about being “in the know” about, despite there being a massive queue outside every evening. It is said to serve “the best curry in London” for less than the price of the cab it takes to get there.

Our first error was getting a cab there from Edgware Road. Some oddball asked if he could share our cab. That doesn’t happen when you are going to Hampstead. Oddballs don’t go to Hampstead. Anyway, we got there an hour later to be greeted by a scene that looked like Cuckoo on a Friday night, only more BYO. Fortunately, one of my more intrepid and shameless friends had been holding our table for 15 minutes against the tsunami of diners, both in and outside the restaurant. So we wedged ourselves into our seats, wriggled for a bit of elbow room, and studied the reassuringly brief menu. Everything sounded great, so that is what we ordered. As I was getting to the end of my ordering, food started to arrive. Five minutes later, it had all arrived. Most of it was very good. Some things were spectacular. The sesame naan, the peshwari naan, the barbecued tandoori lamb chops (which I hear are well known), in fact all the dry spiced meat and the dhal were memorable. The flavours were sharp and different, and none of the food left you with that typical post-curry heavy feeling that makes functioning afterwards so difficult. We cooled our palates with Tayyabs answer to a mini milk and before you could say “it took longer to get here than I did to eat”, we had been turfed out onto pavement, stinking like an Indian kitchen, so they could squeeze in another 12 seatings before the hour was out.

The food is great and the prices embarrassingly low (fifteen quid each), but I won’t be hurrying back. A restaurant for me is about more than just the food. The experience has to be taken into account. And while fun, this was all a bit too frantic and hurried to really savour the food.

In the famous words of the Pet Shop Boys, and with a tune now adopted by my sometimes shy fellow Arsenal fans, it is now time to “Go West” (or Three Nil on Saturday afternoon). Or, for some inexplicable reason, Go Westfield.

A Sunday trip to Westfield seemed like a good idea at the time. Never again. It is the least relaxing way to spend a Sunday. I feel cheated out of half a day of weekend. I was thinking about taking the morning off this morning to compensate. But such is my duty to my small but loyal readership (and apparently global – my recently installed Google Analytics tells me of my 3 readers in California, my one in South Africa and two in Australia (whom I know well!) – anyway, this makes me sound small fry), I must inform and educate on places I visit to aid in the acquisition of The Knowledge!

So where does one eat at Westfield. The options are many. And I suspect all would have been better than the one we chose. “The South Terrace” boasts the same collection of restaurants that you find on any typically soulless new promenade in a newly gentrified area. A conveyor Japanese, a flat pack Italian, a faux French bistro. A private equity owned alley of mediocrity. You wouldn’t think choosing badly is possible but it is. And its name is Balans.

Balans is a small chain of restaurant-cum-bars, and as they are situated in generally quite decent areas (Soho, High St. Ken) and I had received recommendation on this particular one, I thought this might be the least worst option. It may well prove to be that, although I don’t ever intend to find out.

We were first showed to a table at the far end of their al-fresco terrace, the only table with no cushions and untouched by the kindly hand of the porch heater. It looked like the naughty table. We declined and were instead offered a seat at their bar, offering a glimpse into their open plan kitchen (they are proud of this). Someone needs to tell the owners of this chain that they do not want their kitchen to be open plan. This is not like the robata grill at Roka, where you get to watch the expert chefs delicately balancing flavours. This is not the tapas bar at Barrafina, where your mouth waters as simple ingredients are perfectly combined. This is Balans. The food is pre-packed, processed and warmed up. I don’t want to know where it has come from. I try not to think about it as I eat it. I hope that by combining enough different flavours in my mouth at one time, that by thinking of the sustenance that this amount of calories will give me, that I will forget about the provenance of my meal.

The menu performs the heinous crime of offering a complete cluster”$%* of national cuisines (mezze plate, burgers, calamari, gyozas, stir fries). However, we were hungry, it was late and we had accepted our fate. I ordered the “famous Balans burger”. She had scrambled eggs with toast and a contingency plan of granola with yoghurt. We tried not to watch as they removed it from its bag, or however else they prepare it. Instead we tried to make ourselves comfortable on bar stools that ludicrously both lean forward and are too wide for the space they occupy. 25 minutes later the food arrived. By this time, and for the second time in a weekend, we stank of kitchen. Where I have economised on food this weekend, I have lost out on dry-cleaning costs. The food was predictably gross. Lazily prepared, the scrambled eggs plate was dirty, the toast was cold, and the eggs looked like they had been thrown up by an unwell chicken. My burger was soggy, under-seasoned, enveloped in nasty cheese and presented on a squidgy bed of tired chips. We shared the granola and yoghurt. A true least worst. It cost 25 pounds. I suppose that is about right, sadly. In a fair world, it would have cost ten.

The moral of the story: Stay central.


89 Fieldgate St, London

020 7247 6400


Westfield London

Ariel Way

Shepherd's Bush

020 8600 3320


  1. "...greeted by a scene that looked like Cuckoo on a Friday night, only more BYO." Classic.

  2. i am confused about your statement that oddballs don't go to Hamstead. You are clearly from Hamstead and well... i imagine you as the human incarnation of the word.

  3. Do you hang out in "Hamstead" Anonymous?