Murray Blake

London food and coffee writer

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49 Frith Street, W1D 4SG
Nearest tube: Leicester Square
Hoppers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
website; map

Hoppers is the latest venture from the Sethi family, London’s most successful restaurant siblings.  Their restaurant empire includes the wonderful Gymkhana and Trishna, and they have provided backing for Lyle’s, Bao and Bubbledogs. Karam Sethi is the culinary brain of the family,  opening Trishna at the age of 24 and going on to win a Michelin star there four years later. He is a largely self-taught chef, having been heavily influenced by his mother’s cooking and childhood summers spent in India (he also spend a year in the kitchen at The Sheraton in New Delhi).  The Sethis’ have a conventional middle-class background: their father is a chartered accountant from Delhi who came to Britain in the Seventies, his wife joined him a few years later and the family settled in Finchley, North London.  Jyotin, the eldest, left a high-flying career in investment banking to become a managing director of the business – he has arranged funding from a range of private investors to supplement the family’s funds.  The youngest sibling, Sunaina also had a brief spell in banking before training in wine whilst working at Trishna, she is now operations director of the group and focuses on devising drinks menus as well as overseeing front of house matters.  She served me on my second visit to Hoppers and was an effervescent presence in the busy restaurant.


Hoppers opened on 28th October on the site that used to house the wonderful Koya – it has a street food slant, inspired by the road shacks of Tamil Nadu in the southeast of India and Sri Lanka.  A hopper is a pancake made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk; the menu focuses on hoppers and dosas, along with some small dishes and a couple of curries (“karis”).  I went along on its opening weekend and was really surprised at the lack of queue (this won’t last long – apparently AA Gill and Giles Coren had already visited in the first few days after opening, I expect a positive review from one of them would tip things over the edge…).  The cocktail list is heavily inspired by Sri Lankan drinks which is a brave move and it didn’t quite pay off for me.  My pineapple and black pepper punch was made with Arrack, a Sri Lankan spirit derived from the fermented sap of coconut flowers, and was then finished with cream soda and pineapple sorbet.  This all sounds pretty nice and would probably work well on a Sri Lankan beach, but the arrack’s harsh, burny flavour dominated and the other ingredients melted away to leave a pretty unpleasant taste in the mouth.  With a little tweaking, I think this cocktail list could be a real treat and I suspect they will act quickly to improve their recipes.  On my second visit I steered clear of the cocktails and had a decent Sri Lankan Lion stout which was laced with black liquorice and hints of coffee (I think they should add a couple of curry-friendly London craft beers to their drinks list though).


Our first dish, chicken heart chukka (£4.5), was truly sublime – the hearts were meaty but melted in the mouth and the chilli/garam masala spicing was strong but hit the right spot.  Another highlight was bone marrow varuval with roti (£4.5) – three smallish half bones smothered in thick masala sauce.  The marrow wasn’t plentiful but it was rich and decadent, the masala sauce married with the fatty marrow and was great for smothering the buttery roti in.  The duck roti (£5) was also a hit – the shredded duck had been smothered in dry spices and encased in a crunchy wholewheat bread.


And then to the Hopper – a street food dish that was first popularised in London by Emily Dobbs at Druid Steet Market, it is a bowl-shaped pancake made from fermented rice and coconut batter cooked in a special wok called an appachatti.  It is common to serve it with a cooked egg in the centre of the hopper and then to pile curry over the top.  On my first visit we had the egg hopper with lamb curry – the hopper was light and crispy, with a hint of sweetness initially, followed by a little punch of sourness (I assume coming from the fermentation) – unusual but really tasty and the perfect accompaniment to a spicy curry.


On my second visit we opted for the dosa, along with lamb and black pork curries.  The dosa was just about the best I have ever eaten – crisp, light and golden but still served piping hot. And at £5.5 each, the curries are amazing value – the lamb curry was my favourite, the meat was juicy and the sauce thick and dense, with fairly punchy spicing.  The meat in the black pork curry was a bit drier than the lamb, but the sauce was more complex, with layers of lemongrass and roasted curry powder.


The Ceylonese spit chicken (£17.5) wasn’t executed perfectly – the meat had been marinated in fennel, cumin, coriander seed, ginger, garlic and chilli, then cooked on a rotisserie, but the breast flesh was a bit dry and the skin wasn’t crispy.  The leg meat was the star of the show, it had absorbed the spices and remained juicy so it could be pulled off the bone with a hunk of roti.  Inevitably, they don’t take bookings so expect to queue, but the no bookings policy is an essential part of the business model here – the pricing is so keen that they can’t afford to have tables empty for any time at all and Frith street is a prime, central location.  Suffice to say, Hoppers is well worth the wait.

Food arrives when it is ready and we started being served minutes after ordering; the seating is pretty tight and you’ll be close to your neighbouring diners, which adds to the fast, buzzy atmosphere.

Verdict: Sure to be London’s next big thing 9/10




East London reviews

Bad Egg
City Point, Unit 1b, 1 Ropemaker St, EC2Y 9AW
Nearest tube: Moorgate
020 3006 6222
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Bad Egg opened just before Christmas last year and is the latest venture from Scottish barbecue guru Neil Rankin, former head chef of Pitt Cue and John Salt.  It is an all-day diner with a hipster bent (but ultimately probably aimed at City boys) – the menu is mostly composed of “dirty” meat dishes with a vague Korean theme (well, at least kimchi appears quite frequently on the menu).  The menu is long and muddled: sub-genres are burgers, ribs, eggy things and (strangely) tacos; pricing is reasonable with the most expensive dish at £11.  The set up is you would expect – they have the requisite craft beers on hand (from Beavertown, Fourpure and Camden breweries), the decor is stripped back and the furnishings reclaimed.


I couldn’t resist choosing the bad egg burger (£11), composed of a beef patty with cheese fondue, pickles, onions and, of course, a soft boiled egg.  The burger was slightly smaller than I expected but was well seasoned, cooked nicely pink and came decadently smothered in rich, runny cheese.  The cheese fondue was a masterstroke – the cheese was the right strength and was nicely liquid without being stringy or cloying.  Disappointingly, my egg was a bit over cooked – it was not as runny as it should have been, although otherwise I was really impressed with the dish.  I had kimchi fries (£5) on the side which complemented the burger really well – the kimchi was spicier than average and had very good texture, the skinny fries were bog standard but were brought to life by the zesty kimchi.  Service was attentive but ineffectual (they confused our drinks orders and served a pint very shy of the watermark).

Verdict: worth a visit despite the mixed-up concept, odd location and slightly inept service 6/10


Crate Brewery
The White Building, Unit 7, Queen’s Yard, E9 5EN
Nearest tube: Hackney Wick
07834 275687
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I then ventured further east for a quick visit to Crate Bewery which is based in a canal-side warehouse a few minutes’ walk from Hackney Wick station. The bar/restaurant is right next door to the brewery itself and owners Neil Hinchley, Tom and Jess Seaton (who are also responsible for the nearby Counter Cafe) have done a great job of converting the former print factory into an open and comfortable space. Unsurprisingly, they have a great range of beers (Lager, Golden Ale, India Pale Ale, Best Bitter and Stout, £3.8-4.5) – I sampled the Best Bitter which was malty with notes of caramel and a touch of fruitiness, recommended.  They offer a little range of handmade stone-baked pizzas (£8-12, apparently all devised by Jess and her mum) which are prepared in an open kitchen in the middle of the bar.  We chose the wackiest of the bunch: sage, potato and white truffle with mozzarella and parmesan (£10).  The pizza arrived quickly with a waft of pungent truffle aromas – the topping was thin but very strongly flavoured with the parmesan, sage and truffle all fighting for attention.  The potato had been grated over the base and softened the flavour of the other components, also adding texture.  We shared this between two and I think it would have been tough to eat a whole one because of the rich and punchy flavours, but a slice or two works very well with a nice hoppy beer.

great beer and interesting pizzas 6/10


Shahi Karahi
22 Osborn Street, E1 6TD
Nearest tube: Aldgate East
020 31162080
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Shahi Karahi is a Pakistani restaurant and takeaway at the (quiet) south end of Brick Lane, they specialise in tandoori grills and kebabs but also have a range of traditional curries.  I went along for a quick midweek lunch – their food is fantastic value and they offer a set lunch deal of a meat dish with chips or rice and salad for £6. The set up is pretty basic – they have an open grill at front of restaurant and a dining area with about 60 covers in the back.


The chops had been first cooked in the tandoori oven and then finished on the grill so they were nicely charred and retained a slightly smoky flavour.  Our waiter would not reveal the components of the “secret” marinade but the spicing was bang on – there were hints of coriander leading to a nice chilli kick.  The salad was fresh and the chips were cooked from frozen but were nice enough.

Verdict: great value and authentic Pakistani food prepared with care 7/10

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A Medley of Reviews

3A Stroud Green Rd, N4 2DQ
Nearest tube: Finsbury Park
020 7263 3562
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Dotori serve both Korean and Japanese food.  For me, the two cuisines do not mix – bold, rambunctious and hearty Korean food bullies its delicate, healthy and subtle Japanese counterpart.  Therefore we went entirely Korean on our visit.  Their starters are mainly Japanese, with the stand-out Korean offering being the intriguing sounding kimchi pancake (£5.5); it is probably best to start your meal with kimchi – they have the option of traditional or cucumber (both £2).  We opted for the cucumber which was full of flavour – very tart and with a rich spicy body, the fermentation was perfectly measured so that the cucumber retained its crunch.  This was on par with the kimchi that I have eaten in the popular Korean restaurants near Tottenham Court Road in “K-Town”.


Dotori have eleven Korean barbecue options (£6.5-9 with a seafood platter at £16) – we went for the safe option of beef and pear which was tasty but unremarkable: the quality of the meat was good – it had been cut very thinly, marinated in a rich soy/pear sauce and then cooked quickly.  The seafood options looked more interesting and if you like spicy food you can opt to make any of the dishes extra hot.  They also offer a range of meat, fish and tofu-based stews (£7-8) many of which involve beans, be they red, black or soy.  We had a half bottle Korean rice wine (£9.5) which was eye-wateringly strong and should not be drank by anyone with a weak constitution.  The restaurant is small, noisy, bustling and cramped but still manages to be oddly cosy, possibly because the staff are extremely friendly and the clientele unpretentious.

Verdict: definitely worth the trip to Finsbury Park but I would recommend sticking to the Korean menu 7.5/10

The Floral Hall, Borough Market, SE1 1TL
Nearest tube: London Bridge
0845 034 7300
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Roast sits in the mezzanine above the bustling Borough Market and has been a successful exponent of simple British food for the past ten years.  It was founded by the man who kick started the modern “refined” curry movement in Britain, Iqbal Wahhab, owner of the Cinnamon Club.  The menu at Roast is unfussy and seasonal, boasting classics like slow roast pork belly (£22.5), hake fillet (£25) and fish and chips (£16).  This being game season, they have a whole roast grouse at £30 and redleg partridge at £24.


They open through the week at 7am so we went along early one morning to try their supposedly famous fry-up.  The breakfast menu is curt, focusing on Sassenachian (£15) and Scottish fry-ups (£16.5)- the Scottish version boasts tattie scones and a flat sausage whilst the Anglo option centers on bubble and squeak.  I opted for the full English – the star of the show was the black pudding which is sourced from Ramsay’s of Carluke in west-central Scotland – the texture was moist but it retained a nice crunch, the spicing was subtle and the body rich and earthy.  Next best was the bubble and squeak which was composed of light and fluffy potato and slightly sweet but crunchy cabbage, along with the odd slice of carrot, I think it had been fried in butter so it was incredibly unhealthy but mightily tasty.  The fried tomatoes and mushrooms were unremarkable – they were rather tasteless and not dissimilar to standard supermarket offerings.  Both the bacon and the eggs were of decent quality and cooked well.  The major disappointment though was the sausages which are apparently a “Roast recipe” but seemed to be composed of cheap meat and were severely underseasoned.  I also had a filter coffee which was truly terrible – unfortunately the London coffee revolution has not yet reached Roast and I hope some hipster baristas invade and string up the oaf that produced such repugnant coffee.

Verdict: a breakfast that was less than the sum of its parts – it is not in the same league as Caravan and I would strongly recommend going there instead 4/10

55 Stoke Newington Church Street, N16 OAR
Nearest tube: Stoke Newington
0207  249  0344
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Rasa is a family-run Indian mini-chain – the first (entirely vegetarian) restaurant appeared in 1994 and there are now six restaurants in the stable, including one in Newcastle.  We went to the Stoke Newington branch which is painted a gaudy bright pink and about a five minute walk from Stoke Newington train station.  The food is Keralan vegetarian (there is a meat/fish serving Rasa Travancore opposite).  We started with a great little mix of pickles and chutneys, which are all apparently home made – stand outs were the rich, smooth garlic pickle, the punchy lemon pickle and a fruity coriander chutney.  We followed with banana boli (£3.25) deep fried slices of plantain (the batter is made from chickpea flour) served with a salty/sweet peanut dipping sauce – an unhealthy but very tasty starter.


Better still was the Bhel Mix (£3.25) which consisted of crispy chickpeas, puffed rice, crunchy noodles, peanuts and onions, all topped with chopped coriander.  We then moved onto a selection of curries (all £4.5) which were reasonable but unremarkable: the best was a beetroot and yoghurt dish with a smidgen of mustard seeds which added a slight kick, the day’s special mixed veggie curry was well spiced but its components were overcooked; our aubergine with tomato, curry leaves and coriander was simple but well executed – the aubergine was slightly sweet and not at all greasy.  We mopped these up with a fantastic paratha (£2.25) and some light, melt in the mouth poories (£2).

Verdict: an extremely tasty and great value carb overload 7/10

Busaba Eathai
319 Old St, EC1V 9LE
Nearest tube: Old Street
020 7729 0808
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Stuck for somewhere open at 11pm on a Friday night, we stumbled across Busaba Eathai, a Thai chain restaurant which now boasts eleven sites across London (they close at 11.30pm at the weekend).  Busaba serve generic, cheap and cheerful Thai food, with a range of soup and wok noodle dishes, grilled meats, curries and stir-frys.  I think they must rely on customer volume to make money (possibly coupled with cheap ingredients) because their outlets are based in prime locations and the most expensive item on the menu is £12.50.


We started with fishcakes and peanut relish (£5.9) which on the face of it was very tasty, but a couple of hours later when we tried to get to sleep we realised that the dipping sauce must have been laced with MSG – I was hot and restless, with a thumping headache.  I wouldn’t recommend going to Busaba, but if you do end up going there (probably because everywhere else is closed) then ask for your food to be prepared without MSG.  We then moved on to a green chicken curry (£9.5) that was served in a big coconut milk broth, again there may have been MSG involved in this because the sauce was very tasty but not seemingly fresh, the chicken was plasticy and tasteless, but certainly palatable with a big spoonful of said sauce.  We also had the chilli prawn rice with mushrooms (£8.5) which was similar to the sort of meal served by high street Chinese restaurants – the rice was cooked well but the prawns were devoid of character.

Verdict: please avoid this place like the plague….but if nothing else is open apart from kebab shops then eat here but ask for no MSG in your food 1/10

58A Atlantic Rd, SW9 8PY
Nearest tube: Brixton
020 7738 7006
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Opening in 1999, Ichiban was the first sushi bar in Brixton – it has survived waves of gentrification and commercialisation and still sits in its original location in Atlantic Road.  Ichiban’s history is interesting – I came across some discussion about Brixton people boycotting the restaurant due to staff mistreatment, finding a facebook protest page from 2011 stating that a Latin American couple employed in the kitchen had been dismissed and the owner had refused to pay maternity leave wages and unused holidays (also see photos here).  I was oblivious to all of this on my visit to Ichiban and will focus my review on the food, which was decent, although given this mistreatment case I am now not sure I will return.


The menu is vanilla Japanese with a mix of sushi, sashimi, soups, curries and fried rice dishes.  The pricing is very keen with curry and teriyaki dishes all at £6.5-8, sushi pairs £2.7-4.5 and sashimi sets around £10.  After starting with a decent miso soup we opted for a range of tuna and salmon sushi and sashimi.  The fish was very well prepared and fairly fresh – the rice was rolled quite loosely and retained a bit of crunch and texture.  The dining area is very much no frills but the waiting staff were friendly and attentive.

Verdict: decent sushi 6.5/10



42 Albemarle St, W1S 4JH
Nearest tube: Green Park
020 3011 5900
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Gymkhana opened in September 2013 and is the sister restaurant of Michelin-starred Trishna in Marylebone.  It has received rave reviews from all the major critics (scoring 10 out of 10 from Giles Coren in the Times) and was recently voted as the best restaurant in the UK in the national restaurant awards.  Gymkhana is a British colonial term for a sports club and the decor (leather, dark wood and marble) emulates an ex-pat Gentleman’s club.  Chef patron Karem Sethi is a North London boy who started his working life as a caterer, and following a stint in the kitchen at Zuma, opened Trishna at the tender age of 23.  He has since set up the Sethi group which provides financial backing for a number of restaurants in London and abroad, including Bubbledogs.

The menu at Gymkhana is relatively short and relies on British ingredients, including an interesting range of game (roe deer, guinea fowl, pigeon, quail, muntjac). In addition to a selection of fairly typical Indian starters, they offer “nashta” which are tapas style sharing dishes, and a range of meat, seafood and vegetable tikkas.


We started with the now infamous kid goat methi keema, with bheja (brain) on the side (£14) – this was the highlight of the meal for me, the minced goat meat was full of flavour, almost gamey but with just the right fat content so that it was not dry.  The pao buns served alongside were slightly sweet and similar to brioche, they were a perfect way to mop up the fenugreek stock of the curry.  And finally, the brain (top right in the picture above) was glorious – rich, gelatinous, melt in the mouth……certainly my culinary highlight of 2014.


The rather diminutive duck dosa (£8.50) was served in a pancake tipi, the sheltering meat was dense, fibrous and only lightly spiced.  Our final starter, a quail kebab with green chilli chutney was rather underwhelming – the meat was characterless and the chutney, whilst light and refreshing, needed stronger spicing to tart up the lackluster meat.


Tandoori Guinea Fowl (£20) utilised both leg and breast – the meat was superbly tender and had the perfect level of tandoori smokiness; the charred skin added texture and depth of flavour.  The menu advertised a “green mango chat” and I was hoping for a light mango salad, rather than some splinters of mango atop a whole chopped red onion (see above).  The quality of the meat in the Nalli Lamb Kebab (£25) was again very good and the light spicing allowed the deep flavour of lamb to come through.  We finished with suckling pig vindhaloo (£18) – the waitress had warned us that this was very spicy but the resulting dish was, by modern British standards, at most medium spiced.  The curry was delicate enough, the sweet subtleness of the suckling pig was lost in the spicing.  And a final note on the pricing – I think that the main courses are a tad overpriced, especially given portion sizes are small, but I am happy to pay a premium for cooking of this quality.

Verdict: a certainty to get a Michelin star this September – book as soon as you can 9/10



15-17 Blandford St., W1U 3DG
Nearest tube: Bond Street
020 7935 5624
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Trishna is a Michelin-starred Indian in Marylebone, a five minute walk from Oxford Street.  The decor is Scandanavian minimalist with Indian twists, along with some random British pictures (including the classic shot of Vinny Jones grabbing Gazza by the privates).  They have about 10 tables and can bring out a few more outside if the weather is nice.  There is good value to be found here, especially the 4 course pre-theatre menu for £25; the 5 course tasting is £40 and the 7 course £55.  The menu includes wine pairing suggestions if you prefer something more sophisticated than a bottle of Cobra with your curry and they have an interesting and carefully chosen wine list.  I was a bit skeptical about wine with curry but the Austrian Zweigelt we had complemented the food perfectly – it was robust with a slight sweetness that cut through the spiciness of the food.


To start, I sampled lobster and crab salad (£9.5) which was light and fresh, with tangy pea chutney and wonderfully sweet mini cauliflower pakora.  Fried shrimp with carom seed and ginger (£9.75) wasn’t very exciting but had a nice balance to its spicing.  The main course choices concentrate on seafood with a brown crab dish looking the most interesting, but also the most expensive at £22.5.  I opted for guinea fowl tikka (£15) for its novelty value and was  extremely impressed – the meat was gamey, almost nutty and melt in the mouth succulent, with a wonderful tandoori hue.  It was the highlight of the meal for me.  All of the accompaniments were up to scratch with nicely cooked rice and light (not doughy) nan breads.  I am not too keen on Indian desserts so I didn’t order anything for myself, but I had a small taste of my girlfriend’s homemade ice cream which was very good.


Verdict: well worth a visit, but go for the pre-theatre (4 courses for £25).

Also see: edgeandspoon and fttw.

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10 Soho Street, London W1D 3DL
Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road
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Govinda’s is a pure vegetarian restaurant (so veggie food but also without onions, garlic or mushrooms).  It is run by the Hare Krishnas who you often see dancing and being generally cheerful on nearby Oxford Street.  The staff are clad like happy Guantanamo escapees with rat tail haircuts and there is some religious literature near the servery, but otherwise you wouldn’t guess the religious connection: there is no hard sell here.  The restaurant is set up like a canteen and the friendly staff fill up your plate whilst you stand in line.


Their main staple are thalis – they do a small for £6.50 and a large for £8.95.  They also serve paneer in various guises, and somewhat oddly, lasagnas and pizzas.  I chose a small thali along with some pakora (which was dry and stodgy – I wouldn’t recommend this).  I did however really enjoy the thali.  The star of the show was a cauliflower curry which was dense and rich, the cauliflower chunks had broken down and integrated with the tomatoes and coriander spicing.  There was also a bean curry which was almost like a soup with strong spicing and a smattering of kidney beans.  These were both rather unusual (well, at least for me) but very enjoyable.  I washed this all down with a light and fresh mango lassi which also comes recommended.

Verdict: great value thali.

Also see: ilivetoeatandeattolive.

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Salaam Namaste

68, Millman St (off Guilford Street), WC1N 3EF
Nearest tube: Russell Square
0207 405 3697
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Salaam Namaste is a wannabe up-market Indian in Bloomsbury, the chef patron Sabir Karim has won lots of awards including chef of the year at the 2012 Asian curry awards.  I think there is a place for fancy curry in London’s restaurant scene, but once you have allowed for The Cinnamon Club, Quilon and Tamarind, there isn’t a whole lot of space left.  Salaam Namaste is aiming a notch below The Cinnamon Club et al., but for me it has a long way to go.  The Bloomsbury branch is the younger brother of the Namaaste kitchen in Camden; both restaurants have received glowing blogger reviews – see: foodifancy, London Unattached and The Hedonist.  Interestingly, all of these reviewers seem to have been invited by the owner and have eaten for free – I appreciate that they have all admitted this in their write ups, but I wonder how impartial they were, especially in the face of the “charming owner” (a quote from London Unattached).  Of course, I am merely bitter that I have not been invited for freebies by charming restauranteurs, but at least I have the chance to take the moral high ground here (and to pan the restaurant mercilessly).


I went to the restaurant with a large group for a work night out and we set off on the wrong foot because we had been really crammed in and it seemed like they had overbooked the relatively small space.  We were greeted gruffly and proffered a slimmed down set menu with all of the interesting dishes stripped out (I assume because we were a large group) – there was no coconut seabass or Goan spiced scallops in sight.  I began with mixed starters, consisting of a cold and stuffy pakora, along with a decent chicken tandoori and a lukewarm stuffed paratha filled with chicken curry and, bizarrely, smothered in a sweet sauce which reminded me of the sickly processed caramel that McDonald’s cover their ice cream in.


I followed this with a safe bet – a chicken curry, which was made with decent quality meat and nicely spiced.  A fair dish, but nothing more.  This was book-ended by a truly awful dessert – shop bought poor quality ice cream twinned with carrot halva which was over sweetened and tasted processed.

Verdict: avoid Salaam Namaste like the plague – if you want a decent curry then head to Whitechapel.