Between you and me, Mrs Kentishtowner is insisting on a dry January.
‘Such a cliche,’ I howled, as we sat on New Year’s day, guests departed, an unopened bottle of Burgundy between us. ‘After all,’ I continued, fingers stroking its lovely head, ‘that’s exactly what “professional” mid-thirtysomethings are expected to do, isn’t it?’ (And yes, I did make double apostrophes with my forefingers.)
Still, what the good lady wants, she gets, and the first week of sobriety has been framed by early nights, a panic-purchase of DVD boxsets, hearty cooking, and more writing and blogging than normal. Which, perhaps, is good for all of us.
A booze-free existence also makes one consider the eateries that – ashamed as we are to say it – work pretty well without a half-litre injection of red wine: unlicensed cafes, sushi bars, vegan diners, that meze place you’ve never quite got round to trying.
Which is how we found ourselves at new Pakistani joint Lahore Masala House last night. When it opened in the dying embers of last year, we assumed it was just another doomed attempt to fill what has always been a graveyard site. Check that shiny, white interior; the staff checking their watches; the flatscreens.
But it’s thanks to you lot that we even went through the door, as there has been quite a storm of support from readers in our various comments sections. And lo and behold, we discovered that Lahore is actually the new venture from the original Whitechapel Lahore Kebab House - and so even more than worthy of investigation.
The awkward laminate menu makes no concessions to those who know nothing about Pakistani cuisine (this, judged Mrs Kentishtowner, in a pleasantly positive mindset, made it ‘feel like we were on holiday’.)
Many of the dishes were preceded with the word ‘karahi’- which simply means a flat-bottomed wok-like pot used to simmer stews. Along with garlic nan (£2) and pilau rice (£3), we choose Karahi Fish (£7.50) and Karahi Methi Gosht (£7, above right), the latter a very joyous lamb & spinach combination, but it was the former that shone with its match of fish, spices and tomatoes. From the grill, the chicken and lamb tikka (a half portion £4 each, above left) were both tasty, but a half chicken tandoori (also £4, not pictured) was sensational: the most tender breast and leg meat, careful spicing. We were licking our fingers.
And best of all was an ooh-la la onion bhajia (top pic, £3.50). Six beautifully crisp pieces, fragrantly coloured and spiced, that almost melted in the mouth.
If you’ve any doubt of the boys’ dedication to their work, at weekends they’ll do you a whole leg of lamb if you fancy a feast (£50, order 24 hours in advance) And if you are boozing (bastards!), you can BYO of course.
We know the owners follow the blog, so here are a couple of constructive suggestions to end with. We understand that the no-frills atmosphere is your thing, but adjusting the dimmer switch, even slightly, would be easier on our eyes at the end of a hard January day. It’s whiter than a McDonalds toilet in there, made harsher by unflattering mirrors.
Of course, this very basic interior would work fine if the restaurant was packed to the rafters – which, Kentishtowners, is all the more reason for you lot to fill it up. Now.
Have you eaten there? And is it better than the legendary Tayyabs?
Lahore Masala House, 194 Kentish Town Road. A feast for two is around £35 (more than you can eat!) but allow £10-15 a head.
Words & pics: Stephen Emms