Once upon a time, the area surrounding London’s Brick Lane was known only as the slum stomping grounds of Jack the Ripper and the scene of crime for his string of murders. The winding slope, which extends all the way through the East London neighborhood of Shoreditch, was nothing but an enclave of poverty and crime. But things have shifted significantly since then, and today Brick Lane is the scene of a very different sort of violence: the aggressive purveyance of curry. Nowadays, traversing the street means subjecting yourself to an onslaught of solicitation from eager Indian food restaurant owners enticing you to try their take on curry. You’re subjected to an overwhelming, constant flurry of “special deals” and samples as each curry house tries to beat out the endless string of competition that lines the Lane — a lot to take in, especially as the aroma of curry fills the air and overtakes your senses. But you probably came here for this, anyway.
Over the years, Brick Lane transformed into a compact vision of London’s shifting ethnic patterns and a hub of the Bangladeshi community, becoming the go-to spot for Indian fare and authentic curry. Many claim the best curry in London is found there. The city’s edgy and artistically inclined crowd took a shine to Brick Lane, too, bringing along a reputation for warehouse art exhibitions and trendy clubs and bars. This combination makes Brick Lane a must-see for any tourist or visitor looking to experience a truly unique side of London, and to taste some amazing curry while they’re at it.
It’s nearly impossible to choose from the infinite array of curry restaurant options along the Lane, so most choices boil down to whichever restaurant happens to present itself at the peak of your hunger. But if you’re a truly discerning curry consumer looking for the best of the best, you might be surprised to find that the top options are located a bit off Brick Lane’s beaten path. Tayyab’s isn’t actually on Brick Lane, but it’s close enough (and its one-block-removed status just gives it more of an underground edge – welcome to Shoreditch.) This family owned and operated restaurant is known for serving amazing Punjabi cuisine in a not-so-glitzy nook of London that makes it somewhat of a hidden local gem. Best of all, there’s no one standing out on the sidewalk yelling at you to come in as you pass by. Walk the Lane to see the sights, smell the scents, and experience curry harassment, but loop back around to Tayyab’s for a meal that’s worth sitting down for and a curry that’s guaranteed to be some of the most delicious you’ll find in London.
The restaurant can get seriously crowded after around 6:30 p.m., so your best bet is to wander in during lunch to curb your curry cravings — it’ll be easier on your wallet then, too. Once you’re seated, you’ll be presented with pappadums — large, cracker-like appetizers that start every meal here — and three varieties of chutney toppings to hold you over while you peruse the menu. Definitely order naan to share with the table; it’s one of Tayyab’s best offerings. The garlic naan is delicious, savory, and soft, but the peshwari naan is a true treat with its rich, sweet filling of sultanas, cinnamon, apple and almond flavors. Equally worth splurging for are the crispy vegetable and lamb samosas if you’re extra hungry.
For entrées, stand-by favorites include the lamb chops and the mixed Punjabi grill, which comes with a variety of tikkas. Any Kahari dish brings you curry done to perfection; we loved the basic Mixed Vegetable and Chicken Kahari. For something a little more adventurous, just ask your waiter his recommendation from the daily specials. We devoured Wednesday’s Meat Pilau, which isn’t strictly curry but is a delicious blend of meat, spices, garlic, and cloves piled on top of traditional herbed rice that will leave you full for hours.
The queue of hungry tourists and devoted locals together proves Tayyab’s is serving up Indian food that goes beyond the hype. Brick Lane is worth the walk, if only to stoke your appetite — but when you find yourself in this section of London, make sure you work in a visit to Tayyab’s.