I have a confession to make which may shock you. Up until last weekend I had never been to Tayyab’s. The reason this is shocking (for the uninitiated) is because this restaurant is for all accounts an institution. Not only has it been serving traditional Punjabi cuisine since 1972, it is also so well known, that I use it as a landmark to explain to people where I have lived the last two years. Almost everyone gets it immediately, “Oh cool!” they say “of course I know Tayyab’s, don’t you just LOVE being able to pop over for a curry whenever you feel like it?” I am then forced to sheepishly admit that not only do I not ‘pop’ there regularly, but that I have actually been there, well, never. Their disapproval is palpable.
There it stands, where it has for the last forty odd years, roughly one hundred metres from my house. I have walked past it hundreds of times, knowing that there was a lamb chop in there with my name on it, but never venturing through it’s doors.
Last weekend though, it happened. My housemate suggested we go to dinner. I mentioned a restaurant, “it’s only a forty minute walk” I told him, “Walking, seriously?” he had groaned, “honestly, something local would be better”. I racked my brain, and then like a light bulb “Tayyab’s!!”.
Two minutes later we are entering the restaurant to be greeted by total chaos. We are told to get to the end of the queue. We stand behind a group of people that keep looking at us strangely. After ten minutes we realise that they are just standing there having a chat, the queue is elsewhere. Once more, we join the line, just in time for the maitre d to push past us, holding a confused looking guy’s hand and pulling him behind.
I guess he was showing him his table, but the way he was clutching at him, it looked like they were rushing off for a romantic rendevous. He wasn’t the only one though. As we were waiting for a table a number of other people ran past holding hands with the maitre d. He had an air of determination, they of general alarm and confusion. We only had to wait half an hour to get seated, which considering the pandemonium seemed efficient.
They started off by bringing us some poppadoms and a superfluous salad. The poppadoms were nice and crunchy and the accompanying sauces were yummy as expected. At that point, I was more interested in the power-play between the two girls sitting at the next table and the waiters. They had finished, but weren’t leaving, the waiters were hovering and trying to stare them out, it was entertaining, but, I digress…
Everyone that goes to Tayyab’s, talks about the lamb chops. They’re famous, and deservedly so. Juicy and succulent, packed full of flavour and with just the right amount of spice. We ordered the entree portion but I could happily have eaten more. I wish i’d had an extra serving of the lamb chops instead of the chicken tikka which I found to be dry and underwhelming.
The mains were generous. We had the potato and spinach with a lamb curry. The naan was light and fluffy with the perfect combiation of garlic and buttery sweetness.
It’s a fact of life that dinner is not complete without dessert. I ordered the Gulab Jamun. A warm syrupy dumpling from heaven that popped as you bit into it and melted in the mouth. The pistaschio kulfi was pleasant but it looked mass produced and was lacking the density and texture that is one of the things I usually love about it. It came on a stick wrapped in plastic, and unless they were trying for some thematic dessert quirk a la Heston and his chocolate cutlery, it really wasn’t good enough. It’s a restaurant, not the beach. If they’re not going to jump out and say, “Ta daa! The plastic is clear toffee crystals and the stick is a pistachio nut filled tuile!” then they should really leave the flotsam and jetsam behind the scenes. It’s fine if they’re just being sold for take away of course, and I can live with not eating the cutlery.
As the meal finished and the waiter gently nudged us towards the door I did considered the convenience of living moments away from one of the most established Indian restaurants in London. Having great Indian food right on your doorstep is pretty fantastic. Having a soft comfy bed right on the doorstep of the Indian restaurant… that’s priceless. I think i’ll go back again.