Come the weekend, I wanted to get away and forget all about work. There are plenty of last-minute cheap city breaks to pick all over the web but I didn’t feel like boarding a plane or travelling too far. So I opted for London, the city that never sleeps. Well, it used to be New York that never sleeps, but after Sandy blew it to sleep, I think London deserves this description. I won’t bore you with the details of a short stay in London, except to relate my trip down Brick Lane.
Enter Brick Lane
Brick Lane is reputed to be the best place in London to go for an authentic and tasty curry. However, Brick Lane is the only place in London where you are made to feel like a complete food tourist, and not in a good way. Almost every restaurant has a tout in the doorway, attempting to cajole you inside. They are as aggressive as the restaurant touts on the Costa del Sol, trying to lure in sunburned English holidaymakers to a greasy, expensive meal of the ever-familiar steak and chips.
It is even difficult to tell one restaurant from the next. Most of the windows are pasted with glossy pictures of Chicken Tikka Mossalas and King Prawn Bhunas. As a general rule of thumb I have always said – if the menu is in pictures, instead of words, don’t go there. The average discerning diner is quite able to decipher an Indian restaurant menu without needing visual clues. Don’t patronise us!
Princess Diana curry
On passing the first restaurant we were offered curry and a beer for ten quid. The next we were offered curry and a bottle of wine for ten quid. The third restaurant we were offered two courses, all our drinks, and tickets to Wicked for ten quid. It was almost impossible to decide where to eat. After passing at least a dozen places, we were still no nearer deciding. Then we got to Cafe Bangla. As usual we were bombarded with special offers – 2 courses and booze for ten quid. But here was the clincher – Princess Diana ate here! Two minutes later we were seated in front of a giant Diana mural with a bottle of Cobra in hand (my hand, not Princess Diana’s hand).
The food was basic at best. What I would describe as “red sauce, yellow sauce, brown sauce”, all with something added, be it onions, chillies or a token leaf of coriander. I hung my head in foodie shame, full well knowing that we had made an error. Princess Diana may well have eaten in any of the generic curry houses along Brick Lane, it wouldn’t have mattered. All the food is the same – catering to the mass market of “hurry in, hurry out” tourists.
So if you are in search of a genuine Indian meal in London, don’t do what I did. By all means visit Brick Lane, and take in the fabulous and colourful vintage market stalls. But when it comes to picking somewhere for a tandoori, walk on by. Just round the corner is Dishoom on Boundary Street. The Lamb Raan might cost twice as much as your “red sauce, yellow sauce, brown sauce” curry, but at least you’ll leave with a smile on your face.
Where to stay in London? Accommodation is expensive but fortunately, I know the city well enough to know where to get the best bang for my buck. Here is my recommendation if you are looking for hotel deals in London or just want to watch your wallet: pick a hotel slightly to the east where it is much cheaper than right in the middle of the West End. So if you too fancy a stay in the capital, hopefully you won’t relive my experience. Now I’m off to watch the movie Brick Lane!