When I found myself in Whitechapel one weekday lunchtime, it seemed only right to nip into Tayyabs for a pile of sizzling meat. Unfortunately, I ran out of time and ended up reluctantly skulking to my appointment, tummy grumbling loudly, cursing the grill Gods under my breath. Later that day though, when trying to find my way back onto the High Street, I stumbled upon Needoo Grill quite by accident, nodded a little apology towards the heavens and sailed straight in, cheesy grin, eyes fixed firmly on the prize.
The restaurant is owned by a former manager of Tayyabs, and you’ll find many familiar dishes on the menu: lamb chops, dry meat and punjabi tinda for example. Not wanting to engage in a snore-a-thon comparison with Tayyabs however, I steered well clear and ordered Thursday’s daily special (advertised as a kofta – came as koftas with hard boiled eggs in a sauce), an aubergine dahl, plus a garlic naan to scoop it all up – a change from my usual default choice of roti. The waiter tappy tap tapped it into his nifty electronic ordering pad and 10 minutes later the food was in front of me.
The lamb koftas were excellent: very dense and finely minced, yet juicy, and deftly spiced – each flavour distinct – the main players of cumin and coriander didn’t overpower the sweet meat. The eggs were like, er, hard boiled eggs but the main let down was the sauce, being as it was outrageously oily. As I spooned it onto my plate an orange slick burst forth taking out everything in its path. The smooth sauce of puréed onions, garlic and tomatoes was pleasant but slightly muddy and inaccessible anyway, hidden as it was beneath the impenetrable viscous layer. I picked the meatballs out and left the rest behind as it was, quite frankly, inedible.
The dahl by contrast was a triumph and easily one of the best I’ve ever eaten; silky, smoky, slender baby aubergines melted in the mouth, as did the sweet lentils, yielding to a smooth, spicy paste with the slightest pressure. I wallowed in the layers of spicing and rejoiced in the subtle escalation of chilli fire and depth of sweet, toasted garlic. The dish was completed by an intriguing lemony perfume, which I suspect may be imparted by simmering lemon segments with the lentils, as in Simon Majumdar’s family recipe: Life Saving Dahl (LSD), which I can also highly recommend. The result is a subtle fragrance rather than the harsh acidity you get from adding fresh juice at the end of cooking.
The atmosphere in Needoo has much in common with its nearby inspiration: sizzling, clanging, clattering and banter bring the place alive. The interior designers have come right from the Tayyabs school of bright coloured panels and neon lighting. A Bollywood movie blared loud and proud from a wall-mounted TV, staff members taking turns to watch a portion as they scooped up mouthfuls of lunchtime curry. It is the kind of place where you feel totally at ease taking lunch for one.
The problem with dining alone though, is that one can only reasonably order so much. I thought two dishes plus bread seemed enough, seriously doubting I could finish much more given the nature of the beast: rich, meaty and carb bolstered. I was right. The dahl was the kind of dish you crave for weeks afterwards and order on every visit thereafter, while the kofta special was an oleaginous insult. I am, quite frankly, confused; a return visit I Needoo.
87 New Road
0207 247 0648