There are probably 10 Indian restaurants on Lordship Lane in East Dulwich, if not more, but in the 3 years I’ve lived within spitting distance I’ve visited only 1 (Tandoori Nights if you’re interested – massively overrated). For some reason though I developed a ‘feeling’ about Jaflong, part of which was based on my completely incorrect assumption that it’s new. According to the waiter I’ve been walking past it for 2 years. Huh.
The outside looks modern, but inside it’s classic curry house circa 1990: doilies in abundance, carnations in white vases and pink napkins folded into the shape of birds. This worried me slightly, but the starters looked promising, with some unusual dishes I’d not come across before.
Chingri meerchi was stir fried prawns with mountains of shredded spring onion, coriander and green chilli. I worried it might be like munching on a bag of grass but it was surprisingly well balanced; light and fresh. The two brown, disk-shaped things are pakra: ‘avari’ leaves layered with a spiced chickpea paste, rolled, sliced and deep fried. They were unusual, blissfully unhealthy and moist despite their dessicated appearance. Murgh tikka lasania was chicken marinated in spiced, strained yoghurt which formed a thick outer crust and rendered the inner meat supremely soft, as if double-brined. It might have looked anaemic, but the flavour was powerful. I clapped my hands with glee whenever I wasn’t stuffing something into my face.
As we moved on to the mains though, it began to fall apart. Every dish that arrived contained an alarming amount of sugar. I wondered if it might be an accident, but each of our choices – the same. The mixed grill was otherwise fine, I suppose. A bit timidly spiced and oh I just can’t help myself, no Tayyabs, but seriously, just so sweet. A pinch of sugar can work wonders, no doubt about it, but this was like curry for kids.
Shah Jahani (smoked Bangladeshi fish cooked in the tandoor) sounded great but suffered the same problem. My accompanying gajar-e-naan sounded brilliant on paper (‘naan stuffed with grated carrot and smothered with mashed garlic’) but there was no carrot inside, just a stingy grating on top. It was good and garlicky but guess what? Yeah, too sweet. Even the raita was sickly.
Jaflong are trying to offer something different rather than banging out the usual ‘lamb, beef, chicken or prawns in masala, balti or vindaloo sauce’ and there are genuinely interesting choices on the menu. The meal started so well I was ready to rave about the place but they are serving a serious swerve ball with those mains. It was a meal of two halves, like the chefs swapped halfway through. I wanted to like it so much that I dreamt up excuse after excuse but there was no denying the fact that we were one of only 2 tables at prime time on a Saturday night.
There’s a lot of competition on Lordship Lane and Jaflong are trying to stand out from the crowd. What saddens me, is that they’re doing it for the wrong reason.
41 Lordship Lane
Tel: 020 8693 6353
The meal cost around £55 for two with a couple of Cobras.