Category Archives: Somewhere to eat

Tayyabs: the lamb chops that dreams are made of

Oh, this is a very old draft. But I might put it up just in case someone reading happens to be in Whitechapel. Here goes…..

PS I would include a picture but this food really isn’t that photogenic.

I was patiently queuing at New Tayyabs, home of the best tandoori lamb chops (or ‘lamp shops’ as my German friend Caro calls them) in East London. I’m not the only person to love these chops. As was apparent from the queue, snaking past the toilets and the vibrantly syrupy takeaway sweet stand and between tables of people who had ominously brought along  bottles of Jack Daniels, clearly settling in for the long haul (and right in the shadow of the East London Mosque – is this not disrespectful?)

I don’t mind a queue. I’d exchanged a raised eyebrow with the woman in front of me and was quite enjoying the Friday night buzz and the anticipation of a hard-won table. Until the German in my life arrived. He immediately declared the queue ‘ridiculous’, and refused to stand in it. I argued that we should wait for our friends to arrive and then decide. There was bound to be a mass table-turning soon.

As it happened, five minutes later a table near us was vacated. Someone, far ahead at the start of the queue, was in luck. ‘I’ll just sit down for a moment,’ said my companion. He plonked himself on the table as it was cleared, ‘resting his legs’ was I believe the phrase he used.

New cutlery was laid. A trio of yogurts and chutneys appeared. And then a plate of poppodoms.

I averted my gaze. This was a two-hour queue he had jumped. Nibbling cautiously, and then confidently on a poppodum, he made it clear to me he did not care. ‘Come and sit down,’ he said.

I’d made friends in this queue. How could I just sit down? He was getting annoyed now. Finally I decided to walk outside, remove my glasses, put my hair down and join him as a new person. In any case, with my glasses off I couldn’t see anyone in the queue anymore, so the feeling of mortification was diluted.

Then came the food. Smooth chilled mango lassi. Spicy tender lamb chops. Lemony fish curry, earthy spinach paneer, meltingly sweet lamb curry and soft, garlicky naan bread. As I left the woman who had been in front of me was still patiently queuing. I did feel bad.

But also extremely well fed.

Tayyabs, 83-89, Fieldgate St. London E1 1JU

Tel: 020 7247 6400 , 020 7247 9543 , 020 7247 8521 (yes, three numbers. Very popular).

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The Olympics site…

Now that weekends start a little earlier (Saturday kicked off at 4.30am – not that I’m complaining; if I’d known how little sleep you actually need to function I probably would have invented something quite significant before having a baby), it’s become necessary to build a scheduled family excursion into the day. Otherwise you just get sucked into a vortex of daytime television, hanging tiny little clothes over radiators and wiping tiny little bottoms, and it’s nice to have a change from Monday to Friday (just kidding, I only watch Medical Emergency and Emergency Bikers… and The Jeremy Kyle Show if I’m feeling masochistic). Basically, as long as it has caffeine we’re there.

Last Saturday we finally got around to visiting the Olympics site. Heaving. Tour groups, out-of-towners with notebooks of the day’s activities (‘Next we’re off to Hackney) and a few hungover blokes workshopping the night before, which made for nostalgic eavesdropping.

The Container Cafe does good coffee, cute little pies and things like bacon sandwiches, all very pleasant, and once you’ve done that you can look at the building site, which includes Zaha Hadid’s stadium and the Anish Kapoor tower.

It does all beg the question, though – is it worth it? So much money, materials, work, bulldozing etc for such a short period of time. So unsustainable. And I remember visiting the Manor Garden allotment, years ago, with a friend who had a plot there. It had been granted to the community by a private philanthropist almost 100 years ago. It was beautiful, like being out of the city altogether. But it was taken and bulldozed (think of the soil quality, after 100 years of planting…) to make a footpath for two weeks. You can read more about the allotments here, and see photos. 

Somehow, when I think of the Olympics I will always think of that allotment. It takes time to make a place that special, and to wipe it out so carelessly, amid so much protest, seems short-sighted and disrespectful to the past. I’m thinking of this today because I finally finished Cloud Atlas, and the last pages talk about how ‘one fine day, a purely predatory world shall consume itself…’

Later on, when I was walking through London Fields, I saw the first tour guide I have ever seen in Hackney, saying something along the lines of, ‘Now we’re going to Broadway Market, which as you’ll see is very different from Ridley Road Market…’ When Hackney is on the tourist map you know things are changing…

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The Railroad, Hackney

The problem with many deeply fashionable cafes is that they are so busy being deeply fashionable that the concept of serving decent food with a bit of grace seems to escape them entirely. And you sort of feel a bit wary about visiting them (well, I do, anyway) because your glasses might fog up, or you might bash into someone important with the wheel of your graceless pram, or you might annoy the person serving by interrupting their conversation because you want to be….well, served.

So, thinking this was going to be another one of those cafes, I hadn’t dared venture into the Railroad until I was in exactly the right mood. And the first thing that happened when I did (even before my glasses fogged up) was the nice man behind the counter helped me with my pram.

The Railroad is a cafe/restaurant; it also sells books and has music and poetry nights. According to a glowing Time Out review it used to be two venues, a barbershop and a Nigerian wine bar.

The menu is short but seasonal – Yorkshire rhubarb with yogurt for breakfast, or fried eggs with sumac, and Vietnamese sandwiches, along with a few other more traditional things such as slow-cooked shin of beef with red wine and thyme (have a look here). Although I only had a piece of rhubarb tart and a mug of tea I could tell that the people here know their food – not only was the tart fresh and tangy with lemon zest, the tea was strong and hot and made with care. It’s these little details that impress. Not to mention the fact that on the way out the nice man behind the counter helped me with my pram again.

120-122 Morning Lane, Hackney E9 6LH
0208 985 2858

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Supper club at the Gallery Cafe, Bethnal Green

I’ve been placed on a major budget, in the form of a stern excel spreadsheet which I’ve avoided inspecting too closely, and so am cooking at home most of the time these days rather than going out. I’ve also gone back to full-time work – hence the sporadic posting – and am well and truly back in the commuting/get home/cook dinner/tell Nick Robinson to go home to his wife when the 10pm news comes on (seriously, the man is always outside Number 10. I frankly suspect that the BBC grew him in a test tube to be their political editor. I have worked for them and I would not put it past them at all). And while we’re on the subject, am I the only person to not have worked out that he’s a Conservative? Seriously, I always found him neutral in his reporting, and was a little shocked when a bloke I worked with at The Big Issue referred to him as Nick F***face Robinson.

Anyway, yes, so not too much eating out, which means lots of cooking, lots of cleaning up, lots of food shopping and lots of trying to come up with new and interesting ways with mince (thanks Guardian).

Which is why it was so, so nice, and very much appreciated, of the Gallery Cafe in Bethnal Green to invite me for dinner at their new Vegan Supper Club. Seriously, if there are any other new restaurants around that feel like feeding me I’m wide open to offers. Wide open.

The Gallery Cafe, for those who don’t know it, is on Old Ford Road, just opposite the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood and next door to the British boxing mecca York Hall, whose marble-tiled Turkish baths have recently been refurbished, and whose fifty-metre pool was my loyal friend before the London Fields lido opened.

Upon arrival, my dining companion (ok, my husband, I have been married since 2008 and really need to get comfortable with saying the word) remarked that the room itself ‘reminds me a bit New York, what with all the original artwork and huge windows.’

I commented, ‘Well, how would you know, you’ve never been, and with this savage budget you’ve put us on you may never find out.’

To which he retorted, ‘I’ve seen enough audio-visual representations of New York to be confident that it looks exactly like this room’. At which point, thank God, the starters arrived and we could stop talking and stabilise our blood sugars.

I had a samosa stuffed with mushrooms and served with two vibrant dips, one was, I think, spicy carrot, and the other was avocado. This was really good. My companion had a broccoli soup which, given the humidity last night, I personally found an odd choice, but he finished it quite happily.

The second course brought a leek and aubergine pizza for me, which was garlicky and delicious – it’s rare to find a pizza I don’t like, apart from those puffy tourist ones you see on Oxford Street. The other main was an asparagus and broad bean bake with salad, which also went down well.

For dessert I had a very summery strawberry tofu cheesecake, served in a glass, and my companion was quietly pleased with his vegan vanilla and chocolate ice cream and a chocolate cupcake. The service throughout was swift and friendly, and it seems like a lovely relaxed place to have a meal with friends, too, which a few other tables were doing.

The supper clubs are held every now and then, and are around the bargain price of £16 for three courses, with lovely service in a very beautiful room. But the cafe is also open for breakfast, lunch and early dinners too, as well as for lots of crafty, musical and poetical events. And I did eventually concede, once I’d eaten, that it also benefits from a bit of a New York movie-style ambience.

PS Thanks to Skirmish of Wit for the image, which I’ve borrowed until I can get to my camera again.


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Swedish Brunch at The Claptonian Arts Club, Clapton

There are quite a few supper clubs and underground restaurants in East London (and London in general), but only one that does Swedish brunch – The Claptonian Arts Club. I’m not entirely au fait with the idea of going round to an unknown house for dinner – what if there’s cat hair everywhere? What if they just can’t cook? But I liked the sound of the menu, and somehow the thought of eating an unfamiliar cuisine is more appealing than going round to a stranger’s place for scrambled eggs on toast

We were emailed the address once we booked, and found the place by spotting a row of very Scandinavian-looking candles burning in the window. On arrival we found ourselves in a rather Swedish-looking room – all white walls and beautiful glassware and artwork on the walls (the girl who runs it is an artist, and uses the room as a gallery and studio as well.) Continue reading

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A Chinese fish soup, cooked in East London

I know, I know. I hastily called this blog East London Local I’ve been putting up more recipes and book reviews than anything else. Well, it’s cold outside, so I’m reading and cooking a lot these days. But I will be out soon.

In the meantime, however, I’ll be eating this Chinese Fish Soup. It’s surprisingly filling and warming, yet doesn’t leave you feeling poleaxed like lots of ‘comfort food’.

I had a strange experience buying the fish. I was in Waitrose – I don’t normally shop there, but I was at the Barbican to see Avatar and popped in – and the woman at the fish counter refused to cut me a 450g piece from a cod fillet, saying ‘it will only leave a little piece and I won’t be able to sell it.’

It was a fish-fillet standoff, and it ended with me just walking away and buying a pack of fish out of the fridge and her, hopefully, reflecting on the fact that if you fish-fillet standoff your customers you won’t end up with little unsold pieces, but you might end up with large ones. Honestly. More disappointed than angry.

For those who want to just get out of the house, I’ve put a couple of suggestions at the end of the recipe. Otherwise, here it is: Continue reading

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The Brick Lane Bagel Shop

When I first moved to London someone told me that this is where you can get ‘the best bagels in the world’. I have since been informed by a born-and-bred New Yorker (in extremely weary tones) that this is in an exaggeration, unfortunate and misguided, and one that she has the unenviable task of correcting on a regular basis.

They are still pretty good bagels though. If the mark of good street food can be measured by long queues, even at 3am, and reliably unsmiling service then we’re onto a winner. I usually go for the smoked salmon and cream cheese one with a cup of tea on the side, but the salted beef with mustard and pickle is also pretty good, as are the cheesecake slices. 

Prepare yourself well in advance, don’t dither, speak clearly and have your money ready promptly. These people have bagels to serve. 

159 Brick Lane, Brick Lane, E1 6SB

PS Not only does he take away the 38, he’s now ramping up bus fares, and in a borough without a tube this is unfair. Send our golden-haired Tory toff of a mayor a postcard with some advice:


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