Thursday, 31 March 2011

Around The World In 80 Cuisines: Argentinian

(2) Argentinian by Rebecca Brett.

Argentina is famous for Evita, delicious red wine, hot muscular polo players, the tango, Che Guevara, cheating footballers and (who knew?) Chris De Burgh, who was born there. But the second largest country in South America is most memorable for its love of beef. It’s time to forget the ‘hand of god’ issue of 1986, if there’s one thing we can forgive Argentina for, it’s for bringing their love of steak to us via many wonderful restaurants in London.

If you’re going to celebrate Argentina for all it’s worth then it’s probably best you don’t take along your veggie/vegan friend, as menus are crammed with delicious hunks of meat and sometimes served by delicious hunks of meat too. So, in that case, leave your boy/girlfriend at home as well.

With more than 10 restaurants in London, the Gaucho grill chain is the most well-known establishment on the list. Whether you tuck in to a quick bite before going to see a show at the O2 Gaucho or relax on the river at Gaucho Richmond, there are plenty of them dotted around London. Cowhide chairs make a splash in the sleek and modern interiors but what really gets the senses going are the many cuts of meat and fine wine.

Santa Maria Del Sur, a small restaurant in Battersea, was put on the map when it was crowned ‘Best Local restaurant for the Americas’ by his royal foodiness, Gordon Ramsay, on the F Word. Thousands flocked to the south west to eat what Ramsay described as ‘the best steak I have ever eaten’ and it seems they’re still flocking. If you want to go, be sure to book in advance; there can be a six week wait for prime time dining. Once you get in, be sure to share the mixed grill for two; a platter of traditional Argentinean meats.

Casa Malevo, a fairly new entrant on the Argentine scene is situated in the up-and-coming Connaught Village, just north of Hyde Park. Keen to impress, Casa Malevo serves lazy brunches of eggs with chorizo and Provolone cheese or, of course, premium meat cuts, served up until 3pm every weekend. For bargain hunters there’s a prix fixe menu Monday to Friday with two courses at £14.99 and three courses for just £16.99. But the best thing is the red wine which I happily sampled on the opening night back in October. As I said earlier the Argentines sure know their wine and if you can’t get enough of it, then you can take it home with you at retail price!

Image courtesy of Flickr user ♣ ℓ u m i è r e ♣.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Swanky New Bar, But Don’t Take Away The Chocolate Tree

By Christian Rose-Day.

£2m can buy many things. Google has a few ideas. Apparently, last year there were a few interesting ways in which £2m was (nearly) spent: UK taxpayers spent £1.9m renting two buildings in Northern Ireland that were actually empty; a Californian car enthusiast spent £1.9m on a 1949 Delahaye Type 175 Roadster which was previously owned by blonde bombshell, Diana Dors; whilst Malaysian tycoon Zhen Low and New York property developer Winston Fisher spent a meagre £1.8m between them in a single night at the Les Caves du Roy nightclub in St Tropez buying £600 bottles of champagne for their friends, just to see who could spend the most.

£2m can also buy a whole new marble floor and a swanky new bar and lounge to plonk on top of it. That is the amount it took to refurbish the bar at the InterContinental Hotel on Park Lane and name it The Arch Bar. As the InterContinental is home to the luxurious Theo Randall restaurant, the amount spent is probably not a surprise. (It is also home to the lesser-known Cookbook Cafe, incidentally).

As is the London truism, expensive bars require expensive launch parties and an expensive crowd to attend. Which is how I found myself surrounded by a large crowd of beautiful people sipping vast quantities of Moet from dangerously tall Champagne flutes loudly admiring the new marbled floor and gin-focused creations (they have 25 different gins to choose from) of the newly opened Arch Bar.

Money had been thrown, verily, at this launch. There was an ice-carved Champagne bar, an edible chocolate garden, two semi-naked phantom nymphs, a live jazz band, indoor-outdoor grass (that nobody was allowed to walk on), and immaculate waitresses with perfect air hostess hair carrying canape and drink trays bearing live vegetation.

The chocolate tree was particularly popular with the ladies present, especially the shorter ones. Many of the pickable chocolate treats remained untouched at the rear, hard-to-reach branches. All it needed was one tall, chocolate-loving gal to come along and....CHOMP. That, or a chivalrous chap with very clean hands.

I was mostly interested in the steaming Mother’s Ruin creation - Six O’Clock Gin, Tuppence Duty, a mix of champagne, fresh lemon and Fifty Pound Gin and Ernest Roots – which bubbled like a witch’s cauldron and packed a punch that was equally spellbinding.

Take away the fickle fancies of this particular launch party, however, and The Arch Bar - named after the iconic Wellington Arch across the road - will, I am certain, be a much quieter domain in the coming months. And then, £2m will buy a whole lot of peace and quiet.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Say CHEESE on the South Bank

By Flick Hardingham.

Last week the Gods smiled upon the Capital and graced us with a day of glorious sunshine.  I decided to take a stroll down the South Bank (via a sneaky Fruli at Borough Market) to sample the delights of the annual Spring Cheese and Wine Festival.

Over the weekend a plethora of fromagiers, vintners and epicurean taste-makers descended upon Southbank Centre Square with all that is stinkingly wonderful.

Did I know my Pont l’Eveque from my Port Salut? Only time and many, many samples would tell!

Amidst piles of chevre and charcuterie I made a bee line for La Cave A Fromage.  This smelly South Kensington gaff had ventured far from home to bring us a whole heap of heavenly cheese. I simply asked for the best goat’s cheese they had.  A slightly passive and typically French gentleman pointed at what resembled a grey, mouldy donut!  To my delight this menacing, fluffy round turned out to be a scrumptious and my friends were so alarmed by the musty fungus, I gladly guzzled it all myself. 

Next up was an oozing hunk of yet more cheese. I had spotted the raclette when I arrived and tried so hard to resist but the dripping, ambrosial mass pulled me in.  The raclette was piled upon a generous portion of sausage stew and potatoes.  Was it worth the half hour wait in line? Hell yeah!

As well as the chance to taste, there was a great mix of tastings and demos with the experts including The Guardian’s wine writer, Fiona Beckett and Donatella Bernstein from Drink Italy. 

Utterly satisfied, I waddled home to lie on my sofa for the rest of the weekend. I’m still trying to shift my cheese hangover even now but I’m definitely planning to return next year.

Are you a cheese lover? Then check out the Top 10 Best London Restaurants for Cheese.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Will New Oyster Bar Prove Battersea Is More Than Just A Dogs’ Home?

By Anastasia Hancock.

Battersea is famous for more than its Dogs’ Home and a big old power station. I should know, I live there. That’s the first thing everyone thinks of; which is all very tiresome.

So here are my top 5 facts you really should know about beautiful Battersea.

1) The first asparagus grown in Britain was in Battersea Park in 1850.
2) Battersea has produced an impressive number of famous children including Ronnie Biggs, Jack Dee, Bob Geldof, Simon Le Bon, Dannii Minogue, Gordon Ramsay, Joely Richardson, Greg Rusedski, Timothy Spall, Vivienne Westwood, William Wilberforce and even So Solid Crew.
3) Battersea was the first London borough to elect a black mayor in 1913.
4) The power station was featured on the cover of Pink Floyd’s iconic Animals album, and Battersea also features in songs by Morrissey, Babyshambles, and Super Furry Animals.
5) It is the home of London’s busiest heliport.

I hope if you’ve read this far, that you will agree with me that Battersea is brimming with Good Things.

This is certainly true of the area’s thriving bar and restaurant scene. I have ploughed an epic number of (wo)man hours into researching this. Conclusive evidence has proven that unrivalled hotspots include the fabulous and little-known La Movida, an authentic and incredibly good value tapas bar, Tom Illic, a well-disguised but unfailingly classy restaurant run by a talented Serbian head chef, and The Lost Angel, a late-night boozer with a secluded garden.

So when I heard there was a new brasserie opening in Battersea Square, it wasn’t exactly a new phenomenon, but I was looking forward to seeing what some fresh blood could offer the place.

The premise was certainly interesting; an oyster bar and brasserie complete with neighbourhood grocery and wine store opened by the brains behind the exclusive Cheyne Walk Brasserie and the operations director for Ronnie Scott’s. Yes, the names promised a lot, but did they deliver?
The restaurant itself is set out like a chic Parisian brasserie, and the crowd matched the setting. Battersea’s elite had turned out in force, and there was more than one TV foodie spotted on the night.
The focal point is the marble-topped oyster counter, which runs alongside the bar, and I lost no time getting stuck into the eponymous critters. They were, as you would expect from native crustaceans, fresh and delicious. It’s a shame the same couldn’t be said for some of the other canapés being served. While the shellfish, including some flavoursome prawns, lived up to the billing, the mini steak pies were dry even though the filling was encased in pastry verging on the undercooked. Plus, despite asking several times, we never did get to try the mini portions of fish and chips ostensibly doing the rounds.
It’s a big statement to open a place like this in a location like Battersea Square. The restaurant is considerable and boasts a botanical garden hosting year-round dining. If the management can keep the place full, then this could potentially be a buzzy, top-end destination restaurant. But the prices are prohibitively high for this to be an easy neighbourhood eatery and, if it remains this way, dining here is going to be a lonely experience. Hopefully the surrounding competition - found on all sides - will force the place to keep its game high.
Still, for wine lovers, this could be just what the area has been waiting for. As well as some delicious looking supplies from around the country, the shop adjoining the restaurant offers a wine store and enomatic dispenser, and there is also an extensive wine cellar and tasting area.
As I stepped back out into the lovely little square that houses Bennett’s, the party was still in full swing inside. And no wonder, champagne, wine and some stylish cocktails were fast flowing. I had tucked under my arm an excitingly large and heavy goody bag. I had hoped it might be crammed with an array of shellfish, but on closer inspection later that night it turned out to be filled with spuds and other root veg. Quirky.With the vast experience boasted by the management and some fine local suppliers, time should tell if Bennett’s goes on to claim a place on Battersea’s list of Good Things.

Looking for more Good Things in Battersea? Check out the Top 10 Bar & Restaurant guide.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Life Essential: Le Cordon Bleu Tea & Cake

By Claire Roberts

There are several things that are widely accepted as being essential to life; oxygen, food and water amongst others. However, I would seriously propose an addition to this lofty list: tea and cake.

I never tire of tea and cake or preferably, cakes plural; as in ‘more than one’. They have become a weekly essential. OK, make that a daily essential. And fortunately for me, my body has found some way of dealing with this regular onslaught so I’m not overweight. Must be something to do with Darwin and adapting to the environment. Great, I can eat more cake.

So happiness ensues when I find out that I’m going to the Mandeville Hotel - a few minutes walk away from Bond Street tube and home of the deVille restaurant and deVigne bar - for an afternoon tea made by the students of the Le Cordon Bleu cookery school. Yes, still a coup despite the fact that I have tea and cake all the time.

The restaurant is full, there has to be at least 60 other tea and cake aficionado’s present, all waiting to plunge gleefully in to the array of cakes lovingly created by SooJoo Kim and Karim Tawil, two of the Le Cordon Bleu just-about-to-graduate patisserie students. Yes, you don’t get cakes by the new intake here; it’s the patisserie chefs who have already gone through the rigours of the Le Cordon Bleu training. A never-ending supply of cakes comes along. Happy days.

I have four and a half cakes. That’s a record, even for me. Though there’s still plenty left. They include Tarte aux Fruits (fresh raspberries poised carefully in jelly on top of custard cream on top of a vanilla pastry base), Tangy Apricot and Yoghurt Mousse (Yoghurt Mousse and Apricot Jelly on top of pistachio sponge and crisp pastry), a Strawberry and Champagne Mousse (champagne mousse with strawberry jelly encased in almond sponge) and, my favourite of the afternoon, Galaxie, a raspberry chocolate mousse on chocolate sponge. Oh, and not forgetting that other essential, a scone with clotted cream and jam. But then they are all essential, that’s already been established.

A choice of tea is available too. I have a mix of Assam and Earl Grey served in china designed by the brilliant Zandra Rhodes.

Sadly, though, I have to overlook the choux swan (above, blurred, I’m a writer not a photographer) with cream and fruit. Poor swan. It seems I do have an internal censor somewhere which emerges when potential overload is a possibility. However, he isn’t completely neglected. A fellow cakee asks if she can take him home. She ends up putting him, and a few of his friends, in to a large smile-inducing patisserie box.

An hour and a half later I leave, happy in the knowledge that my daily tea and cake quota is satisfied. A real treat in sumptuous comfortable surroundings and all for the bargain price of only £15. Better value than any other afternoon tea in London, it must be said.

It isn’t often that I have afternoon tea in this, or any, hotel in or around London. My usual sources of cake vary from a quick stop at Pret, lemon drizzle after a haul round John Lewis, the odd trip to Patisserie Valerie, or the results of my own efforts at home.

That said, there’s no doubt that elevating the cake from its humble everyday experience to give it its due attention is no bad thing. It’s a good job then that the Mandeville hosts the Le Cordon Bleu afternoon teas just one a month. I’m not sure that I can get away with having four and a half cakes on a regular basis. Though I see the Mandeville hotel has its own afternoon tea for the days when the Cordon Bleu students aren’t there. Something I might have to investigate. I do like to experiment. And I do like cake.

The next Le Cordon Bleu is on Wednesday 27th April, from 3:30 to 5:30.

If you’re looking for more afternoon teas in London, then check out the Top 10 Best Afternoon Tea Special Offers in Central London and in the West End.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Head Chef, I Know Where You Live

By Nathalie Bonney

This is a plea to Anirudh Arora. I know you are currently head chef of fancy west end Indian restaurant Moti Mahal, and that you serve guests exquisite dishes courtesy of your authentic, state-of-the-art tandoor oven with a spangly cocktail bar to boot, but I was wondering if, as a Harrow resident, you may consider instead becoming the head chef of a more local establishment?

The reasons for this suggestion are as follows:
1) You would cut your commute down to nearly nothing
2) I live in nearby Pinner
3) I'll write you a really, really good review

OK fantasy over, somehow I don't think Arora is about to switch Covent Garden for north west suburbia - at least not for his work, so I'll quit with the begging and explain why I like Moti Mahal so much - and why I know where the chef lives without sounding like some sort of culinary starstruck stalker who waits behind the bins.

The West End Indian restaurant was holding a two and a half hour masterclass in making canapes and cocktails with a sub-continent twist. Head Chef Arora would take us through four canape recipes and bar manager and mixologist Simon La Moon (I get the feeling the 'La' is a recent addition) would then show us how to make a couple of cocktails.

It was exciting to be in a working kitchen and Moti Mahal’s was surprisingly compact. Diners can see into the tandoor section, with its impressive selection of kebab skewers and two tandoor ovens. Its gas oven cooks the breads while the charcoal oven gives the meat at Moti Mahal its unmistakeable smokey flavour. Behind the flashy show kitchen is the main working kitchen, with less frills but this is where, in the words of numerous vacuous MTV celebs, the magic happens.

A wall is stacked with huge tupperware boxes, a pick and mix fit for a spice fiend and the rest of the kitchen staff are busying themselves preparing for lunch and dinner later. Arora meanwhile takes us through four canape recipes. If I'd thought about the effort that went in to making 50p-sized pieces of food I'd definitely eat them a lot more slowly. Take the Murgh Malai: chicken tikka mousse served on edible spoons with a quarter of a picked quail egg garnish. Before you can put the dish together, you've got to make chicken tikka to then make the mousse. Or stuffed baby aubergines, the middles cut out with tiny pastry cutters for an ultra neat finish, then topped with roasted tomato chutney.

When it came to eating them, though, the mini venison kebabs with fig raita were my favourite, followed by naan bread bites topped with spiced cream cheese spread and finely sliced salmon, marinated in a honey chilli drizzle.

The cocktails were equally beautifully presented by barman Simon La Moon. Finishing touches like a pineapple ring balanced round the rim of a short glass or curled lime rind around a straw show the care and pride he took in presentation. But they tasted pretty damn good too. My favourite was the gin shikanjvi cocktail. Inspired by Moti Mahal’s palate, La Moon adds cumin and black pepper for a kick as well as the Shikanjvi pre mix, which contained an array of ingredients including cardamon, curry leaves and sugar. It was delicious even without the gin and lemonade top up but put together and I'd say it rivals cocktail-about-town: the mojito.

So now to go alongside my Coca Cola gymnastic badges, ballet certificates and St John's Ambulance First Aid certificate (which admittedly I had to retake once I'd sussed out the whole resuscitation thing,) I have a certificate of completion from Moti Mahal for its Indian canape and cocktail class. But I'd give up all of these sterling achievements if Mr Arora decided to go loco and start Moti Mahal Number 2: Harrow.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Around The World In 80 Cuisines: Thai

Fluid London attempts to circumnavigate the globe, without ever leaving London town itself, by exploring all the best bars, restaurants, pubs and clubs from various countries around the world that reside here in our great city.

(1) Thai by Claire Williams.

Everybody who is anybody is into Thai food. Thai restaurants have sprung up in London from nowhere, all jostling for position in the infamous dog-toothed food industry. And because of its feverish popularity, a lot of these Thai restaurants manage to see it through the recent economic tension, no matter whether the food proved average, good or downright horrible. Pubs serve Thai green curries next to pub grub classics such as sausages and mash or toad in the hole. Restaurants litter the streets of London, serving poor imitations of Thai favourite dishes Pad Thai and curries in vibrant reds, greens and yellows. Because of the sheer number of restaurants that sell Thai food, it’s difficult to weed out the truly great from the weak.

But there are some really great Thai restaurants in London. The Blue Elephant Thai restaurant in Fulham (above) is less about the food (as glorious and truly lovely as it is) and more about the experience. As soon as you step through the doors you’re transported to a different place altogether. Traditionally dressed waitresses lead you through tropical gardens and over manmade ponds and rivers (full to the brim with Koi carp) to your seats on a wooden walkway. The food ranges from the commercially predictable (chicken satay, Thai green chicken curry) to the inventive (som tam – shredded papaya salad, dry shrimps and lemon dressing), with an extensive vegetarian list.

Busaba Eathai (above) is a chain of restaurants in London that consistently serve authentic, interesting and inspiring Thai food. Tables that seat 16 dominate the room, so sometimes chatting in a group any larger than a two (perched at the corner of the large table) is difficult, but the prawn pomelo starters and monkfish green curry main mean that I care less about conversation and more about chewing.

There may be many Thai restaurants in London but that means the chances of finding a diamond in the rough are much higher. As a helping hand, though, check out the Fluid London guide to the Top 10 Best Thai restaurants in London.

Images courtesy of Flickr users simone.brunozzi and Kake Pugh.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The ‘Any Old Pub Will Do’ Tour

By Alex Hawkes.

To celebrate some sort of rebranding exercise that I still haven’t quite got my head around yet, the Punch Pub Company organised for a routemaster bus to take me, a friend and lots of other journalists on a tour of no less than five of its most historic pubs. These pubs have recently been brought under the Taylor Walker name, which is a brewery that dates back to the 1730s and therefore can be marketed with lots of Daily Mail words like 'traditional British'. 

Before this evening, I assumed I had never set foot in a Taylor Walker/Punch Pub Company pub before, but turns out I am more than familiar with the brand. Upon arriving at the Green Man (above) on Euston Road, I realise Taylor Walker pubs are instantly recognisable from their slick jet black exterior and proud golden signs. This design, I go onto discover, apparently pays homage to London’s former gin palaces; lavish Victorian drinking holes for the rich and ostentatious. 

Sadly, there is very little ostentatious to be found inside any of these pubs today and instead Taylor Walker pubs predominantly seem to be about playing it safe. The menus are restricted solely to the typical fish and chips, sausage and mash, pies etc strictly without any gastro twist, while the deco likes to reference olde England via a few pictures or ornaments sandwiched between wide screen TVs. My first impression perhaps wasn't helped by meeting in the Green Man’s function room, which has about as much character as a budget hotel lobby. 

The routemaster bus took us next onto the Marlborough Arms (above) near UCL, where we were supplied with cocktails that taste like fizzy drinks; always the most dangerous sort of cocktail. It was after one or two or four of these, that my friend and I realised we had been trashed off our faces before in this exact pub. Now, this could be perceived as a triumph for Taylor Walker. I have, after all, happily thrown away large wads of my hard earned cash during a full afternoon and evenings worth of debauchery in one of their establishments. On the other hand, though, it really was one of those days when 'just any old pub will do'.

Heading onwards, we take in Ye Olde Cock Tavern (above) on Fleet Street and the Silver Cross (below) in Whitehall. The same thing happens both times. Maybe I should start attending AA sessions, but I had definitely ordered a pint (honest it was just the one) in both these pubs before. One is near my old work place and the other is near the station I need to use to get home. And yes, I nipped in them again with my 'just any old pub will do' attitude. 

The tour finished in Mayfair in The Audley (above), which ruined my 'just any old pub will do' theory as this pub was considerably more flash than the others and it was in a neighbourhood where no one really does 'just any old pub will do'. Nevertheless, this essentially was a 'just any old pub will do' tour and I thoroughly enjoyed it; partly because of the routemaster bus, which came complete with a flamboyant tour guide who pointed out places in London that I walk past every day and don't realise are actually quite important, but mainly because these 'just any old pub will do' pubs have played a role in my life and it’s about time that I gave them the care and attention they deserve. I encourage you all to also embark on your very own 'just any old pub will do' tour.

If you want to check out some more of London’s best pubs, click this link to go through to our Top 10 London guides.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Tits & Bra's? The Church Makes A Boob Of Itself In A Grand Setting

By Laura Collins.

Church on a Sunday? Not too strange a notion. A fancy dress church service with a St Patrick’s Day theme? Hmmm, I don’t recall people dressing in Guinness hats and leprechaun outfits at Sunday service. But then this wasn’t just any church. This was THE Church, possibly one of the most renowned events in London. Known for its Antipodean roots and drunken clientele, The Church has a reputation that can’t be matched, and I found out why.

Held every Sunday afternoon, The Church is an excuse for hardcore partygoers to dress up and let their hair down; and in most cases, the hair hasn’t slept and is still being let down from the previous (Saturday) night. It offers four hours of unadulterated drinking, dancing and unsophisticated activity; a real love-it or hate-it entity. The debauched event first launched in 1979 and has since been held in many venues across London. It currently resides in the Clapham Grand, an iconic, Victorian-era listed building that is severely underrated and is perhaps a surprising location for such a seedy party.

On entry to The Church, I was met by a blur of green: a mass of people in St Patrick’s Day outfits. And hats off to the dressed up revellers. Some had gone to great lengths to get into the Irish spirit. The green haze covered two of the three floors of the Clapham Grand and emanated from the balconies and royal boxes that line the impressive venue. The sticky disco-tiled dance floor, as well as the bars and drinking areas, were filled by a heaving crowd that moved as one creature.

Once I’d managed to pull my voyeuristic and unbelieving eyes away from the drunken Church-goers, I began to notice my surroundings. Clapham Grand is a beautiful theatre building with a striking burgundy interior that echoes a bygone era. Opened in 1900 and originally serving as a cinema, bingo hall and nightclub, The Grand has a rich history behind it. Now, thanks to an impressive refurbishment, today’s public can enjoy The Grand as it was originally meant to be seen: as an events space for club nights and comedy gigs. Sadly, however, the olde-worlde elegance is slightly lost on a Sunday when The Church takes place.

Don’t get me wrong, an afternoon at this famous event does have its elements of fun and attending is almost like a rite of passage. It needs to be experienced to be believed! As well as the usual drinks, dancing and fancy dress, there is an entertaining but extremely crude compere and a variety of games on stage. It does have a more sleazy side, though, which those with an easily-offended nature should be warned about. Not only is there a female stripper who takes her act a bit too far, there is also a testosterone-rich videographer who pans the room with his camera, trying to get girls to flash on the big screen. He even offers grammatically incorrect words (‘Tits & Bra’s!’) as a form of encouragement; a mistake that perfectly sums up The Church. For those who enjoy this type of entertainment, I would recommend it, if only for its fabulous setting in the Clapham Grand. One word of advice, though: say your prayers before you go and save the forgiving of sins until afterwards!

Friday, 18 March 2011

The Best, And Only, Lamb Lucknow In London

By Rebecca Brett.

A typical lunch affair for me is a cheese sandwich, a bowl of warming tomato soup, or, if I’m being exotic, a medley of pitta and carrots dipped in hummus. So when I was invited to the East End to dip my hungry little fingers in to the world of curries and chapattis for lunch, I jumped at the chance. Anything to escape the misery of Pret and Starbucks for one day.

In order to work up an appetite I cycled to Brick Lane from Battersea. It was a lovely ride. I got a little bit lost then found the famous curry mile, dodged the touts outside their restaurants, and found the haven of Sheba.

I found the reserved table with the rest of the bloggers and writers and took a pew, tucking straight into fresh crunchy poppadums with extra spicy lime pickle, soothing raita and sweet chutney.

Now, for lunch I don’t usually have starters and mains but when there’s a will there’s a way and I’ve got all the will of a hungry elephant.

So to start we shared five different starters including a man-friendly selection of chicken, lamb and mince kofte kebabs, a delicious Chicken Chat Puree and crispy onion bhajis. This would have probably been enough alone, but then we had about 12 main dishes arrive at the table!

There was a chicken murgh, prawn malabar, lamb lucknow, fish bhuna, a huge assortment of vegetables, breads, rices and many more dishes covering every last square inch of white table cloth. With a take-some-and-pass-it-along method, we got a good rhythm going around the table, it was pure pot luck what got left in front of you.

Thank the Indian luck that the best dish on the table, the lamb lucknow – two huge lamb shanks in a rich sauce with carrots, aromatic herbs, cardamon, pine flowers and saffron - landed in front of me. Sheba claims to be the only Indian restaurant on the whole of Brick Lane to serve this dish and it is a wonder why there isn’t a queue of revellers scrumming to get in the door for this dish alone.

The succulent meat falls off the bone upon mere sight of a fork, the sauce is warming and thick and the flavours are intense. It’s easy to say this is one of the best dishes I have ever tasted while eating a curry.

Our table certainly attracted some attention. When we arrived for lunch we were the only table there (it must have been cheese sandwich day) but with our myriad of dishes making for a spectacular colour display, passers-by were looking in, stopping and then coming in to join us. Not literally, but they could have with the amount of food we had laid before us!

I left Sheba after fighting for the last spoonful of chicken and mopping up the remains of sauce with a titan piece of naan. I almost didn’t make it home, my new weight certainly showed, manifesting as a strain on my tyres when I returned to my bike. I trundled on at snail’s pace to get home.

While avoiding falling asleep when I got in, I was thinking about why I’d go back to Sheba. Firstly, one of the first things about Brick Lane that I can’t stand are the endless touts promising that their restaurant is the best. Sheba doesn’t have this, and that’s because it doesn’t need it. Their dedicated followers are enough to keep them from standing outside and waving a menu under your nose.

Secondly, that lamb shank. If you can’t get it anywhere else then I don’t want to go anywhere else!

And lastly, the waiter was telling me about the Bollywood Blast; the spiciest dish on the menu. He challenged me to try it and I hate losing challenges so I’ll be back for sure.

If you happen to go to Sheba, I’ll probably be the one crying tears of chilli juice in the corner.

Want to find out more? Check out the Top 10 Best Indian Curry Restaurants in London.