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.