Tayyab seems to be an East London institution as much as a restaurant. It has expanded out of its original Whitechapel premises into what was the pub next door, and yet still the tables are filled. On this hot August weekday there was a long (and I mean long) queue of people waiting for a table, though you can make a reservation if you want to avoid this. The tables are crammed in and there are no fripperies like tablecloths: plain wooden tables, plain wooden floor.
The Pakistani (Punjabi) food offered here is based around the tandoor and the karahi (i.e. iron wok used for stir-frying). A pair of popadoms appear as soon as you sit down, though these are actually a chargeable item at 60p each, along with some standard out-of-a-jar chutneys. Starters are familiar classics. We tried chicken tikka and masala fish, both served on a sizzling iron griddle. The chicken tikka (£2.80) was quite good, marinated in spices and cooked properly, though the chicken itself was not of very high quality (12/20). Masala fish (£5.50) was cooked a little too long but was fine (11/20).
A main course of king prawn karahi (£12) had some distinctly ordinary prawns cooked a little too long, served with a few vegetables and swimming in ghee (barely 11/20). A bhindi (£5) was of the soggy variety, also sitting in a pool of oil (10/20). Saag aloo (£4.80) was better, the potatoes nicely cooked, the spinach and spices working well together (12/20). Tinda masala (stir fried round gourds) was cooked well enough, with a hint of sweetness from the tinda (11/20). Rice was fine (12/20) but a naan (90p) was rather stiff in texture (11/20).
Given the queue I could understand that we were not meant to linger, but serving our main course when we were barely halfway through our starter was not really on (nor practical, since our tiny table could not accommodate all the dishes at one time). There are just token desserts e.g. bought-in kulfi, so we didn’t want to hold up the anxious waiting staff any further from their table turning and stopped at the main course.
You can bring your own alcohol to the restaurant, but we just had water and a single (good) sweet lassi. The bill for two despite the lack of drinks was still £39.70, which is OK but hardly the kind of rock-bottom pricing that can be found in some other East End places, or in Southall, or indeed Euston. Overall I liked the spicing, but there was a recurring theme of overcooking and over-use of ghee, while the bhindi was simply bad. There seems to be a near-religious fervour amongst fans of this restaurant (I am dreading the incoming comments), but it seemed to me merely mostly decent cooking, served at a gallop.