I contrast East London Tayyab with Southall stalwart the Brilliant

Saturday, August 02nd , 2008

 brilliant 5472 aloo tikki-crop-v3.JPG
Aaya is a new opening from Alan Yau’s brother, a Japanese restaurant in the heart of Soho. Unlike Alan Yau’s Sake No Hana, it does not strive for ultra-authenticity, which is probably no bad thing; at least the menu is translated into English (unlike Sake no Hana), rather than making assumptions that diners automatically know the terms for the various styles of Japanese cooking. By now most people know what sushi is, but agemeno (meat on skewers)? Hence Aaya is more approachable, as are its prices.  In some cases the cooking is well conceived, and the presentation was generally very good, but there were also false notes, such as a “wild mushroom salad” that appeared to contain almost entirely farmed mushrooms. Sushi and sashimi were generally very enjoyable, but chicken teriyaki was disappointing, as was chewy pork belly. The waiters wander round in white robes, which lend a rather odd cultish feel, and the service itself was rather erratic. Overall there were some positive aspects to the meal, but rather more problems that one would hope for. Personally I’ll be sticking to Zuma.
People have strong views about their local curry houses, but as well as the place at the end of your road serving chicken tikka masala (which bemused Indians have now started to put on some menus in Bombay for its exotic character, there being no such thing in India) there are clearly some areas where real Asian food congregates. Brick Lane and Westbourne Grove are in truth mostly for students and tourists, but Whitechapel, Wembley, Tooting and Southall clearly have authentic places catering to Asians as well as westerners. I recall regular trips to the Lahore Kebab House in Umberston Street when I was living in East London, but these days Southall is a lot more convenient for me. The most talked-about East London eaterie is Tayyab, which despite not even the most basic “round-up” entry in the Good Food Guide nonetheless has people literally queuing up to get in. I can admire the logistics of the place, which turns tables at a fearsome rate and most be a gold mine for its owners, but I found the food rather ordinary. Too many things were swimming in ghee, and although the spicing was reasonably vibrant the ingredients used were distinctly on the ordinary side (poor prawns), and a soggy bhindi was an example of poor cooking. Service was abrupt, though I am informed that the tandoori lamb chops are very good here.
The Brilliant in Southall has a very different and much smarter atmosphere these days, though also  heaving with people last Sunday. The spicing at the Brilliant is even less compromising, but in contrast to Tayyab’s poor quality prawns those at the Brilliant are very pleasant, and I cannot recall the last time I saw a technical cooking error here. Presentaton at The Brilliant can be attractive, as with their aloo tikki (pictured) and at the Brilliant they make their own kulfi, whereas Tayyab just buy theirs in. Service at the Brilliant is quite polished, even this week when the family who own the place were all away at a wedding. The standard of the food is considerably higher at the Brilliant e.g. comparing the chicken tikka at both. The bill at Tayyab was £18 a head, which is certainly not high, but this included just tap water and a single lassi between two, whereas the £25 bill at the Brilliant included multiple beers and lassi. Moreover at the end of the Brilliant meal I had leftovers sufficient for another complete meal. Hence it seems on the evidence of the meals this week that it is a case of Brilliant 1, Tayyab 0, in every dimension of the meal.  If I really want a cheap curry I will continue to go to Diwana Bhel Poori in Euston, where it is a challenge to spend £12 a head and still eat everything. Perhaps it is time to return to my old haunts and see how the Lahore Kebab House is shaping up these days.