The “Grand Trunk Road” was one of the great trading highways of Asia, linking what is now Afghanistan to India. Its origins go back two millennia but it was rebuilt in the 16th century by ruler Sher Sha Suri and further enhanced by the British East India Company in the 1830s, linking Kabul through to Calcutta, then the capital of imperial India. It is also the name of an Indian restaurant in Woodford, set up in 2016 by Rajesh Suri, who after a career at Oberoi hotels in India, worked with Veeraswamy and Tamarind. The journey from Chiswick to Woodford is not quite as lengthy, nor as perilous, as that from Calcutta to Kabul. Not quite.
The original head chef was Dayashankar Sharma from Rajasthan, who worked with the Oberoi Group and then moved to England to become head chef of Zaika before moving to Heritage in Dulwich. The cuisine follows the path of the Grand Trunk Road, taking in dishes from the regions that follow the highway. The new head chef is Arupdas Gupta, originally from Kolkatta and who has recently been working at Lalit in London.
The meal began with popadoms and a quartet of chutneys that were made from scratch in the kitchen. Yoghurt with mint, chilli with mango flakes, carrot and raisin and apple and ginger chutneys were all definitely a cut above the norm. Armitsari fish involved tilapia that had been roasted with carom seeds, pepper and gram and corn flour and served with smoked roasted tomato chutney. The fish was cooked quite nicely and worked well with the chutney (13/20). Lucknow chicken tikka malai featured chicken supreme marinated with saffron, cream cheese, cardamon and crushed black peppercorns. The meat was softened nicely by the cream cheese and tasted nicely of its spicy marinade (14/20).
Awadhi dum gosht biryani came served with its pastry crust intact, this being cut open at the table. In this way the aromas of the dish are released, the lamb avoiding dryness and the rice being nicely aromatic (14/20). Ajwani prawns were king prawns that had been marinated with roasted tomatoes, peppers, carom seeds and crushed garlic. The prawns were lightly cooked and had absorbed their spices well, though I think the prawns themselves could be sourced better (14/20).
Bhindi used baby okra, spices and little pickled silver-skin onions. The okra was not overcooked as it so often is, and the vinegar from the pickled onions nicely complemented the okra (14/20). Gobi mutter “Hara Piyaz” (the latter meaning spring onion) had cauliflower that retained its texture well, along with light cooked peas tempered with ginger, cumin, spring onion and tomato (14/20). The star dish of the meal was Bhukara dhal, the much copied black dhal cooked slowly overnight and popularised at restaurant Bhukara in Delhi. The version here was superb, the lentils having excellent texture and the dhal having a lovely dark, richness with a hint of smokiness (16/20).
Orange and almond cake was pleasant enough but came with bland vanilla ice cream. This was apparently made in the kitchen, but if so then it had perilously few, if any, real vanilla pods associated with it (11/20). Coffee was the basic Nespresso pod. Service was excellent, and the bill including beer to drink came to £72 per person. Grand Trunk Road is serving interesting and high-quality dishes, and must be right up near the top of the best Indian restaurants in east London.