21 Chapel Market, Islington, London, England, N1 9EZ, United Kingdom

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The narrow dining room is playfully decorated, with a generally modern feel but with a single booth kitted out in flock wallpaper in an ironic touch. The  menu (which doubles as a place mat) sounds appealing, with plenty of unusual offerings to supplement the more conventional Indian dishes, such as “tuna bhuna” and “masala corn cobs”. Prices are also low, with “lite bites” at £2.50 - £.95, tandoori dishes mostly £7 - £10, curries mostly £7 - £9 and rice £1.75. Modern Indian music plays in the room, and the place has a trendy, modern feel. The odd restaurant name apparently means “face to face”, though the name is overused to the point of irritation on the menu in examples such as "rooburoasts".  Still, over-enthusiastic marketing terms were less of a concern that the menu having vermicelli noodle dishes.  An Indian restaurant with noodles?  A sign of a fusion too far, but other than that I was actually gearing up to like the place. At least until the food arrived.

My starter of aloo tikki was not really like any version I am familiar with. Here it was a pair of vegetable patties with a mint chutney and a little salad. The patties had very little spice and, worse, had not been deep fried at a high enough temperature, so were soggy rather than crisp. This was simply not a pleasant experience (10/20). Onion bhajia was better, simple but made properly enough (borderline 11/20). Chicken tikka was adequate, the chicken tasting of surprisingly little but being cooked in the tandoor correctly (11/20). However Mumbai potatoes were just new potatoes cooked in an utterly bland brown gravy and the odd tomato, the sauce having hardly any discernable spices (10/20). 

Worst of all was Bengali seem jhinga, cheap small farmed prawns with the telltale whiff of chlorine that cheap prawns so often have; the kitchen had not even bothered to shell them. These were resting with some soggy flat beans in a rather unpleasant, slightly acidic brown gravy that again managed to avoid tasting at all of the spices that presumably had once been involved in the cooking (10/20). Garlic naan was fine (11/20) and rice was cooked properly, but the food just lacked any interest at all. At these prices one does not expect top ingredients, but I would at least hope for some tasty spices, yet an utter lack of taste was the overriding impression of the cooking here. A yellow dhal was utterly watery (10/20) and, guess what, seemed to barely be acquainted with the notion of spices. 

I’m not sure whether they were trying to tone things down for their perceived western audience, but this is 2008 and I think most Londoners have come across a chilli by now. The trouble is that, without much in the way of spice, all you have are cheap ingredients, not cooked that well. A revealing touch could be found on the table, which had as condiments salt and chilli oil. I tried this and it tasted barely at all of chillies. When even the chilli oil tastes bland then I’m afraid there is a fundamental problem present in cooking a cuisine where spice is the defining element. This was mostly Rooburubbish.

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