Aida Khan’s first restaurant opened in March 2019, a venture that developed out of a successful supper club. Ms Khan was formerly host of a TV food show in Pakistan. Shola, which is Urdu for “spark” (and apparently "chickpea" in Punjabi and "tropical forest" in Tamil), is in the redeveloped BBC offices in White City, and offers Pakistani food of the kind that you would find in a home kitchen.
The small dining room is a casual affair, with bench seating and no tablecloths, and quite basic tableware, with cutlery in a container and trays rather than plates. The menu is modestly priced and has a good selection of meat and vegetarian options, though no seafood. Starters were mostly under £5, and even the biryani was only £10. There were a handful of wines available with no vintages listed, but the obvious way to go is beer, with Camden Hells lager at £6 a pint.
There were two kinds of chaat on offer. Aloo channa chaat was the most conventional, with chickpeas, potatoes, onions, tomatoes and a tamarind chutney. This was simple but enjoyable (13/20), and I preferred it to kaalay channay kee chaat, which had black chickpeas that had been cooked in a tamarind and lemon sauce with spices and garnished with chopped onions and coriander, This was a decent dish, but I would have preferred a clearer sweet and sour flavour to have come through (12/20). We also tried skinny bhindi (okra) fries in gluten-free breadcrumbs. These didn’t work at all, the okra being stringy and very difficult to eat (8/20). Chicken pakora was better, served hot and with a pleasant kick of spice (12/20).
For the main course chicken biryani was made with a cloth covering rather than a pastry seal. The rice was reasonable but the marinated chicken was distinctly dried out; the biryani also had a little potato, which survived the cooking better than the chicken (11/20). Better was shoulder of lamb that had been marinated for 48 hours in a black cardamom spice blend, then braised for four hours, with the cooking finished over charcoal. The result reminded me in texture of an Indian dish called raan, which I have not seen in the UK but have tried in India more than once, and is made with leg of lamb (or indeed goat) rather than lamb shoulder. The meat was tender and had taken on the flavour of the cardamon (13/20). Kaalee dhal was made with black urad beans that had been simmered for six hours with a spice mix and topped with fried onions. This had reasonable texture and was gently spiced (12/20). On the side, paratha had reasonable texture and avoided greasiness (13/20).
For dessert, both mango and pistachio kulfi had good flavour, served just a little too cold, though the texture of the ice creams was fine (13/20). We also tried a cardamom biscuit that had very good texture with a hint of spice (easily 13/20). Service was fine, though the staff looked to be under some pressure in a busy service with tables being turned on this cold weekday evening. The owner was very much in evidence, chatting to customers and overseeing things. The bill came to a very reasonable £24 a head with beer to drink. Shola is a casual and modestly priced restaurant that has some authentic and mostly enjoyable dishes. It is worth a look if you are in the area.