Let’s face it. In most restaurants, meat is king. The vegetarian option is rarely the star of the show. Which is why, as someone that tried to be vegan, failed, and is now a ‘part-time’ vegetarian, eating out always means eating meat. UNLESS you go somewhere like Gujarati Rasoi on Bradbury Street N16, where vegetables rule the (meatless) roost.
I’ve only recently re-discovered Bradbury Street. I used to go to the old Jazz Club there, which, by the time of night (or morning) I arrived, had nothing to do with jazz, and everything to do with crap DJs and drunken dancing. Now, it’s all posh. At least, it’s grown a tuft of pretty good looking restaurants, which may or not have been there before – I was too drunk to notice. Did I mention it was a long time ago?
What drew me to Gujarati is it’s minimalist approach to furniture (think chipboard doors, school room chairs and tables, all very close together) and the fact it was always completely rammed when I walked past, whatever day of the week. I booked a table (what a simple pleasure, nowadays) for Friday night and took along the boy.
The menu is pretty stripped back – completely vegetarian, with plenty of vegan / gluten-free options, with only a few dishes per course. The boy likes to order everything, which always makes me terribly embarrassed, but secretly glad when I get to try it all. I held him back to two starters, two mains and all the sides (one of them was raita, it barely counts). They had a good selection of beer too – he had a Meantime London Lager, I a Pinot Noir, although it was pricey – £7 for a 175ml glass (not even a large).
We started with the Papdi Chaat which, honestly, is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, anywhere, and also unlike anything else I’ve ever eaten. Anywhere. They describe it as ‘coriander, onions, pomegranate, date and and tamarind sauce and raitha. Black chick peas cooked with arjwain and laid on top of crunchy Chorofali ribbons’ – which doesn’t really do justice to what it is, if you have no idea what any of those words mean. Think thick, strained yoghurt, dotted with sour pops of pomegranate seed, chopped coriander and the mysterious ‘arjwain’ (Wiki says ‘fruits resembling caraway and cumin, with a flavour similar to aniseed or oregano’). This was shredded, with something like crunchy onion (if that’s what that delicious stuff on the top is, I don’t know). The yoghurt was piled high over crunchy Chorofali ribbons – a Gujarati snack, seasoned with chilli and mango powder (doesn’t that sound amazing?). Imagine all of that flavour, together, in your mouth. Honestly, this dish was enough to ensure I would return, no matter how everything else tasted.
Which is handy, because I wasn’t so keen on the second starter, butteta nada. This was balls of potato, onion, ginger, fresh coriander, chilli, lemon juice and spices, dipped in seasoned gram flour batter. It came with a chunky, refreshing tomato chutney. I found the dough to be stodgy and dry, even with the chutney. It clung to the roof of my mouth, cloying, and sat in my stomach like wet cement. Far too heavy for a starter – although the cheeky extra serving of crunchy batter was very good.
Mains were next – these came in two sizes (and prices). Order the smaller portions – we were horribly full at the end of the meal. The boy went for Dhudi na Kofta, ne Fansi. These were koftas made with Dhudi (pale green gourd) mixed with spices and gram flour. They were served in rich spicy tomato sauce with Fansi – fine green beans cooked with cumin, ginger, chilli and sesame seeds. This was my favourite of the two dishes. The tomato curry was pungent, herby with a lingering banknote of spice. The kofta’s were soft and absorbed the sauce – the boy complained they needed crunch, texture to make up for the lack of meat fat – but I thought for a vegetarian dish, they were very good. The green beans, however, felt like an afterthought, chucked on for good measure.
I went for the Palak, Kanda ne Paneer. This was marinated cubes of paneer with cumin, chilli and ginger with spinach, onions and peanuts. Essentially, this was a very good saag paneer, the dry ‘classy’ kind, not the type you get from the takeaway, which is usually swimming in coconut cream (which, I admit, I prefer). To me, this felt more like a large side dish – I missed an extra element, something to give it further depth and flavour. Okay, I admit it, I missed meat (told you I was a part-time veggie).
Chora ne Dhoodi ni Dhal was the best side dish (if I’m spelling this wrong, please forgive me. I’m writing in Mac notes, and it keeps autocorrecting everything, and now the menu has changed on the website). This was split chickpeas cooked with tempered spices, garlic, jaggery and Dhoodi (part of the gourd vegetable family). This was creamy, light, a perfect accompaniment to the drier Palak main. I wished there had been been more dhal, less dhoodi. We were left fighting over the latter.
There was also Methi na Thepla – flatbreads made with fresh fenugreek leaves, Bhat – cumin infused Basmati lead, and Raita, served in a jaunty shot glass and sprinkled with pomegranate. We ordered poppadoms but they never arrived – we had to ask to have them taken off the bill, even at a miserly £1.50. It came to £75 – £20 of that alcohol, without service.
We ordered far too much of course, but it still felt over-priced for vegetarian fare, even if it was very good. The staff were polite, efficient but deluged – food took longer to arrive than usual – a disgruntled woman next to us even walked out. Next time I have a veggie friend in the area, I’ll be back, all on the strength of the Papdi Chaat. Outstanding.
10C Bradbury St
£75 for two, without service
Three and a half out of five stars