Busy thoroughfares in London tend to produce a special type of transient and canteen-like restaurant. The kind that’s bright and light and affordable and swift, where hunched solo diners come and go and eat with a ravenous appreciation usually reserved for meals in front of the TV. These restaurants, like Zamzam on Seven Sisters or Café TPT off Leicester Square are the equivalent of Popeye’s spinach to those that rely on them. They feed, they water, they rest, they rejuvenate - and Shalamar Kebab House is another superb example.
The Pakistani restaurant lives in the literal shadow of Tayaabs, an oasis of stillness five minutes from the buzz of Whitechapel Road. It’s a straightforward whitely-lit canteen-style corner restaurant with a short menu that ranges from homemade samosas to chicken tikka, to curries, daal, biryani, and naans. The chicken tikka, whether on a plate or in a roll (for just £3.50), is completely delicious and notably excellent. A moist and spiced reminder of how good perfectly cooked poultry is (and in turn how insulting lemon and herb sawdust can be). That said, the meat biryani - a mountainous plate of fragrant rice mixed with flaking pink lamb - is fantastic too. Paired with dollops of Shalamar’s tart mint raita, it’s a comforting plate that defies the London limitations of a £5 note. If you’re after a curry then the correct move is to look towards the karais and, bread-wise, everything you want is coming out of the tandoor. Once you’ve got your order down, Shalamar will be fixed in your restaurant repertoire, a homely kitchen away from home.
Glistening and luminously rust-coloured, these five perfectly cooked cubes of marinated chicken breast in yoghurt, garam masala, turmeric and more are something we could feasibly eat a tray of. As it is, a plate is immensely satisfying or between naan bread is a peerless snack.
Rather than cooked together this quick canteen biryani is mixed together when ordered. Pilau rice mixed with chunks of karai beef that’s pink when pulled apart, the whole thing infused with cardamom pods and a hum of green chilli. Delicious, generous, and one of the best plates of food you can get for £5 in east London.
A murky brown as dark as the football pitches at Hackney Marshes mid-December, this is a warming curry and a very good vehicle for any naan or paratha you’ve ordered. The chicken isn’t quite as good as the orange cubes of tikka, so you’re better off ordering the slow-cooked meat karai where the flavours of the wok benefit from karais past.
Just like Shalamar’s curries, there’s a right move and there’s a wrong move with their bread. Namely, go for the ones hot and fresh from the tandoor. It will always serve you well. Especially as a chicken tikka roll.
Impressively disc-like but a little bit flabby, this bhaji sits under the counter so it isn’t fried crisp and fresh. It’s alright but isn’t worth ordering.