‘The dishes’ names and ingredients are lyrical and thrillingly alien, and half the time you’ve no idea what they are; but you do know you’re going to be fighting over the last scraps’
What a gorgeous thing this is. We’re sharing it, but I’ve stopped being polite and am shamefully grabbing as much as I can. There’s crunch from shards of fried puri and wisps of sev, sweetness from date, tamarind and jewels of pomegranate, the odd strident nip of coriander. A different kind of texture comes from mealy black chickpeas and the whole thing is held together by the soothing balm of yoghurt. It’s papri (or papdi or papadi) chaat, a popular Indian street food snack; I’ve had it many times before, but I can’t remember ever feeling like fighting over it.
It’s typical of the food at this tiny East End restaurant run by Urvesh Parvais with his mother, Lalita Patel: all vivacity and freshness. They started out selling their family recipes handed down over the generations at London’s foodie markets, but have now graduated to an actual restaurant, too. If you can call it that: they don’t so much have an open kitchen as a kitchen with a few tables huddled around it, so you can watch as spices are tempered in seething oil and chaats are assembled moments before serving. The methi na thepla – little flatbreads honking with leafy fenugreek that lives in my pores for days – are slapped out and hit the fryer minutes before they’re delivered to us by the beauteous Polly.
We have butteta vhada: potato formed into little balls in a gram flour coating, the seemingly pedestrian ingredients made thrilling by the addition of ginger and chilli, and a sultry tomato and curry leaf chutney. And a slightly fermented-tasting and porridgey chickpea khumni ne sev (often served at breakfast, unsurprisingly), which is far more engaging than its appearance would suggest.
I like these starters, or snacks, and the side dishes better than main courses, which can venture into amorphous brown stew territory. I’m thinking particularly of an aubergine, potato and pea number that looks like the kind of thing you resort to when using up the last of the veg box. But the red aduki bean dahl, oh lordy. It’s glorious: buttery, rich, each spice making its presence felt without shouting, slightly sweetened with jaggery. It’s a thing of humble but absolute luxury.
Every week there’s a different menu. You might find athanu: slices of fresh mango spiked with tingling spices into a kind of instant chutney. Or one of their insanely good bhujias: onion or broccoli, fried till crisp, the batter aerated with a fizz of bicarb. Or mhutia: crunchy wafers laced with ajwain (carom) seeds, like poppadoms with attitude.
The dishes’ names and ingredients are lyrical and thrillingly alien – vaal, farari chevro, ohndwo – and half the time you’ve no idea what they are; but you do know you’re going to be fighting over the last scraps. The prevalence of Jainism in Gujarat means that the state is mostly vegetarian (Rasoi is totally so, although it’s not the full satvika, avoiding onion and garlic, for which I’m eternally grateful). But rarely have I missed meat less. And, surprisingly for such a tiny outfit, they’re licensed, offering unusual, Indian-spiced cocktails and pleasing organic Sicilian wines decanted into stoppered bottles. Afterwards, even though we’ve scarfed virtually the whole menu, we feel energised and frisky, up for hitting Dalston’s moody cocktail establishments. Yah boo sucks to post-curry torpor.
To say that Gujarati Rasoi is no frills is restrained understatement. Decor runs to chipboard and concrete with a few flourishes of ornate fabric bunting for levity. If you sit too near the kitchen (and, even with their recent colonisation of the next-door space, it’s hard not to), you can fry every bit as thoroughly as the thepla. But you get the very real sense that you’re enjoying the hospitality of talented Gujarati home cooks, without needing to be invited into actual Gujarati homes. Which is a privilege I’m happy to cross town for.
• Gujarati Rasoi 10c Bradbury Street, London N16, 020-8616 7914. Open dinner
Wed-Sat, 6-10.30pm; Sat brunch noon-3pm. About £25 a head for three courses, plus drinks and service.
Value for money 8/10
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