Grand Trunk Road : Best Curry House in London
Mark Bibby Jackson goes back to a regular haunt of his youth, to see if the Grand Trunk Road truly deserves the London Curry Awards accolade of best Indian restaurant in London.
As a youth growing up in London’s South Woodford, I often lamented upon the lack of quality Indian restaurants in our neighbourhood. True, we had the Taj Mahal and the Meghna Grill, but none of these could compare with a proper Brick Lane curry house.
So thirty-odd years later, I was flabbergasted to learn that the Grand Trunk Road South Woodford had been awarded the best Indian restaurant in London by the London Curry Awards for both 2018 and 2019.
From Mayfair to South Woodford via the Grand Trunk Road
Entering, the old Meghna Grill, I was immediately struck by the transformation. The rather tired décor of old had been replaced by a refined elegance you still do not find in Indian restaurants outside of central London. This is a place that more belonged to Mayfair than the Essex-London borders. Not that this surprised me, because the owner of Grand Trunk Road is Rajesh Suri, who set up The Tamarind in London’s Mayfair, the first Indian restaurant to receive a Michelin star.
It was there that he met Dayashankar Sharma, now the chef of the Grand Trunk Road. The two would go on a long journey along the actual Grand Trunk Road, which was built for traders in the 16th Century, and connected Afghanistan with Bangladesh via Pakistan and India. Along the way they sampled local food, which has ended its way onto the Grand Trunk Road menu.
An Indian Menu Like No Other
Normally, when you are presented with a menu in an Indian restaurant there is an instant familiarity. Whether you are a tandoori fan, a devotee of a chicken tikka masala, or fancy a vindaloo, there is sure to be something recognisable on the menu.
Not so with the Grand Trunk Road menu. Even, the poppadums come served with a range of pickles that included apple and ginger, beetroot and fennel, mango and chilli flakes, as well as mint and yoghurt, no flakes of desiccated yoghurt and lime chutney to be found.
A soon as I bit into the crispy poppadum dipped in the apple and ginger chutney, I knew that I could relax; I was in for a treat.
It’s All in the Detail
For a starter, I had a Delhi ki chaat (see cover image), which had wheat crisps and crisp lotus roots with yoghurt lavished over it and a fresh mint and tamarind chutney to counterbalance the sweetness of the yoghurt. Underneath lay some spicy chick peas that delivered as they promised, providing a slight tingling sensation to my tongue, without overwhelming the carefully balanced spices. Somewhere within lingered some pomegranate seeds and blueberries, to ensure this was a relatively healthy option.
My dinner companion ordered the seafood cake, which blended prawn, crab meat and tilapia fish into a dish that might have veered on the dry side if not for the spicy tomato, roasted and pepper chutney that turned it into a triumphant success.
It was then that my companion observed what had escaped me – you can taste the individual spices. Whereas, often in curry houses the spices are mixed in a general mêlée that assaults your senses – overwhelming rather than marrying –, here the spices complemented each other, with the heat creeping up on you in a reassuring manner rather than launching a direct assault. The textures were juxtaposed well, contrasting the crisp with the smooth.
Our main courses, a chingri malai curry consisting of tiger prawns in a subtle coconut milk, ginger and turmeric sauce, and sarson wali batakh – duck breast served with a vinegar, honey and ground mustard and an apricot chutney, excelled. The latter was particularly impressive with the duck sliced as a French magret de canard than a chunky duck curry. On the side, we had a dal bukhara and a magnificent Delhi ki gobhi aloo, where both cauliflower and potato was tempered with cumin, tomato and ginger. Cooked to perfection with baby potatoes, this once more signalled Dayashankar Sharma’s eye for detail.
The Bread of the Matter
Best of all was the bread. I often find you can tell the quality of a curry house by the standard of its bread. Both the green chilli naan and missi roti were piping hot, crisp and light, accompanying the main food perfectly.
After such a feast, the desserts were totally unnecessary but we managed a mango brûlé and a blood orange sorbet more for appearance sake than from any real desire. On another occasion, I would have opted for the chocolate pudding, which the people on the adjoining table shared and devoured with a gusto that its presentation merited.
Throughout the service was swift and precise without being overwhelming, ensuring that the whole meal was a thoroughly enjoyable occasion.
Quite whether the Grand Truck Road merits the title of the best Indian restaurant in London I could not say, although I cannot remember enjoying one more for a long time. What I can say though with absolute certainty is that youths growing up in South Woodford should be thankful as it’s considerably better than the Meghna Grill and well worth the trip from Brick Lane to savour.
For an Indian restaurant in Central London, why not try Little Kolkota?
Grand Trunk Road
219 High Road, London E18 2PB
T: 0208 505 1965