Monday, April 6, 2009

British "Local Color" At Its Best: Lahore Kebab House

Absurdity Disclaimer:
This is a mammoth post with an absurd amount of pictures. Don't hate me. I have to put my pregnant energy into SOMETHING.

Ludovictus Watch: T-minus 5 days (or 2 wks +5 days) and counting.

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Good old Umberston Street.

The first (blessed) time Matt every mentioned Lahore Kebab House to me was a little over a year ago. He had gone there for a business lunch with his coworkers and couldn't stop raving about a little "BYOB hole in the wall Pakistani restaurant" with the most "electric food" he'd ever tasted, located in The City of London.

Our table after our ravenous endeavors.

Both being fans of a "good curry," as the British call it, we swore to make a personal pilgrimage to Lahore. After all, the place came recommended by Matt's boss, who, part Pakistani, knows his stuff. He has since then taken Matt and the guys to several more "hole in the wall" Indian / Pakistani joints around London, but Matt maintains this is the absolute best.

Bubbling cauldrons of deliciousness in the Lahore kitchen.

We finally made it over for the first time last October when my mom was visiting, before heading to The Tower of London for a historic witnessing of The Ceremony of the Keys. Mesmerized, we swore to go back again. And this weekend, we finally did.

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Lahore Kebab House: Enough Said.
go there; go back; have the lamb chops.

Freshly made poppadum in the Lahore kitchen.

A Little British "Local Color"

This Saturday, 39 weeks and 1 day pregnant, we figured it was about time we headed over to see if the old wives tale about spicy food inducing labor really rang true. Good husband that he is, Matt rented a Streetcar for a couple of hours, and took me on a luxurious car ride down my favorite road in London (particularly beautiful at this time of year): Embankment. I can't tell you the aesthetic and primal thrill it is to fly down this road on my little red vespa in the Springtime!

It follows the River Thames all the way from West London to The City and passes everything from
the Battersea Power Station to Westminster (read: Parliament & the somewhat freaky past leader statues in front of it) to the many and infamous London bridges.

Tubby Isaacs - Jellied Eels & Seafood; they cater, FYI.

Along the way we also passed a typically British thing worth mentioning: Tubby Isaac's - a jellied eel and seafood stand (established in 1919) famous for its uniquely East-end snacks. Not my cup of tea, but definitely a piece of "local color."

We also got a glimpse of the RBS building and its broken windows. Don't you just LOVE the mob mentality? Right, moving on...

Parking was a challenge at first but we ended up finding a cosy spot deep within a local, predominantly-Muslim neighborhood, where we found further examples of typical modern British culture:

Yes, that is a lovely black Lamborghini parked outside council housing.

Yes, that is a beautiful, locally painted mural dedicated to Allah.
Incidentally, we are right off "Christian Street."

Our Meal: The Real Deal

Coming recommended from a business man, one might expect a glammy-glitzy-high-end Cinnamon-Club-esque place (don't get me wrong - I'm a big fan of the CC), but Lahore couldn't be further from it. Cheap and cheerful, the restaurant is basic but very clean and efficient. Nothing is overstated, though the tables offer ample elbow room, the portions are generous and the waitstaff plentiful. The place was created as a blank but highly utilitarian canvas on which to showcase their artistic speciality: simple, authentic and delicious Pakistani food.

First stop as seasoned veterans of the Lahore experience: the local bodega to buy Matt some Cobra beer. Being a Muslim establishment, Lahore does not sell pork or alcohol, but they do allow you to BYOB. We indulged, as is our wont.

Prerequisite Cobra in hand, we were taken to our table where I was allowed to indulge in my great love of menu-browsing and ceremonious ordering, but not before taking a gander at their amazing open-kitchen behind the giant window-wall. One of the chefs even stopped to let me take a picture of the gigantic pile of poppadums he was carrying (very nice of him :) ).

Even before you order, your table is automatically brought a giant bottle of water (to quell the anticipated fire, I would guess), some mint-yogurt chutney, and a big plate of sliced lettuce, tomato, and cucumber to nibble on till the games begin. I also got a mango lassi - my favorite.

Next, the much-loved, much-lauded Grilled Lamb Chops. I don't know how else to describe these besides saying they are spicy pieces of tender Lamb heaven. You cannot go to Lahore and not try them. They are grilled with an orange-colored, spicy Pakistani spice rub and sprinkled with cilantro.

Get the lamb chops or you will have never really lived.

Main Courses:
To help with some of the spice, we got one order each of handmade Chili Naan and Garlic Naan, straight off the cool charcoal oven.

Chili Naan! Real pieces of Jalapeno scattered about...score.

Still-warm Garlic Naan; copious amounts of Garlic abound.

We also got our favorite vegetarian course: Saag Paneer.

Yummy homemade cheese with delicious spinach and spices.

For the carnivores inside, I ordered Karahi Chicken and, a Pakistani / Indian prerequisite: rice for two.

Karahi Chicken, Lahore style.

Upon first inspection, the dishes look like your usual curry fare, but it is the uniquely Pakistani and freshly ground spice combinations that give these dishes the Lahore "touch" that I have not found
replicated elsewhere.

This was all more than enough for two big eaters. Everything was brought quickly, hot, and delicious
in typical metal curry dishes and was obviously made freshly. Highly recommended all around.

Pudding (as the Brits would say):

My box of goodies.

Matt and I made a familiar pact that, even after indulging in our incredible Pakistani feast, we would save just a little shred of room in our bellies to attack the alluring Bangladeshi sweet-shop we had passed on our way to Umberston Street.

Temptation in the form of Gulab Jam? Check.

This is where we got Gulab Jam and many other little tasty sweeties. The shop keeper pegged us for American tourists (and told us as much); he seemed annoyed when we told him we actually lived in London. I think he was hoping to get us to buy a kilo of sugary goodness instead of the 6 pieces we settled on. Oh well! As Matt so aptly noted: walking around looking like gringos will do that for you!

What a way to end an already culinarily and culturally delicious afternoon!

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Lahore Kebab House
2-10 Umberston Street
London E1 1PY

Tel: 020 7481 9737
NB: Make reservations if you are going in the evening. It gets crowded and you want space to suck the bones dry! :)

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  1. Oh man, how I envy you this dinner - it sounds fantastic! I love this sort of food and I spent many a Saturday walking through this neighborhood. I think it was Tower Tube stop that was a transfer station for me so sometimes I would get off here and grab a meal.

    I had the worst meal of my life near by, but I had headed closer to the river. I think it was along Tower Bridge Road - another Indian Pakistani place. They had rats, and the maitre d' brained one with the dinner menu midway through my meal right. I digress, but your post got me thinking that there were two options, heaven and hell, and I chose the later to my deepest regret. I'd like to replace my memory of that meal with yours.

    What a wonderful way to spend the day, and the weather looks lovely. (I hoped the spicy food help expedite the process =^)

  2. The photo of clean plates and bowls spoke volumes - another great meal! Of course, the subsequent photos of intact food reiterated the sentiment. The box of sweets, in particular, look great (I like the light, round ones - what are they?)

    As for the Lamborghini in front of council housing, I suppose that living in subsidized housing doesn't mean you should go without life's little luxuries. 8-P

  3. Hey Tangled - wish I could tell you what the white ones were called as those were my favorites! They all had labels but the names dropped out of my head as soon as I looked at the next sweet. :) I also tried asking the shop keeper what they were made of, but to no avail. I guess sometimes it's more fun to just eat and be merry and keep the name or recipe a mystery!

  4. Looking forward to trying this place! The pictures and your descriptions are making my mouth water for Pakistani food. I agree with Oyster...I was thinking while I was reading your post that the Pakistani food might urge Ludovictus to make an early entrance!

  5. If I should find a any place here that might carry these treats, I'll print off your photo so that I can just point to it!

  6. YOUR FAT LITTLE PREGNANT FEET! You are such a fiend. The food looks yummy too. Tell the meej to come already!

  7. OMG! I went to Lahore for dinner last night. So good. We even ordered an extra portion of grilled lamb chops after our bill came. And, Helen Mirren was having dinner there too!

    ps thx for the BYOB tip...