Now that restaurants don't have to tout their empty tables by standing in the street waving flyers and enticing you in with bottles of fizzy red wine anymore (they have twitter for that), Brick Lane can become a great place to go for a curry again. Nobody who's anybody goes to Tayyabs any more, unless it's Monday morning, because queuing is nearly as boring as reading an Andy Lynes review, and Lahore & Mirch Masala are just a bit too far over Commercial Road to walk in heels. Plus before all the places get taken over by sexy French girls or street-art shops, you want to get back down to London's crap curry capital and enjoy the garishness.
Only Brick Lane curry doesn't have to mean crap.
Look between the glitzy signage and you'll notice numerous little cafes, sparsely decorated (some quite shabby, really) all serving 'home-style' curries, breads, samosas and bhajis from a countertop environment.
My favourite forever was the now deceased Shalimar, situated next to Heneage Street, which made a perfect curry night duo with The Pride Of Spitalfields, a pub so 'East End' I once heard the manageress shriek "Churchills? This ain't the Queen Vic you know" to a poor wet-behind-the-ears and red-faced student, to the snorting giggles of his mates.
Second best (maybe now first) is Sweet and Spicy, a little corner place a few doors down.
Reassuringly shabby, with grease and dust clogged fans and Pakistani bodybuilder posters, the room is 1/4 full (7pm on a Saturday Night!) the sole member of staff shouts orders to a kitchen downstairs into a microphone, which appears not to work as replies are heard shouted back up the stairs perfectly clearly.
The crockery is brilliant. Currently en vogue and featuring in interiors shoots in Wallpaper Mag, this stuff looks like it's actually been here since 1969, when the place opened (One of the first three restaurants to open in Brick Lane, according to its website).
We order the classics: Lamb karahi, vegetable samosa, rice & dhal for two. I'm quite sure the karahi here is as good as Tayyabs, dense and rich gravy, soft meat, fragrant coriander. The total bill:
£13. That's THIRTEEN POUNDS, for dinner for two in a very fashionable part of town.
40 Brick Lane
Tower Hamlets, UK E1 6RF