Brick Lane Revisited
I've been going to Brick Lane since about 1978, practically living in the place at one stage, but since moving to south London from the East End for about 17 years ago became only an occasional visitor, and the only restaurant I've been for a while is the Clifton. I'm organising a beer and curry evening in a few weeks and I'm looking for suggestions to go among the newer restaurants there, such as the Gram Bangla, which I keep reading about. What's the alcohol policy? Can you BYOB?
To be honest most of the restaurants on Brick Lane are terrible. Gram Bangla isn't the kind of place to have a BYOB fest.
Head to Tayyabs on Fieldgate Street (closer to whitechapel/Aldgate East tube) which will fit your needs perfectly.
As far as I know and as far as I'd assume, alcohol is completely not allowed in Gram Bangla. I can't see the employees appreciating BYOB and the regulars (which include imams from the East London Mosque) would probably feel similarly. Also, you might want to take note of the Clifton's appearance on a recent episode of Rogue Restaurants. It was horrifying, but I won't write about it further here as this is a food forum, not the Board of Health.
Might I suggest looking a bit east for an authentic South Indian experience? I've written extensively on Thattakuda in East Ham over the last few days and if it's already a trek for you to get to Brick Lane then is the extra 10-15 minutes to reach East Ham really going to change your life? Thattakuda usually has 3 beers at any given time (and I suspect they have whiskey as well, I've seen people drinking it.) It's Christian Malalyali owned and operated so alcohol (and beef) aren't an issue. Also, the food is so cheap that you won't have to worry about buying beer from the restaurant! Also, I think the food is a bit more in line with English expectations of South Asian food than a place like Gram Bangla would be (Gram pretty much serves village Bangladeshi food. Stuff that even high class people in Dhaka or London born Bangladeshis shy away from like dried fish, fish eggs, etc.)
I could toss out a few other eateries in the area of Brick Lane, but all of them have Sylheti Bangladeshi customers and owners who (I'd think) would be pretty unamused by the idea of BYOB. No harm in giving them a call and asking, but this is just what I'd assume.
Totally forgot about Tayyabs. If you're going to stay in the immediate area, then it's the perfect place for what you seem to want. If you want to be a bit adventurous than give my advice a shot and read the other post I've been adding to recently.
I did read your review of Thattakuda, which was very good, and a good find too. As a matter of fact I travel every day through East Ham to and from work, but it's unlikely I'll get to go there, as I'm not really in control of my own life - demands of family and work see to that - and most of my friends are in a similar position. Brick Lane is at least fairly central for us, and we can meet at the Pride of Spitalfields, which does a good pint of London Pride. Tayyabs sounds a good idea, but I will see if I can shift the locus further east. I don't think the idea of a dry Indian meal would go down well, although I am certainly prepared to try food that isn't necessary in line with my English expectations (I'm actually Welsh) of South Asian food, even if it is a bit out on a limb.
The alcohol aspect in Brick Lane has certainly changed over the years. When I was a regular, more or less all the restaurants allowed it. There were more pubs too, and most had live entertainment (of the "exotic" variety). You didn't see many women in burqas either.
By the way, in the Times on Saturday I was reading about Chowhound. An English journalist in New York was talking about a chap called Justin who told him where to go in a place called Jackson Heights, and also in London. It sounded suspiciously like you.
re: Lord Brazing
How times change! Yeah, the community there is changing, the Bengalis that are staying nearby are generally Sylheti which usually means a healthy dose of religion with your shutki, and the area's dynamic is undoubtedly moving east (as people get rented out, move on up, etc.)
In regards to The Times, I need to send Nancy an email. I didn't even realize it finally hit the paper as we did this a very long time ago. And yeah, that's me. I'm in the Ecuadorian street cart photo as well (during my stupidly long hair phase.) In other news, Jackson Heights is actually part of Queens.
If you can't make it to Gram because of the alcohol issue and such then note it for the future (or turn up there at 7pm tomorrow.) When you do go, make sure to order a dish with shutki or the fish chatni. They'll have at least one or the other (usually both and some.) Pair that with rice, dal, some karala with potatoes, etc. Whatever fits your taste. I like to start my meal with a bitter veg or a bhorta, eat that with rice that I mix dal into, and then start mixing in shutki or whatever else as I go. My ex girlfriend (Bangladeshi from the north west) used to make fun of my eating method because I ate like a southern Bangladeshi (everything seperate, even dal) where as the north west mixes damn near everything.
Mix, match, and have fun. I'd really appreciate some reviews of Gram's service from people other than myself. I've had nothing but lovely service from everyone in there, but I could see why others might have an issue. You do have to order at the counter, btw. They won't come to the table and even if they did they'd be listing the dishes in Bangla so it wouldn't matter a whole lot.