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Mar 23, 2010 08:39 AM

Tayyab's - London - 2nd visit, and I'm still underwhelmed.

I went to Tayyab's for the second time last night with some friends. My first visit was back in January, and I thought it was better than average, but not great. I like their chicken tikka masala especially, because the chicken is grilled and tender, and the sauce is not overly creamy. On this visit, I again liked the chicken tikka masala - it's a pretty good rendition. But everything was merely "pretty good" - nothing really stands out, and I would imagine that there are dozens (if not hundreds) of restaurants within 5 miles of Tayyab's that offer pretty much the same thing foodwise.

Tayyab's is definitely a scene. Even on a Monday night! There are a lot of waiters. Lots of tables packed together. Lots of people who are convinced that the food here is much better than anywhere else.

Banana lassi is quite good, but it doesn't taste like yogurt at all. I think it might just be banana milk, or perhaps it has a very small amount of yogurt? One of my friends had the mango lassi, which tasted similarly milky (and not yogurty).

We had 3 sikh kebabs, a chicken tikka, young pumpkin, aloo palak, chicken tikka masala, garlic naan, regular naan, and rice. No big complaints about anything, but nothing very positive to say either.

So, has Tayyab's gone down hill? Is it just surviving off of its hype? Or maybe it was never that good? I am thinking that it might be similar to Burma Superstar in San Francisco - this place was always really popular, had a line out the door, and was quite trendy but still reasonably priced and had professional service. The food was sometimes really good, but then perhaps started to slip, perhaps as its popularity with tourists and non-chowhounds (people who eat where they are told) increased and they started to be the most frequent customers.

Burma Superstar and Tayyab's are both better-than average restaurants - prices are pretty good, service is efficient.....but perhaps both have now lost something that made them both so popular to begin with?

Anyway, I'm pretty much over it. Next time someone suggests Tayyab's, where should I propose we go instead?

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  1. As I'm sure you've noticed, Needoo, which opened round the corner from Tayyabs last year, has been getting a lot of love, but only as somewhere equal to Tayyabs, not better. From my one experience I liked it very much, but then I'm a big Tayyabs fan. On the other hand I've had bad experiences at Tayyabs on occasion, and for this reason pretty much always order the same things, which is also true of others I know for whom, like me, certain dishes are an overwhelming draw allowing them to brave any length of queue. If you page JForres he's never been a huge fan of Tayyab's iirc, and prefers Thrill Of The Grill in Bow for kebabs and Needoo for everything else, as he finds the spicing less tame, but he might have some other similar recs also. I would say however that to judge Tayyabs on the strength of what you ordered might be premature. I would recommend instead ordering much more from the grill to begin, one or two meat mains (the dry meat for instance) maybe one veg (the dals can be fantastic) and some nan and paratha (definitely no rice). The grill is the focus though really, the rest is less consistent. I'm sure others will have their differing views on this though. On your more general point though I think you're right to characterise your experience of Tayyabs as a victim of its hype, and I don't think anyone would claim it was the best restaurant in the world, but it does occupy a special place in the heart of many of its long-time fans, and I think deservedly so.

    8 Replies
    1. re: skut

      I've been to needoo a couple of times this year and it still does it for me. daighi dry meat, dal baingun, tinda dal and the mixed grill are where it's at.

      1. re: alexdz

        Yes, the one time I had it, Needoo's dry meat was amazing.

        1. re: deansa

          yeah alexdz, that was exactly my order! It was all spot on.

      2. re: skut

        Actually the Bow "Thrill of the Grill" aka Kebabish is pretty grim. The Green St one is amazing though. Still my favorite. For curries, dal, etc I prefer Lahore Lahore on High St North. If you have to go central then go to Needoo. Their grilled items are IMO better than Tayyabs and they do a few good standard "curries." The palak paneer, the karahi ghosht and the dal bhegun are all good, but other things like that mutter paneer and chana ghosht are awful.

        1. re: JFores

          Lahore Kebab House's rendition of karahi ghosht, etc is a bit above Needoo's, by my tastes. Plus they don't have the manic queues. (-:

          1. re: JFores

            my mistake mate, sorry for misquoting you. Will have to head down to Green St soon and give it a whirl.

          2. re: skut

            I think Skut hits the nail on the head, Tayabs is famed for a few dishes and I think you missed most of them. That said I thought Tayabs was merely OK, and better than the average currry house in the UK, but not worth a return visit unless in the area.

            I felt I had just as good food out west (Southhall) and assume Tayabs' reputation comes from its proximity to the City of London and thus easy access for all the workers from there. IMO you get better Indian/Pakistani food out of London in cities like Birmingham or Leicester, and to pick up on Howlers point usually a lot more goat.

            1. if you look over my posts you'll see i was never terribly impressed with tayyabs.

              the only thing they do well imho is the seekh (and shammi kebabs on holidays) kebabs; also, i like the pakistani roti.

              but thats it. forget vegetables - this kind of restaurant doesn't know what to do with them.
              and i'm always puzzled they grill their meat - why on earth don't they use the tandoor they have? that would give the lamb chops a chance and save them from drying out. which leads to another pet peeve: why on earth cant they source goat instead of serving lamb? is it a price thing?

              and at that price point, its tough to recommend an alternative. perhaps raavi on drummond st - not as good seekh kebab, but better nihari, better kheema etc. there's probably something in southall - i'll go check it out perhaps this easter and i'll let you know.

              really, i don't see how you can beat mohsen (iranian) for kebabs and naan. i invite you to compare the dried out chicken tikka at tayyabs/needoos with the gloriously melting saffron scented chicken kebabs at mohsen.

              4 Replies
              1. re: howler

                I agree on Mohsen, I love that place, but find the experience of the food at both restaurants significantly different that I'd never put them in an either/or choice. Also my bills at Mohsen are always a fair mark higher, another reason I wouldn't think to band them together. And they're on different sides of London (totally irrelevant, but these kind of cravings are often pretty spontaneous).

                1. re: skut

                  i'm not trying to compare the cuisines in general, just the craving along the kebab+nan/roti continuum.

                  1. re: howler

                    and on that point I completely agree with you :)

                2. re: howler

                  I love Iranian kebabs, but it's not quite a direct comparison to Indian ones for me, mostly because of the spicing (and in the case of koobideh, the texture as well). Have you been to Mahdi in Hammersmith yet? For me, based on three or four visits there (vs a couple to Mohsen), I think they have the best Persian kebabs I've had yet in London. In particular, the koobideh and joojeh on the bone are great. And I believe they have both of them available as lunch specials (though the lunch joojeh might be boneless, and hence not quite as good). The doogh is also really good there.

                  The one downside of Mahdi is they don't allow any type of alcohol/BYOB, unlike Mohsen, so maybe not the best choice for a weekend dinner...

                3. I've had a few visits to what seems to be the Whitechapel "triumvirate", namely Tayyabs, Needo and Lahore Kebab House, over the last six months or so, and I have to agree with you. None of them are amazing, but Tayyabs is the worst of the lot for me. I actually think that their lamb chops are pretty good, in a meaty kind of way (lots of meat on the bone compared to Lahore Kebab House). But the saag aloo (tons of cream, no flavor) and karahi ghost were not good, and the other grilled items were merely competent.

                  Needoo was also a big disappointment. Some of the grilled items were good (the lamb chops were tasty, but a bit weird as they seemed to be grilled and then covered in some type of sauce), but the curries were awful. The saag aloo was one of the worst I've ever had (how difficult is it to screw up spinach and potato), I wonder if it was not frozen and then reheated based on the texture of the potatoes. And we didn't have the karahi ghost there, but went instead with the waiters recommendation of the beef dry curry, and that was quite bad too. We weren't able to finish either one of those two dishes. The breads were quite good, so if you're going there just for grilled meats and bread, you could do ok.

                  Of the lot, I think Lahore Kebab House is the best. The lamb chops are much less meaty than at the other two places, but beautifully grilled (in that South Asian 'almost on the wrong side of overcooked' way that somehow works great with lamb chops), and the seekh kebabs are also the best of the bunch. The lamb boti kebabs are generally good, if a bit dry, and the chicken leg is just as forgettable as at the other three places (is there a good chicken tandoori place in London?) The saag aloo and karahi ghost are good, not destination type of dishes, but good enough to accompany the grilled meats. And the breads (tandoori naan and roti) are again good enough. Oh, and the nihari weekend special is not worth ordering again, the dish was not quite cooked long enough (connective tissue was nowhere near melted all the way through), and the flavors again rather nondescript.

                  Overall, I think if you stick to grilled lamb (chops, seekh kebab, possibly boti), and bread (naan and roti), you can have a decent meal at all three of these places, but as you start to veer away from those dishes and order other pakistani/punjabi specialties, your mileage is likely to vary greatly.

                  1. One point, Tayyab's doesn't sell chicken tikka masala.

                    4 Replies
                      1. re: limster

                        Well, in the ten years that I've been going to Tayyab's, I've never seen it (and I've eaten a fair bit off-menu). That Independent piece also says they don't take reservations (which they do).

                        1. re: Gav

                          I ordered chicken tikka masala on Monday. The waiter repeated back "chicken tikka masala," and what we ate was a nice rendition of chicken tikka masala. So, they defintely sell it. :) I think it's on the back page of the menu, in the karahi section.

                          1. re: Dave MP

                            Blimey, who knew. I stand corrected.

                    1. I think Tayyabs is good, but some of the dishes really stand out over the rest of the menu. The dry meat is the best thing they do for me. I think the lamb chops are very over-hyped and much prefer them at the Lahore, they're not as thick, true, but that means the spicing comes through more pronounced, they also come much crispier with delicious properly cooked fat. Needoos is good as well, but I think it lacks a little bit of consistency with some dishes turning up a bit tepid, good breads though and amazing butter chicken. I didn't rate their lamb chops at all, too much vinegar and a lot of dried mint.