The Biryani Crawl, Part One [London]
I felt that I might as well spend my remaining time in East Ham taking advantage of restaurants that aren't Thattukada. After 3 weeks straight of Thattukada meal plans, I would have to say that the restaurant is as good as ever (not to mention more fun as it's basically the neighborhood Keralan bar after 9pm now) but that the highlight dishes have changed. My recent favorites have been the beef curry, the fish 65 (thanks Gordito), netholi fry (as always) and the brain fry. The beef fry is the only dish that has changed a huge amount. It used to be much spicier, have a thickness to its sauce and it was loaded with slices of lightly fried coconut. Now not so much. A lot of the variation in quality (and I noticed some as I was eating there for 7 days straight and then 14 days straight) seems to be down to kitchen crew. They still have their own main chef, but he does fewer days (and can be found drinking whiskey after 9pm on the others.)
Onto the biryani. Stop one on my personal biryani crawl was Hyderabad Flavours. Not the easiest place to find; Hyderbad Flavours is located at 135A High Street North. The entrance is on the side (aka not really on High St N) and the restaurant itself is upstairs.
At first site the menu strikes me as being rather high street Indian. They've loaded about 99% of the space with bog standard fake dishes and I'm a bit confused as to why seeing as this place does not look like it gets many white customers (it's upstairs and virtually unmarked besides its bright flashing lights.)
The menu is also surprisingly devoid of a lot of standby Hyderabadi dishes like baghray baigan. It does, however, have biryani. It's pretty good as well. I ordered a lamb biryani (5.50) which was price for quantity the largest portion I've yet seen on High St North (basically the size of Hyderabadi Spice's 2 person biryani.) The overall spicing and the extremely moist rice were the two best parts of the dish. They used far more star anise than I've seen anywhere else in East Ham, but it worked. The only slight let down was the lamb itself. Some parts were very tender while others were not.
In chatting with the waitress I found that I can request other Hyderabadi dishes when the manager is in, but that the menu is otherwise set in stone. Sadly no Thattukada hidden menu circa 2009.
Not quite biryani related but I'll toss it on here again. I ate at Saravaana Bhavan today for the first time in a couple of years and I was impressed with some things, but disappointed by others. I only ordered two dishes so I obviously need to try a lot more of the menu before I can really pass judgement on the place. I was driven there largely by the fact that Anantha Bhavan has been nearly empty for the last month or so and I've never liked Vasanta Bhavan all that much.
The two things I had were the mini iddly in sambar with ghee and a masala dosa. The bill came to 5.90 total between the two dishes.
The mini iddly were very good. The iddly themselves were fluffy, tasty and they absorbed the sambar very well. I was really impressed with their sambar which is much better than the one I usually eat at Thattukada. A nice underlying tang with a richness that was probably brought out by the ladle of ghee that they topped the dish with. All in all very good and something I would order again.
Their masala dosa wasn't quite as good. The edges were very crispy, but as I got closer to the masala it suffered from the usual soggy dosa syndrome that you see in London and New York. I recently had three freshly made masala dosa forced on me one after the other for breakfast at home and all three of those were better than this dosa. Serious sogginess issues around the masala. The masala itself was very tasty with the most buttery consistency I've ever encountered in a masala dosa. Their coconut chutney and other accompaniments were also very good, but the dosa was only alright.
This is a great series, JFores, and one I think there is a huge gap for: a very well-informed, small scale exploration of the options available for one area of town, or one type of cuisine. For instance, passing through areas like Camberwell and seeing the wide array of restaurants from all over Africa, I've often wished for something similar, but am just not qualified to judge myself.
Part Two! I don't know if I'm going to be able to keep this up in one shot. My last 3 meals have been biryani.
Today's addition is Thattukada's much discussed chicken biryani. I've always liked it quite a lot, but it's taken some flak at a few chowdowns. It's also one of the most inconsistent dishes on the menu as every time I order it I seem to get a different portion or a slightly different style of preparation. As a rule, their biryani seems to be better on weekends. Weekend biryani is also studded with dried fruit. Weekday biryani not so much. Odd little thing there.
The rice of the biryani was significantly less moist than the version at Hyderabad Flavours. Saying that, the flavor was good. Again, not quite as flavorful as the aforementioned biryani and the strongest note spicing wise was cloves. The dish came with the usual raita and achar (homemade lime pickle today.) The raita was somewhat thinner than Hyderabad Flavours and it also contained fewer ingredients (no big chunks of green chili for example.) The chicken was also on the dry side, but the flavor was good.
I've had better biryani at Thattukada. It was still pretty good though. Better than most biryani you'd find in London and better than everywhere in NYC besides a small handful of places.