City Spice is one of the most coveted restaurants in London, with not one but two awards under their belt. After winning the ‘Best Restaurant In London’ in 2016, awarded by Currylife, in 2017, City Spice was awarded the ‘Masterchef Curry Award’ in 2017, with a ‘certification’ of excellence awarded by Trip Advisor to add to their growing accolades. Described as the masters of ‘Authentic Bangladeshi cuisine’, Adbul Ahad and his son Abdul Muhaimen have created a menu that has pleased critics and consumers alike, with an innovative fusion of influences from the North Indian Murghal Empire and Bangladesh. With a range of both vegetarian and meat based dishes, the founders wanted to create an authentic Bangladeshi experience that create an ‘inclusive range of foods’ for all diets, but would their vegetarian menu hit the spot? After all Brick Lane is incredible for street art and immersive music experiences, but when it comes to ‘food’ I would say that the food is often not up to scratch. So would City Spice buck the trend and prove that their ‘inclusive menu’ blows other Brick Lane restaurants out of the water? And who better to review the menu with me, than Chi Chi from Chi Chi writes, a successful blogger based in Delhi who knows a thing or two about ‘authentic Indian cuisine’?
Location and Menu
Situated with close proximity to Allen Gardens, near Shoreditch High Street Station, City Spice has the advantage of being in a marketable, touristy location but would this have an impact on the quality of the food? You only have to go to ‘tourist led locations’ like China Town, to find that the ‘quality’ of authentic cuisine becomes diluted to appeal to a mainstream audience, so I had high expectations for City Spice. With vegetarian options like aloo chat (boiled potatoes tossed in spices and served with tamarind) and bombay aloo (potato cooked in dry spices) there was a plethora of vegetarian options to whet my appetite, while Chi Chi was able to choose from lamb curry and Nawabi Chicken Chaat (Tender pieces of chicken cooked with cucumber in a hot and sour sauce).
While the variety of meat and vegetarian dishes were diverse, I was pleased by the large selection of naans, chapatis and paratha’s, which included cheese and keema (mince) naan and kulcha naan (diced vegetables), making a welcome change to the ‘garlic naans’ or poppadoms that I am used to seeing in British Curryhouses. With a selection of alcoholic and non alcoholic beverages, alongside authentic Masala Chai Tea, our thirst was quenched, while the City Spice menu was purse friendly; at £2.95 the paratha was the cheapest food option on the menu which the Bangladeshi Special Thali was the most expensive at £17.95, excluding the drinks which included a selection of special Bangladeshi dishes including ureebisi biran, biran maas, chicken rezala, shatkora dall, pilau rice, paratha and yogurt sauce.
Food & Drink
It was a bitter cold day and we wanted nothing more than a soothing cup of ‘masala chai tea’ to bring us back to life. And boy was it good; in fact I think we ordered three cups of ‘chai’ throughout our meal because it was laced with authentic spice and flavour that Chi said reminded her of the ‘street food’ markets back home. It was spiced but unlike normal tea, which I can’t have as I am allergic to caffeine, the tea was caffeine free and turned our frozen fingers into hands of joy. The winds were raging outside, but with our tea’s we felt invincible and tucked into our poppadoms, which were presented with a Thali of sauces including mango chutney and tamarind. The poppadoms were crisp and complemented beautifully by the sauces, my favourite of which was the sweet mango chutney, which was packed full of flavour.
I was disappointed to see that I could not find a ‘vegetable samosa’ on the menu to have a starter but this was made up by the fact that they had Mattar Paneer and Chaana Masala, which are two of my favourite Indian dishes of all time. Mattar Paneer is a spiced and creamy curry with peas and paneer cheese, while Chaana Masala is a spiced chickpea curry, both of which I teamed with special fried rice (with eggs and peas) and cheese and chilli naan. On the other hand Chi chose a ‘Lamb Curry’ a medium spiced, sauce based dish, paired with cheese naan. The special fried rice was well coated with flavour, using pilaf, while the eggs and peas were freshly made and not plucked out the freezer, while the cheese naan was oozing with flavour, coated with cheddar and emmental cheese. Portions were large, while the naans were well cooked and melted delightfully in the mouth. To team with our main meals, Chi had another Masala Chai, while I ordered a mango lassi, which was bursting with flavour. Colourful and vibrant to look at, the only criticism I have about the lassi is that was slightly too thick for my liking and would have liked it to be more refreshing, but other than that, the lassi was well made and a hearty antidote to the spiced food I was having.
The mattar paneer was well cooked, with the paneer coated in spiced cream, although I would have liked more spice and was well coated by the egg fried rice, while the chickpea curry had more onion than I would have liked and I would have preferred it to be more finely chopped, so that I could not feel the onions but that is just personal preference. On the other hand the chickpeas were well cooked and complimented by slices of fresh tomato, drizzled with fragrant curry sauce which was a welcome adornment to the dish. Out of the two dishes, much to my surprise I would have to say that the ‘paneer’ was my favourite, which is unusual as I normally prefer chaana masala. Nevertheless both dishes had redeeming qualities and were well complimented by the chili naan, which added more spice to the curries. Chi’s lamb curry however was unfortunately not to her taste, although she praised the presentation of the dish and stated that the vegetarian dishes were much more to her taste, despite being a meat eater. In fact she liked the chaana masala more than I did, so she feasted on my chickpea curry, while I tucked into the paneer.
Despite their wealth of awards, the team remain humble and down to earth which I really appreciated seeing in their service. I also observed how they interacted with other customers to see whether they would receive the same treatment as us and I am delighted to say they had the same award winning service. Meals were delivered with prompt efficiency and the staff were happy to help us out if we needed any questions answered. Furthermore the staff were polite throughout our visit and even talked us through the origins of the restaurant; it was clear that the owner delighted in regaling stories of famous guests that they have had over the years, particularly in the Bollywood industry and it was heartwarming to see that all the staff were as passionate about City Spice as the owner was.
The strongest item on the menu that we had sampled had to be the ‘masala chai’ which was the most authentic dish according to Chi, while the naans, poppadoms and thali sauces also had my vote of approval because they were well cooked and intermixed with divine flavour.
What Could They Improve On?
Changing the recipe of the chaana masala to make it ‘spicier’ and with the onions blended into the sauce as opposed to large chunky pieces of onions would make the chickpea curry a better dish, while I would have loved to have seen samosas on the menu but overall City Spice has a great attitude to presentation, food quality and authentic interaction with customers that I greatly appreciated.
Have You Ever Eaten Bangladeshi Cuisine?
*Please note we were given a complimentary meal in exchange for the review but all thoughts are my own and not affected by complimentary services.