“I’m Zoe Perrett- also trading under the alias of The Spice Scribe. I’m a food writer, eater and cook specialising in all aspects of Indian cuisine. Based just outside of London, sharing a tiny cottage with thousands of cookbooks and spice cupboards full to bursting, I’m on a perpetual quest for edible knowledge in the form of chefs, people, restaurants, products and enterprises small and large that challenge the narrow perceptions of such a vastly diverse food culture.”
For more of her thoughts on Indian food, here is Zoe’s excellent blog!
Here is Zoe’s review:
For a real East End lass, I’m a real snob about Brick Lane. I have no issues with the Osborn St end, where I know I can count on the Bangla caffs; be it for a decent shingara to tide me over, a sneaky square of sandesh, or a late-night plate of rupchanda and rice. But beyond that stretch, I know I have to beware. For, from there on up, it’s curryhouse country.
Suffice to say, I was not holding out high hopes for Sheba, despite the restaurant’s recent crowning as ‘Cobra Good Curry Guide Curryhouse of the Year’. To my mind, and given the general calibre, that’s not necessarily saying much. They might make a mighty Madras, but would the Bangladeshi dishes on the menu cut the mustard? Would there BE any Bangladeshi dishes on the menu?
Well, yes, although you have to rootle through the relics – the kormas and tikka masalas, dopiazas and vindaloos… Not to mention those hideous ‘compile your own’ curries – pick a protein, select a sauce and hedge with your heat level. Finding the finer fare is worth the effort and the rewards are rich, tonight in the form of lamb with Bengal pumpkin, boal fish fry and chital kofte.
So I’m half sold – but then owner Sultan deploys Sheba’s secret weapon. And – joy! – it’s a biryani. To steal a saying from M&S, ‘this is not just biryani’. Oh, no – this is a brilliantly, blatantly Bangladeshi biryani. This is an extravagant biryani unashamed of its ghee-laden decadence. This is a biryani featuring spicing unlike any I’ve tasted. This is a biryani that’s a real contender for the crown.
I can’t decide if I prefer the hunks of flavoursome mutton, or the perfect grains of rice punctuated with peppercorns and curry leaves and golden-fried onions, streaked yellow and glossy with ghee. I think perhaps it’s the part where the rice clings to the pieces of meat that raises the same reverence I reserve for the section in a trifle where custard meets cream. Yes. Henceforth, I name the meat/rice collision point ‘The B spot’.
It takes true talent to create a kacchi biryani where both meat and rice are cooked just-so – and Sheba’s chef clearly has ‘skills to pay the bills’ in abundance. To cook a brilliant biryani, you also need a certain measure of courage, and an unwavering confidence that the all-important alchemy will occur within the walls of the sealed pot beyond prying human eyes.
After eating far more than my fill, I am filled with my own unwavering confidence – I am one hundred percent certain that anyone even slightly bewitched by biryani will love Sheba’s smashing specimen. Word is it’s available only on Mondays and Tuesdays as a ‘kitchen special’. And, served entirely unaccompanied, resplendent in its nudity, Sheba’s biryani is very special indeed.
Sheba, 136 Brick Lane, E1 6RU, www.shebabricklane.com. NB: Go on Monday or Tuesday to try!
Here’s how it rates on the biryanometer:
Rice grain separation – 5/5
Meat/rice harmony – 5/5 – plenty of on-the-bone meat with succulent marrow – YUM
Spice blend perfection – 5/5 – unusual and insanely tasty
Potatoes – N/A
Fried Onion Finish – Sweet, properly cooked, added perfect flavour element
Wet/Dry Index – Spot on
Overall – 4.5/5… at the very least