Saturday, June 11, 2011

There's No Place Like My Local Curry House - I Mean, Home

There are certain routines - rituals, even, people have to make their home feel like home.  For me, a place doesn't feel like home until I've put books on my bookshelf and hung my favorite prints on the walls.  But since I've moved to London, I've discovered one vital part of moving to a new area:  immediately seeking out the nearest and best Indian restaurant.  In Whitechapel, it was Tayyabs; Shadwell, East Is East; Maida Vale, Meghna Grill in St. John's Wood and now that we're in Islington, it's got to be Zaffrani.  Finding the perfect place for your Thursday night jalfrezi is as essential as registering at your local GP (in fact, I still haven't done the latter).

The best part about discovering your soon-to-be-favorite local Indian restaurant, however, is the realization that none of them can be compared to the other.  John may be forever loyal to Tayyabs and convinced that it is the best in London (and admittedly, Tayabbs is somewhat of an institution among both common folk and celebrities), but I loved every dine-in and takeaway experience I've had at each restaurant equally.  Fact.

So what makes Zaffrani so special?  We rushed to its tucked-away premises on Cross Street on a Wednesday evening for a quick meal together before my rehearsal with the Polish Chamber Orchestra in London (another story for another time).  "I don't think I'll have time to eat," I said, tapping my watch nervously as I balanced my violin case against the wall.  "How much time do you have?" asked the attentive waiter.  "Um ... half an hour?" I mumbled, embarrassed.  He quickly took our orders (Dumkamurgh and a peshwari naan for me and Murghi Jalfrezi and a plain naan for John, with a rice to share) and instructed staff to rush them through.

Within ten minutes, our food appeared - and I was highly skeptical that this wasn't the work of Mr. Microwave - until biting into the most tender, succulent pieces of chicken marinated in a creamy, spicy tomato-based sauce with generous helpings of coriander, onion and garlic.  I melted.  My peshwari naan was prettily arranged into four slices (not for those who prefer ripping off huge fluffy chunks themselves - I personally like mine to be less overwhelming and cut just so) on a long, thin plate.  The texture was less fluffy but slightly crispy at the base and mouth-wateringly soft at the top.  As a result, I didn't feel completely weighed down by the naan (which I often finds turns itself into an indigestible lump once it hits my stomach) but instead, found it served as a delicious accompaniment to my highly enjoyable curry.  John was equally impressed.

So impressed, we visited for a second time this week, when the restaurant was buzzing.  The couple seated next to us were immediately recognized by their waiter as a regular and he rattled off "their usual", much to their amusement.  "Oh no, I can't have naan anymore," the lady crowed.  "Why's that then?" asked their server.  "I stopped eating carbs since January!" she proudly (and perhaps a little too loudly) proclaimed.  I felt eyes drift over to our table.  My hand froze over my naan momentarily, before I decisively scooped another two spoonfuls of rice onto my plate and ate the warm, coconut and sultana filled treat with slow, gloating pleasure.

Aside from the high quality food offered at Zaffrani, I can't help but notice how incredibly polite and accommodating the staff are - making for a more pleasurable dining experience.  From the smart decor to the serious attention of the service, it's obvious that Zaffrani seeks to distinguish itself from that "local curry house" feel I was describing before to a place reserved for fine dining.  That being said, its cuisine and ethos is entirely different to, say, the revered Cinnamon Club, which gives the restaurant an overall more relaxed and comfortable atmosphere.

And this is most certainly reflected in the price: our bill, on both occasions, including drinks and service, came to an even £25.  But for the food and attentiveness, Zaffrani is worth so much more.

Zaffrani is located at 47 Cross Street, Islington, London, N1 2BB.  

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