Halal first opened its doors in 1939 (probably not the favourite year to be opening a new business in London, eh?) and says it is East London’s oldest Indian restaurant. Not sure how it was during WW2 but from current experience it’s no wonder it’s been going strong for so long.
There’s a touch of the old Raj about the place, with crisp, neat tablecloths, an old-style delivery hatch for the food in the middle of the room and waist-coated waiters who clearly do the job for a living and are not working their way through their studies. Knowledgeable, friendly and polite. But best of all is a superb wooden special’s board.
“It’s works like a cricket scoreboard,” explained one of the staff as he slid out one of the boards and flipped it over to show me what tomorrow’s special will (probably) be.
The menu itself is a no-nonsense list of what’s on offer. No flowery descriptions of the birth of a far off land of spices and wonder. No overdone descriptions of dishes and most certainly no little chilli icons next to dishes to help the spice challenged. I suppose they figure that if you haven’t worked out what’s what in the 73 years they have been dishing up curries you won’t now.
The samosas are legendary here (customers order them to take home for later munchies) so a regular we were with just ordered platefuls of Veg (£1 for two) and Meat (£1.20 for two) to get us going.
Not surprisingly classic dishes dominate and are decently priced, with Vegetable Curry starting off the mains at just £3.50 (or a half portion for £2.30), while you can enjoy Chicken Vindaloo for £5.50, Prawn Kurma for £7.25 and Meat Dhansak for £6.95. It’s also a nice touch that you can also order half portions of boiled rice (£1.40) and pilau rice (£1.60).
But there are plenty of interesting dishes to tantalise (in fact the waiter smiled a knowing smile at a bespoke request and assured us they can cook anything). The Meat Ball Vindaloo (£5.95) got the nod and it’s hard to remember a time when the tastiness of the meat itself fought through a vindy sauce. Meaty balls indeed.
This was scooped up with a, wait for it… egg nan (£2.50). How indeed do they get the egg inside the bread? The answer is they don’t – an omelette is laid on top of the bread. Apparently it doesn’t work to break an egg before cooking, although in true, “we can cook anything style”, I was offered an egg inside version (boil egg then break it up before cooking the bread).
Halal, 2 St Mark Street (Off Alie Street), London, E1 8DJ. Tel: 020 7481 1700. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Open: Mon–Fri noon–11.30pm, Sat–Sun noon–10.30pm.