“I pretty much just end up eating plates of chops when I go to Lahore,” I tell my friend, who is heading to this iconic restaurant for the first time.
“What? No curry?” he asks, as if a night without the spicy tomato and onion sauce at least somewhere on the table, would be plain wrong.
A short while later he looks up from a mound of red meat, his hands covered in tasty juices from the plate, and exclaims: “I can see why you eat chops here!”
We’ve ordered two plates of their chops (£9.95 for five) and are tucking in. Lahore really do make the chops in most other places seem like mini offcuts. This large Pakistani restaurant is often referred to as an institution, so engrained is it in the way of life in Whitechapel. There are other restaurants in the same area called Lahore One and Lahore Two, although neither, as far as I am told, are run by the same owners. Lahore is the daddy and chops is the dish of choice. Plate after plate of these mouth-watering chunks of marinated meat head out of the open kitchen, where you can watch flashes of flame bursting from dishes as they are cooked. The spice marinade is rich and the balance between slightly charred edges and the tasty fattiness of the lamb is perfect. A huge plate of fresh salad, which is routinely placed on every table as guests arrive is the ideal mouth cleanser from the grease when fingers are licked clean.
You can’t book in this canteen-style restaurant and it’s not uncommon to see a queue snaking out into the road. But once in you’ll join the hustle and bustle of a truly working restaurant, with a stream of waiters seamlessly delivery those fresh salads, jugs of water water, glasses for your drinks (it’s a BYO) taking orders and delivering dishes. And all this amid a throng of happy diners. This not a place where people whisper quietly, it’s where they fully embrace the food with gusto. It’s where there was restaurant theatre long before some PR person thought they’d attach the tag to the restaurant of some TV chef’s venue.
One curry club I know refuse to eat anywhere else; every month they meet here and tuck in. To chops no doubt.
But there is way more if you can force yourself from the lamb. Each day there is a special, said to recreate favourites from the streets of Lahore (how about Chicken Haleem, £10, on the weekend?). The Onion Bhaji (£3.50) is so fresh from the oil you’d be advised to wait a while before picking the pieces up unless you have asbestos fingers. And the Chicken Kebab Roll (£3.50) is a nice tandoori break from the lamb.
But if you still yearn for a “curry” they are all there waiting: Karai Gosht (£9.50), Chana Masala (£7), Chicken Biryani (£9.75), even Fish Curry (£9.50). But I must admit, with the meat coursing through my veins after the chops, I usually just overload with a Keema Curry (£9,50) and accept that this was a meat day without any doubt
Lahore, 2 Umberston Street, London E1 1PY. Tel: 020 7481 9737. Open: daily 11.30am – 1am.
Scores on the tandoors
Service and friendliness 7.5
Vibe 10 (Tuesday evening)