A month ago, I went to India. The opportunity came about spontaneously and before I knew it, I was off. Of course, before booking, I hadn’t realised that June in New Delhi is, well, rather hot. We found out a day later that it would be 45 degrees Celsius for the duration of the time we were there. But we’d booked the tickets and there was no point in them going to waste. As a result, we spent most of our week-long trip in various restaurants, our local Starbucks and the air-conditioned hotel room. In the evenings, we dragged ourselves out into still scorching and bustling Old Delhi for street food. And it was worth it.
Since we’ve been back, not a day has gone by that I haven’t craved a refreshing malai lassi, a spicy breakfast of Chole Bhature or a sweet, syrupy jalebi. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I don’t blame you. Before visiting Delhi, I had no idea how much variety there was to Indian food. What we get here in Britain, though excellent, is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a saying that you can travel the length and width of India without ever repeating a dish, and I don’t doubt it. During our short stay in Delhi, we tried so many spectacular dishes. The only problem was that in our effort to try everything, we didn’t get our fill of anything. And so here I was, a month later, desperately Googling where to get authentic Indian food in London.
On the Search for Delhiite Street Food in London
In terms of potential, London is probably the best place in the world, outside India itself, to be on the hunt for Delhiite street food. Legend has it that there are more Indian restaurants in London than in Delhi and Mumbai combined. A quick search revealed that my best bet was probably Hounslow, an area densely populated by people of Indian origin, and, by extension, plenty of Indian food. The only problem was that Hounslow is in Zone 5, near Heathrow Airport. Desperate as I was, I wasn’t quite ready to commit to that kind of journey without first exhausting any other options. So, after some digging, I discovered a restaurant called Diwana Bhel Poori House just a stone’s throw away from Euston station, whose menu listed many of the Indian street food dishes I’d been craving.
We came on a Sunday lunchtime. Everybody in the packed restaurant was indulging in the £6.95 all-you-can-eat buffet, which looked great. But we were on a mission. Our strategy was simple: order all the things on the menu that we had tried in India.
First up was the restaurant’s namesake, Bhel Poori. We had actually ordered Pani Poori, which is a different dish, but we were brought Bhel Poori and it looked so good we didn’t complain. Bhel Poori is a messy mix of puffed rice, crushed poori (crunchy, deep fried bread), sev (crunchy noodles), onion and potato. They then smother all this in chutneys, garlic relish and other unidentified sauces. A spoonful of this dish instantly transported me back to the sweltering streets of Old Delhi. Although we hadn’t had this exact dish in India, the flavours of green chilli, garlic and tamarind felt so familiar and instantly fulfilled my craving. The contrasting textures of the crunchy puffed rice, poori and sev, and the soft potato were perfectly complementary. Had I eaten this in Delhi, I would have been perfectly happy. 9/10
We were off to a good start. The next dish we tried was Aloo Papri Chat. This was one of our favourite dishes that we had in India, so we were careful to lower our expectations. The dish is made up of potatoes and chickpeas served over crushed poori and generously smothered in yoghurt, chutney and spices. It didn’t look particularly beautiful when it arrived at our table, but if there’s one thing we learned in India, it’s not to judge a dish on its looks. Diwana’s version was delicious, even if it didn’t quite live up to the version we had in Delhi. This chaat was a bit less flavourful and had a bit too much yoghurt in comparison. That said, it hit the spot. 7/10
Having finished with our cold starters, our warm meals arrived at the table. First up was a paneer dosa. A dosa is a sort of thin, crispy pancake, stuffed with… well, whatever you want. On first glance, I was shocked at how similar our dosa here in London looked to the one we’d had at Delhi’s famous Saravana Bhavan (a chain of budget South Indian cafes which now has several branches on the outskirts of London). Even the dipping sauces it came with looked similar.
On closer inspection, however, I noticed that the dough was thicker and less greasy than the Delhi version. Cutting into it, the most prominent difference between the two dosas became clear. Whereas in India, the paneer had been crumbled into the centre in a cottage cheese-like consistency, here it was placed inside in large cubes. There was also potato in the filling alongside the cheese. The bulkiness of the fillings made the dosa fall apart more easily, making it difficult to eat. Additionally, the cubes of paneer were slightly rubbery, as if they’d been allowed to dry out. Overall, the dosa was acceptable, but in a completely different class from the one we ate at Saravana Bhavan. 5/10
Our other hot meal wasn’t exactly a main, but more of a Frankenstein of ‘side dishes’. One of the best food memories we had from India was of eating Chana Bhature for breakfast. This is a spicy chickpea curry served with puffed fried bread. Diwana Bhel Poori House does serve this dish, but only on Mondays. As we were there on a Sunday, we took matters into our own hands. We ordered a Chana Masala (chickpea curry) with a paratha (a shallow-fried flatbread).
We probably should have known better than to try to fashion a dish out of substitute parts. Although it was by no means bad, the curry had little in common with the one we’d had in India. The paratha it came with was fine, but could not compete with the mouthwatering fried bread it was served with in Delhi. Maybe if we hadn’t had such a clear idea of what we were comparing it to, we would have enjoyed this dish more. 5/10
At less than £30, this meal had us stuffed to the gills. Although it did not quite live up to our memories of food in India, we walked away feeling satisfied. Days of research had gone into choosing the places where we’d eaten in India. We didn’t expect a restaurant 4000 miles from Delhi to be as good as the cream of the crop there. If you’ve never had a taste of authentic Indian food beyond curries and biryanis, Diwana Bhel Poori House in London is a good place to start. Plus, we’ll definitely have to be back for the buffet!
Total for 2 people with non-alcoholic drinks was £24.75 (service not included).
121- 123 Drummond St, London NW1 2HL 020 7387 5556 http://www.diwanabph.com/
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