Londons Hidden Gems
They say two heads are better than one, right?
Review by Jo Gregory
Well, we are taking this concept and running with-it all-over London’s restaurant scene. ‘Let’s Go Dutch’ are two South London women who share a borderline-obsessive passion for food and wine. The idea to join palates was dreamt up over a gorgeous meal and several glasses of Sancerre in the sleepy fishing village of Kinsale, Cork last summer. Here we give two sides to every menu, because two mouths are definitely better than one.
Harley Beckmann Hawksley – It’s going to be really hard to call this a review, when quite honestly, it’s an article of praise. I’m sure Jo agrees with me that we may have found culinary heaven in an unexpected location, nestled on a busy main road in a place neither of us had ever ventured to: South Woodford. Sceptical though we were our minds were instantly put at ease from the moment we stepped through the door, greeted by the lovely and attentive, but never over-bearing, waiters and staff.
It was great to see the tables buzzing with families and friends of all ages, bathed in the warm glow of the tastefully lit wall panels and accompanied by subtle background music that never distracted away from conversation.
It seems quite fitting that us two Southeast London women travelled an astonishing 15 miles to the Grand Trunk Road restaurant; whose namesake is one of Asia’s longest trails stretching from Bangladesh to Afghanistan.
GTR is the brainchild of Restaurateur Rajesh Suri and Head Chef Dayashankar Sharma who between them have almost 60 years experience in fine dining, and in particular Michelin-starred Indian food. The menu definitely reflects their passion for food, and all the recipes are derived from traditional dishes from the regions that the grand Trunk road passes through, and we could tell from the way Chef Sharma discussed the menu with us, that there is a real pride in the heritage of the food served here.
From our starters to the deserts, I don’t think Jo or myself have uttered the words ‘oh my god’ so many times to each other in an hour and a half. I began with a dish called Punjabi Aloo & Paneer Tikki; these wonderful and punchy potato and paneer cakes which surprised my taste buds with a delightful tang of tamarind chutney, lovingly presented in three elegant rounds. Jo went for a trio of fragrantly spiced chicken meatballs (Rawalpindi Ka Murgh Kebab) which smelled incredible, and I’ll admit, led me to break my newly found pescatarianism. Totally worth it, and I’d do it again for this dish – no regrets.
We opted to share Kolkata Ka Lobster Kalimirch: Lobster cooked two ways with Black & Red Peppercorns, & Capsicum in Mild Garlic Masala, along with a delicious coconut turmeric and ginger Chingri Malai Curry with Tiger prawns, Okra pickled with beetroot and baby onions, and butternut squash tempered with mango and panch poran, a special spice blend that is widely used in South Nepalese and Bangladeshi dishes. I couldn’t fault a thing except for my choice of outfit that day, which wasn’t very forgiving of my expanding stomach. That being said, I always have room for dessert, and we were treated to their unique flavour of avocado and rose petal ice cream which when Jo tasted it, she closed her eyes and looked as if she were silently praying. While she tuned into her taste buds, I fell a little bit in love with their chocolate pudding, bursting with boisterous notes of cinnamon and complimented by their homemade coconut and pineapple ice cream. This evening in South Woodford definitely counts as the path less travelled for both of us, but you can absolutely guarantee that we would travel again for a taste of the Grand Trunk Road.
Joanna Gregory – I’ve been told many times about this ‘hidden gem’ tucked away in a corner of London and wanted to see what all the fuss was about so Harley and I travelled to South Woodford to a little place called Grant Truck Road. Having taken its name from the ancient road which takes you from Afghanistan to Bangladesh, the restaurant takes inspiration from the colourful trade route as it opened its doors in 2016.
It’s a cold Wednesday February evening and the High Street seems sleepy, but this place is already at capacity. Not long after we settle, we get chatting to head chef Dayashankar Sharma. His impressive CV has taken him to some of the best hotels and restaurants across Asia, Dubai and London. He talks us through the traditional Asian dishes on the menu that he’s conceptualized and given a unique twist. The menu is one which is exceptionally tough to choose from and in preparation I’d practically not eaten all day in order to make the most of this impressive menu. We both swerved poppadoms for fear of filling up too quickly.
After much deliberation we finally make a decision on food. To start, I go for the Rawalpindi Ka Murgh Kebab. First bite and the flavours are full and intense as a fusion of fragrant spices and green chilis begin to send my taste buds wild. We try out each other’s dishes and I quickly realize Harley has a little food envy, although she doesn’t admit it, her fork invasion was enough to go by.
As our starters settle and we chat nonsense of our grand plans for the year we’re both exceptionally excited for the main event. I’m usually your standard chicken tikka masala type but thankfully there was nothing of the type on the menu here, chef Sharma has brought his 28 years of knowledge to this kitchen to create his Michelin star menu. We decided to do a sharing situation, much like a tapas but this time with Kolkata Ka Lobster Kalimirch which is cooked two ways with a wild garlic masala, tiger prawns in a turmeric and ginger sauce and on the side we feast on baby okra and a sweet potato Bombay.
Every single dish that was presented knocked our socks off. No words, we just nodded constantly at each other with expressions of joy. As we sup on our wine and loosen our buttons two dessert menus make their way to our table, I glance up at Harley who is already thumbing the pages. I don’t have room, but I WILL MAKE ROOM. The rose petal and avocado ice cream intrigues me. Something so light paired with something as creamy as an avocado, surely can’t work, can it? But it does, it really, really does. Sharma is exceptionally proud of his creations and sends over a trio of scoops, including blood orange and pineapple and coconut. Harley is going in though. She’s spotted a chocolate brownie with cinnamon and a berry coulis and I’m exceptionally happy she did too, as it was my turn to raid her meal.
We leave, both delirious from all the food and bowled over by the service. We have a long journey back to the deep south of London however, we are both planning on coming back here but as my good friend Harley says, probably with better fitting clothing.