When meeting someone who’s new to London or visiting for a while, there’s a handful of things I recommend on a ‘must do’ basis. It’s not exhaustive, but it does provide some moments to experience a sense of the day-to-day experiences of living, socialising and enjoying the city like someone who actually lives here (which definitely doesn’t involve going to Buckingham Palace unless your mum is visiting).
At the top of that list is getting a curry on Brick Lane.
Each curry house declares itself to be the best on the Brick Lane: each has won competitions and has photos with various celebrities who’ve passed through their doors over the years. Outside each location are men who haggle with hungry passers-by, enticing you in with the promise of discounted drinks, free rice, or set menus at low prices (I’ll admit, over 7 years I’ve not gotten especially good at this, but I have many friends who are adept at Brick Lane haggling, and it has led to many great meals).
If you’re vegan, however, it all gets a little more complicated. Indian food may lend itself well to a vegetarian diet, but dairy can be another story. For those opting for a plant-based lifestyle, it can be hard to know which dishes, and therefore which curry houses, may be best for them.
Enter City Spice. Crowned ‘The King of Brick Lane 2017’, this curry house is here to help the vegans (and the lactose intolerant) among us discover new heights of delicious nights out. Rather than being doomed to a small salad or various other sad sides, City Spice has curated Brick Lane’s first entirely vegan menu, which is just as flavourful and fun as any traditional menu. I was recently invited down to try the menu for myself and, boy oh boy, it is good.
City Spice’s vegan menu was first suggested by the owner, Abdul Ahad’s, son, who is currently studying at university. Ahad perfected the menu after attending a culinary masterclass with Michelin-star chef Rupert Rowley at the prestigious ‘Taste of Britain’ festival in Sri Lanka, which encourages knowledge sharing between Indian and British palettes. Ahad was the only British restaurateur to be invited to the festival; judging by the quality of City Spice’s food, it’s easy to understand why. Using experimentation and creative thinking Ahad managed to find replacements for Indian cooking staples such as ghee and butter, eventually creating dishes that are so delicious, even non-vegans will leave delighted.
The vegan menu consists of 14 items, the most popular of these being the Shahi Sahakari Thali, a thali-style platter containing a mixture of uribeeshi biran, bombay aloo, begun daal gatta, chappati and rice. It’s the perfect way to enjoy multiple dishes, quite literally taking you on an exciting journey of flavour and experience, and it’s ideal for sharing (alongside other choices) as you get to experience so many different things in one go. Alongside that I also got Bindi Begun Gatta; the recipe consists of slow-cooked okra and aubergine, and it was so exquisite that I have become mildly obsessed with it ever since.
Other stand-out dishes include:
- Palani Potatoes: Fresh cubed pieces of potatoes cooked with zesty cumin seeds and curry leaves.
- Chowle Achar: Kabali chickpeas pan cooked with mixed garlic, ginger, punch poron and blended with spread pickle.
- Shobji Kufta Bhujon: Lightly spiced mixed vegetable balls cooked in a spicy sauce with mushrooms, baked tomatoes and pepper.
- Shobji Garlic: Fried mushroom, potatoes and cauliflower, cooked in special spices and herbs.
- Daal Masalder: Chana, mog and mossorl daal cooked together with spices and herbs.
- Daal Begun Gatta: Lentils and aubergine, carefully simmered to bring out the dishes flavour, with a fine selection of herbs.
- Bindi Daal Gatta: Distinctive yellow lentils, synonymous with India, pan-fried with okra.
- Begun Uribeeshi Gatta: A pan-fried selection of runner beans, that are a staple in Bangladeshi food culture, alongside fresh aubergine.
- Mixed Vegetable Jalfrezi: Seasonal vegetables cooked with an original recipe with an emphasis on the flavours extracted from fresh green chillies, fried onions and green peppers.
- Mixed Vegetable Rogan Josh: The perfect go-to for newcomers to Indian cuisine, this dish is based in medium spiced tomatoes alongside a selection of fine herbs as well as City Spice’s secret recipe, to give the Rogan its aromatic flavour.
An added bonus is that, during my visit, I was also able to meet Abdul Ahad myself. He’s a genuinely warm and passionate individual, who clearly takes great pride in the care and consideration that goes into his food, which is exactly the kind of business owner that I love to support. Plus, some of the money from the vegan menu has now gone on to fund Ahad’s son’s university fees, as he was the original visionary for the menu, which is just lovely.
Overall, I will now be changing my Brick Lane recommendations for new people I encounter in London. Rather than telling them to simply get a curry on Brick Lane, I’ll be directing them to City Spice for some of the most delicious plant power you’ll find in the city. Everything I tried was delightful: packed full of flavour and every part as fun as your typical Brick Lane experience, just with an added conscious element to the menu. It’ll even satisfy non-vegans, as the flexitarian I went with absolutely loved everything we tried. City Spice is truly a standout all around, and everyone will leave a visit there with full bellies, happy hearts and the added bonus of a smaller carbon footprint too.
(Disclaimer: I was offered a free meal at City Spice, however I wasn’t paid to write this review)