Invited to a taster evening at Inᴉto I had no idea that we were in for an evening of surprises.
Sampling the menu turned out to be a three hour eat-a thon. Dish after delicious dish was brought to our table where six women and one hungry man tried valiantly to do justice to some very good food. Eventually we were groaning and insisting we could go no further.
The quality of the food was another surprise for a small and simple restaurant in London’s East End. Like many of the eateries in the area it sports an industrial look – corrugated iron, light bulbs hanging from the ceiling, bar and open kitchen. It was pleasingly fitted out with beer crates stacked as a feature, KARMA painted onto one wall, metal signs, long wooden tables, and coloured cushions on wooden boxes matching the attractively painted wooden boards on which the food is served.
Indian street food has found its way to London over the past few years with several restaurants now serving the sort of food travellers in India would encounter. At Inᴉto the food was declared ‘authentic’ by one of our party who hails from Mumbai.
We began with Lollipop Wings – a deep fried chicken wing accompanied by a masala dosa.
While the chicken was beautifully spiced, it was the dosa that delighted my friends who cook many of these dishes in their own kitchens. It was the crispiness of the dosa that impressed them and there was much discussion about how this had been achieved. Having no background in Indian cuisine, I just thought it was delicious.
The next dish caused another stir amongst the diners. Bowls of Pani Puri were little taste bombs. A mixture of potato, chickpea and lentil was enclosed in the crispest puff (the puri) into which we poured a tangy mint sauce (the pani).
This being my first encounter with this dish, I took to pouring the sauce onto my plate before being put right and shown how to pour the pani into the puri. I needed no further instructions before popping them into my mouth where shattering pastry mixed with spicy flavours. A wonderful mouthful.
The Chaat came next. I was told that It means a snack or spicy street food. We had the Alloo Papri Chaat – a meld of potato and chickpeas served with yoghurt and tamarind chutney and nylon sev. For those of us who enjoy the mix of spicy with sweet flavours this was a top favourite.
Knowing that more food was coming I had to restrict myself to three helpings. The Bhel Puri also went down very well – masala peanuts, puffed rice, tamarind chutney and nylon sev. By now I needed to know what nylon sev is – fortunately it has nothing to do with clothing and is a very tasty fried vermicelli noodle made from chickpea flour.
Roti was one item on the menu with which I was familiar and we had plenty of choice when platters-full arrived at the table. We were treated to lamb, chicken, paneer and and prawn. The lamb was meltingly tender, delicately spiced and accompanied by baby spinach and kidney beans. A tray of sauces accompanied the roti, the most unusual of which was black chickpea chutney. It was so good that a jar-full would not have sufficed.
By now we were all very full indeed. Just then the vegetarians were served platters of Pav Sliders with mushroom and Pav Bhaji served with a fragrant vegetable ragout. The omnnivores were presented with an irresistible selection from the tandoor.
Suddenly more room was found in bursting bellies. For who can resist a piece of tandoori chicken, lamb chop marinated in Awadhi spice, fish and paneer?
Just when we were all admitting defeat, the chef emerged from his kitchen bearing the star dish of the evening.
There were gasps of delight as the Dum Biryani was cut open gently and the escaping steam and aroma intermingled. Our plates were filled yet again. This dish alone was worth the journey to London’s East End. I have always loved biryani but never eaten one encased in dough and steamed to such a moist finish.
The food still kept coming – next was a round of curries of lamb, chicken, aubergine and a spinach saag paneer.
Sadly we could not even make a dent in these.
The mention of dessert had us shaking our heads. No, it would be impossible. Yet when the chocolate fondant with an orange sauce and a scoop of Horlicks ice cream arrived, spoons were soon active. Then there were little bowls filled with Gulab Jamon – tiny deep fried dough balls soaked with sugary syrup. Other bowls held Auguri Rasmalai – balls of paneer cooked in sugar syrup and served in cold, sweetened milk, with a scattering of cardamom and pistachio. Melt in the mouth deliciousness.
And still we braved the last dish – scoops of Rose and Cardamon Kulfi. A perfect end to an extraordinary culinary experience.
Meeting the engaging chef it quickly became clear why we had been eating one wonderful course after another. Having spent many years training with Atul Kochhar in the Michelin starred Benares, Inᴉto has a gem of a chef in its kitchen.
Eating this food amongst friends who are steeped in the secrets of Indian cuisine was an education. By the end of the evening my notebook was bursting with recipes and cooking methods.
I can’t seem to get that Biryani out of my mind so it won’t be long before I make a return visit. This time I will limit myself to far less food but, having tasted so much of what is coming out of this kitchen, that will be quite a challenge.
31 Bell Lane E1 7LA
020 7247 7145