Meat-Free Indian That Won’t Break The Bank
Indian Veg Bhelpoori House
92-93 Chapel Market, London N1 9EX
Here in Britain we love a good curry. That’s stating the obvious. All you have to do is take a walk around your local supermarket to see the extent to which the cuisine of the Indian subcontinent has become intertwined with our own. We have tikka pizzas, balti pukka pies, jalfrezi crisps, and so on. However I bypass these fakers on my search for the real Indian experience.
So just what is the best curry house in London?? To answer this question we also need to examine what constitutes the “best” curry. I could probably write a whole article just on this topic, and maybe I still won’t have an answer. It depends on the situation – whether you’re looking for an elegant dining experience to impress or just something to soak up the alcohol after a night out with the lads.
But for me, authenticity is always important whatever the circumstance, and in the case of Indian food, it should be noted that around 40% of India’s population are vegetarian. That’s a staggering 470 MILLION people. That’s a lot of vegetables (and a lot of relieved animals). This makes India one of the best countries on Earth to be in if you are a vegetarian, and forces the argument that perhaps the most authentic Indian experience could be a meat-free one.
So last week I took my friend Thespina (a vegetarian of 18 years) along to Indian Veg in Chapel Market to get a bite to eat on our way to a gig at the academy.
Okay. I have to point out right away, the green and white exterior kind of reminds me of a pharmacy or one of those alternative medicine shops. It’s a bit in-your-face. The theme of health and wellbeing continues on the inside: Practically every wall is covered with vegetarian propaganda, from religious mantras and quotations to actual medical evidence supporting a meat-free diet.
Not quite what you’d expect to accompany a sit-down meal, but at least it’s something a bit different (although on one wall there is a sentence about how red meat eaters are more prone to cancer, I personally would have omitted that one). It isn’t an overly militant veggie place in the same vein as Red Veg which was formerly on Dean Street, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was also a hangout of the “Meat Is Murder” crowd although if it is then they weren’t in on the night that we went.
It’s an all-you-can-eat set up (as you can see from the numerous signs plastered on the outside) for a very reasonable £3.95 per head (the rest of your body gets in free).
We got ourselves a couple of soft drinks, the selection of which was impressive to say the least, although for a place so health-conscious it did surprise me that they served alcohol as well. But credit to them for stocking not only the Indian restaurant favourite that is Kingfisher but also Bangla beer from Bangladesh.
The latter I have only previously seen in Brick Lane and was surprised to learn that beer is brewed in a country where 90% of the people are Muslim, and even more surprised to discover that it’s actually quite good. But we passed on the booze this time around as I ordered an organic root beer and Thespina went for a mango lassi made freshly on the premises.
So onto the food. The setup is basically a few plates of various different salads with optional mango chutney and a bright green raita-style yoghurt dressing as well, then eight large metal trays which constitute the main buffet. It was nice to see three different types of rice on offer (plain, pilau and wholegrain). The other five trays consisted of four vegetable curries and a watery yellowish dhal. I’m aware that the latter is an Indian staple but this incarnation was not among the best ones I’ve tasted.
As for the curries, the first time I went up I tried a little of each. I was forced to let my tastebuds be my guide as there were no labels of any kind. For a place with so much writing and signage on the walls, I don’t think it would have killed them to make a few labels so people knew what they were eating, even if nothing else they could at least have some sort of indicator as to how hot the dish is (I’m fine with spice, but I know that some people like to know beforehand if something’s packed with heat).
So I served myself a little bit of each one going clockwise around my plate. In my mind I labelled the curries 1-4 from right to left, so that I would know which one(s) I preferred should we go back for another helping. There were also some little round breads similar to bhatura (inflated in the middle), and a few bhelpoori style fried snacks, some resembling mini pakoras and others like shredded strips of onion bhaji.
Curry number 1 was rather nice, a simple yet flavourful veggie curry with at least eight different types of vegetable. In the absence of a label, I couldn’t put my finger on which curry it most closely reminded me of. It wasn’t overly spicy like a vindaloo or creamy like a bhuna, it just tasted like a standard curry. The second one was more potato-based, with a few other vegetables in as well. The third one tasted familiar, in fact it was the same as the first one. No actually, on closer inspection, this one was ever so slightly hotter. And the fourth one was a slightly hotter version of the second one.
So I guess they cook two curries, serve them then add a little chilli and serve them as completely new dishes.
Overall though, I’m not going to complain too much about the quality. After all, you can’t expect the best curry ever from an all-you-can-eat place. To be fair it was okay. The little breads were quite nice and the curries weren’t too oily as they often can be elsewhere (particularly in meat dishes). The dhal I would personally leave well alone, and the salads are just filler.
Quality-wise, I’d be disappointed if I paid regular restaurant prices for some of the stuff on offer, but for all-you-can-eat at such a low price I’m not going to complain. If you’re after an Indian veggie experience that’s a tad more special, try Rasa on Stoke Newington Church Street. But if you happen to be a vegetarian and you find yourself in North London with an empty stomach and an almost empty pocket, then the Indian Veg Bhelpoori House on Chapel Market will suit all your needs.