Grand Trunk Road restaurant is Indian cuisine in South Woodford. It’s Essex, or London, depending on from which way you come. I headed out of East London to the suburb on the edge of Epping Forest, already looking forward to it being a successful meal and (finally) finding a go-to restaurant for really good grub post the many trail rides to come this autumn out this way. And to cut ahead, it is…
We arrived starving and very ready for a strong cocktail and poppadoms, having underestimated a 6-mile drive at rush hour. The house looked after us very well with a Highway Spritz of gin, elderflower liqueur, soda, red currant and Prosecco, along with three kinds of poppadoms and four sauces. It was already obvious that it was to be a step above other Indian restaurants, by which I mean the favoured curry houses of the nineties – delicious and hearty but perhaps less authentic than what’s on offer now. Great, gastronomic, Indian fare restaurants are opening up more and more across the city and throughout the country. Lucky for us all as we learn more about and taste the great range of flavours and recipes, the diversity of the cuisine through the many regions of India.
It’s not like I wasn’t expecting it to be top end, though, with both the chef and the owner having come from Tamarind, the famous Mayfair restaurant with a Michelin star. But it’s lower key dining with a comfortable atmosphere here. We were so hungry it wouldn’t have been wise to choose the food, so we asked our waiter for their recommended dishes. They came up trumps with a taste of each of the starters. Scallops were beautifully cooked and flavoured with a strong sauce of peppers, spicy tomato, roasted garlic & pepper chutney. Rawalpindi Ka Murgh Kebab was best of all, a ground chicken patty with brown onion, spinach, fragrant spices, topped with hung yoghurt & red onion relish. A bowl of Delhi Ki Chaat was also a favourite but is certainly to a particular taste: spicy chickpeas topped with sweet yoghurt, topped with wheat crisps and tamarind chutneys. Chaat is a hard dish to describe, though a popular snack through India. Something like Indian nachos?
We let the house decide our mains as well, apart from making sure we had the tandoor grilled and stuffed paneer as well as a side of black lentils. Paneer, an Indian ‘cottage cheese’, is possibly my favourite food for both its texture and flavour, and I couldn’t pass up the chance to have it cooked tandoor with mango chutney inside, marinated with paprika, ginger and garlic. It was the highlight. The black lentils, slow cooked overnight and made very decadent with cream and butter were also a highlight. This dish is what I will now crave on every cold wintry evening, especially paired with the cheese naan we were served. I’ve tried this signature dish several times before, notably at Dishoom – a small chain that serves up Bombay Irani cafe style food – and more recently in London restaurant Baluchi. It’s completely filling, indulgent and warming, and as good as I’ve ever tried it here at Grand Trunk Road.
Our waiter chose us the traditional dish of masala chicken, for which the spice was spot on. It has a rich, thick and creamy sauce, though is cream/dairy free, and required some wine to help cut through the deep flavour. I had a glass of Melodias Torrontes from Argentina. All was bang on. We really didn’t need any more food and flavour, but alongside we had the classic lamb curry, another deeply rich dish flavoured with cinnamon and cardamom. The lamb is braised and then fried in a brown onion sauce, which we sopped up with truffle naan.
The only thing left to do when so full and satisfied is to carry on and cut through it all with a pudding. For my dinner date this was the highlight of the meal, perhaps the best of any dessert, she said. A sweet mango creme brulee. It was truly delicious and incredibly well done. I had a spiced Old Fashioned cocktail to finish, a house special cocktail recommended by the bartender at the start of the meal that I had been saving until the end. Another best, of the many Old Fashioneds I’ve tried. There are more than a couple of things I’ll be coming back for here, and soon.
Grand Trunk Road takes its name from ancient India’s trade route that led from Bangladesh to Afghanistan, along which spices, ingredients and recipes were shared, producing dishes that are famous to this day and influencing those served here at GTR. Chef Sharma’s efforts since opening in 2016 have been rewarded by the restaurant’s inclusion in the Michelin Guide and Grand Trunk Road has been named Best Indian Restaurant in London by the Asian Curry Awards.
Grand Trunk Road
219 High Road