The fact that Chicken Tikka Masala is considered a national dish alongside fish and chips and pie and mash is testament to the huge impact Indian food has had on the eating habits of Britons. However, whilst I have eaten Indian food countless times, I had never to my knowledge tried Pakistani food. And so it was with considerable curiosity that I visited Salt’n Pepper, a relatively new restaurant in the heart of London specializing in Pakistani cuisine that has absolutely no connection to the 80s hip hop trio from Brooklyn.
Salt’n Pepper have been serving up Pakistan’s culinary staples in their restaurants around the world for over 30 years and in September 2013 they opened up their first UK branch slap bang in the centre of London. A light, airy and modern restaurant, it is a stone’s throw from the thronging crowds of Leicester Square, quietly nestled next to the National Gallery buildings on Orange Street.
Butterfly garlic prawns
After we had battled through the hot and bothered hordes of Leicester Square and ensconced ourselves in the calm, cream and pistachio-coloured dining room refuge, we were revived by a plate of juicy butterfly garlic prawns, lightly grilled and accompanied by a zesty citrus and chilli sauce.
The BBQ dishes are a house speciality, so a mixed BBQ meat grill was brought sizzling and sputtering to our table. Once the vapours had cleared we were greeted by four varieties of deliciously glazed and barbecued meats: chunks of familiar chicken tikka were charred and more subtly spiced than the many Indian examples I’ve eaten; the dark lengths of rich lamb seekh kebabs were flecked with fresh, bright green coriander; pieces of chicken Malai Boti were succulent and mildly spiced; while the highlight of the entire meal came in the form of the beautifully tender and delicately flavoured lamb chops.
Mixed barbeque meat grill selection
For our mains we were again treated to a selection of dishes distinctly different from your average curry house. The Daal Chana was a pleasing ochre bowl of creamy onion and tomato chickpeas with hints of cumin, turmeric and garlic.
Opening the lid of an earthenware pot revealed traditionally prepared chicken biryani, the national dish of Pakistan. The intensely flavoured chicken was layered with fragrant, salty and mellow saffron rice. This dish is traditionally dry and so it was accompanied by a freshly prepared bowl of refreshingly creamy mint raita.
We also enjoyed a bowl of fantastically full-flavoured lamb jalfrezi. The sauce was bright, tangy and rich with tomato, garlic and ginger, while the portions of lamb had a depth of flavour that attested to the time and care the chefs had taken to slow-cooking it. None of the mouth-watering sauce was left to waste as we dipped and scraped the ‘chef’s selection basket’ of naans into each bowl. The trio of naan bread (roghani, garlic and dhania) were light, crispy and subtly flavoured – a pleasant, light accompaniment for the rest of the dishes.
Before dessert we had a wander outside, exploring the covered and heated terrace outside – perfect for wining and dining in the summer months. After our small break we were given two desserts that I had never seen before. The first, Ras Malai, consisted of paneer (a type of soft cheese) dumplings that were light, spongy and crumbled in the mouth. These pretty little dumplings were served in sweet and creamy milk that was flavoured with rose water and almond and the dish was topped with a fresh sprig of mint.
The second dessert, Matka Kulfi, was the favourite of the two. Served in a lovely hand-painted ceramic bowl, the Kulfi, a type of Pakistani ice cream, was creamy, light and refreshing. Adding texture, the kulfi was topped in a light sprinkling of ground pistachios and almonds and then drizzled with a sweet saffron sauce.
Though it is unlikely that you would need to order two desserts on your visit, as the portions were more than amply filling, we’d advise that you push it, push it good.
32 Orange Street, London, WC2H 7HQ