Although I’ve eaten at the Delhi Grill several times (months ago!), the fact that I have not yet reviewed it has been been niggling at the back of my brain like a guilty conscience. I’m not sure what the hold-up has been. Maybe that ‘everyone’ had already written up the Delhi Grill. Certainly the fact that I felt that, in order to be thorough, I needed to come not only for dinner but in the daytime, when the Delhi Grill sells delicious roti wraps at the Chapel Market. A few weeks ago, however, I had a friendly conversation with @delhigrill on Twitter about visiting one of my other must-try London-on-a-budget restaurants, Yalla Yalla, and I felt horribly guilty for not having written this review yet. So, sorry Delhi Grill for the long delay, and here goes.
With the opening of the Delhi Grill, Islington decisively burst onto the foodie map as a destination for a proper Indian meal. The Delhi Grill is patterned after a dhaba, serving Punjabi food, slow-cooked, freshly made daily, based on recipes from mums and aunties and cousins. It’s fun, bustling, and colourful with Bollywood film posters and the Delhi Grill’s credo boldly stenciled on the inner walls and the stairs.
The dinner menu is affordable (very important), and it’s small, as befits a restaurant that makes everything fresh daily, consisting of about 16 items, half “from the tandoor” and half “from the pot.” A hungry group of people can try nearly everything (which in my opinion is the best way to enjoy the Delhi Grill). Every now and again the sound of conversation and spoons tinkling on dishes is punctuated by an unmistakeable hiss and sizzle, and the room fills with the pungent spicy charred smoky smell that means someone has ordered a dish from the tandoor.
The Delhi Grill’s chicken tikka (£2.45 for four pieces) is the best I’ve ever had. The chicken itself is incredibly moist and tender, and the dish is properly spicy, with a dense, concentrated, smoky and complex flavour. I also liked the lamb (£2.95), although not quite as much as the version of that same dish that sets the gold standard in London, at Tayyabs. (To be fair, that’s a tough standard to meet.)
Although it’s tempting to order nothing but food from the tandoor for starters, it would be a mistake to miss the samosas, which are light, crispy, and explosively tasty.
Many of the dishes from the tandoor come with chutneys, but if you go, be sure to order the separate chutney rack (£1). The slightly sweet, gently spicy beetroot chutney and coconut chutney are particular standouts.
Although the dishes from the tandoor are excellent, I think that what makes the Delhi Grill special are the lovely, slow-cooked curries. These dishes really do taste like home cooking; they are thoughtful, with lovely refined layered flavours, and taste as if they’ve been cooked with love. Especially memorable dishes “from the pot” were the chicken karahi (which you can have on or off the bone), a dark, wintry, and complicated curry, and the fish, which changes daily (I ordered this twice; both times it was monkfish) and is cooked in a creamy, delicately spiced masala.
The regular menu is marvelous overall, but I find the specials board, which features just a couple of dishes, difficult to resist. Once there was goat! Once palakh paneer, which again was the best I’d had – slowly cooked down into delicious density, quite creamy, a little spicy, and seasoned with a hint of a fragrant and unusual spice that I couldn’t quite place. My parents, who are Indian food fanatics, loved this dish. (And my father said the Delhi Grill’s naan was the best he’d had in his life.)
I love Indian desserts. The Delhi Grill’s pistachio kulfi was very nice, but the most interesting, and unusual (to me) dessert was a spiced, sweet carrot pudding from the specials board, which was served warm and almost had the texture of a risotto.
We tried the chicken tikka and the paneer tikka. Having had the chicken tikka at dinner, I expected it to be very good, and it was, but the paneer tikka was a revelation. Soft, steaming-hot paneer cheese, spicy and slightly smoky from the tandoor, in a warm chewy roti wrap, dressed with the Delhi Grill’s gingery, delicately astringent beetroot chutney with crunchy salad. We were ravenous, it’s true, but I swear we consumed these wraps in under a minute.
They were so delicious, I brought another friend for lunch the following week. It was a chilly early fall day, perfect for hot spicy street food. Oddly, the paneer tikka wrap wasn’t as good this time, but even the best restaurants can have good and bad days. At £3.50 each, the Delhi Grill’s roti wraps are still one of my favourite bargains in London, and in the evening the Delhi Grill is one of London’s best bets for Indian food.
The Delhi Grill, London
21 Chapel Market, Islington N1 9
Phone: 020 7278 8100
Price per person: under £20, including beer
The verdict: Must try!