Growing up, Indian food was not something I encountered. My Mum had an inventory of dishes she’d cook up each week like clockwork – Spaghetti Bolognese, Mince & Dumplings, a fantastic Roast Chicken Sunday Lunch. It was only in my university days I ate my first proper curry, living in a student house inhabited by a diverse mix of nationalities. Matthew, which was not his real name, would cook up a storm in the kitchen every night using every pot and pan he could. Because of the tension this caused, we’d always be offered his handiwork for fear of an uprising. One thing it made me realise was that Indian food wasn’t all about fire, contrary to my Dad’s beliefs.
The Teen is a big fan of Sunarga in Birtley, which knocks up all the expected dishes. Having dined recently at Dosa Kitchen, I felt the need to try out Dabbawal as it was somewhere I had wanted to dine for quite some time. Struggling to think of anywhere to eat for lunch this week and fancying something I couldn’t rustle up myself at home, it was time to give the Brentwood Avenue restaurant a go. I had no desire to o negotiate city centre parking with a baby on for their High Bridge eatery, plus I figured I could pop into Cake Stories afterwards.
Housed in a former Italian restaurant near the metro line, you could probably miss Dabbawal as it is tucked away from the main street. Because I had dined there in its previous incarnation I was able to find it easily. I was the only diner during this particular lunchtime service, which meant I had the undivided attention of the staff. As Dinky graciously slept, Frederico (who introduced later himself) turned down the music to allow her a peaceful snooze as I ate.
The lunchtime offering consisted of a selection of tapas dishes, tandoor and curry plates. I wasn’t sure what to chose, so bravely left it in the hands of the staff. I asked them to bring me their recommendations as an introduction to Indian street food and the best Dabbawal has to offer a vegetarian. There will be a collective groan – I’m sure – that I started off with papadums and chutney. I don’t care, I like them. My appetite was whetted for the starter of Vegetable Samosa Chaat.
Served with onions that have been steeped to remove their bitterness, these crushed samosas were packed full of flavour. My chickpea nemesis was the basis of the filling, but I found them an easier eat than usual thanks to the aromatic spices used during cooking. They had a kick for a spice wuss like me, but the onions and yoghurt were a cooling element. The samosa itself had a crispy coating, without any of the greasiness you’d usually encounter from a supermarket attempt.
Main course came in the form of a Lentil Curry – another pulse I’m trying more of recently to get over my dislike – and a mix of Paneer and spinach. The lentil dish was mild and creamy, but I struggled to eat both dishes with the serving of rice. The spinach dish may have been fiery by my standards, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. While it wasn’t the first time I’d encountered Paneer, it was the first time I’d thought of it as being similar to tofu in texture.
I was pleased I had left myself in the hands of staff as I tried dishes I wouldn’t have chosen myself. Stuffed full, I sat and chatted about food with the staff before I paid the bill and left. At just shy of £17 with drinks, it may have been more than a usual lunch spend, but it was well worth it. I didn’t feel rushed and, had I been dining with a friend, would have ordered a glass of wine and made the most of the relaxed atmosphere. I also didn’t eat for the rest of the day, which is the sign of a good feed. A Curry Club award winner in 2015, you know Dabbawal know their stuff when it comes to Indian food with an endorsement like that.
Dabbawal are launching a new lunchtime menu soon, which will feature new dishes and the wonderfully popular dosa. I enquired about vegan options and was told that as they prepare everything the are able to omit the dairy which often accompanies their vegetable based dishes. I sent photos of my lunch to Mr. Canny, and he was certainly jealous. We will have to return to sample the Evening Menu soon.
Thanks for reading,