One Friday evening, myself and two friends found ourselves with this spice lust. Knowing we had a better chance of standing around outside drinking cans of lager all night than getting into Tayyabs at prime time, we tried Needoo Grill - set up by an ex manager of Tayyabs, even the menu is the same. Alas, they had a party of 20 in and wouldn't tell us either way whether we could have a table. They tried to convince us to eat and be out in half an hour; speaking from past experience, I knew this would only lead to regret. So we headed round the corner to Mirch Masala.
I've been here once before, on my 22nd birthday. The place is enormous, with a canteen-like atmosphere both upstairs and down. They treated us well though, and even turned all the lights down to sing happy birthday when my cake was brought out.
The best part of the mixed grill were the little chicken drumsticks. They were spiced lightly but were full of flavour. Sadly, lamb chops held no comparison to their neighbour's efforts. Seekh kebabs were juicy and moreish but by and large, we could have done without this dish.
We ordered a couple of main curries, and were talked into more dishes by our waiter. Along with some beautifully puffy plain rotis, the boys decided they also want a keema naan (top picture) "for the lads". It was meaty, filling and dripping with ghee. I left them to it.
Karahi keema corn was a nice change; I was surprised to see the addition of fresh corn, but my Pakistani friend I was dining with told me it's very homestyle to do so.
Karahi chilli chicken had dangerous long green chillis for my spoon to dance around. A mistaken nibble proved to be painful, though the chicken was tender and the sauce well spiced and flavoursome. We had been asked whether we wanted our dishes 'mild, medium or spicy' - given the level of spicing in here, and across the dishes, I was very glad we went for medium. My cheeks flamed.
Being the aubergine fiend that I am, it was no surprise that the karahi baigan was my favourite. Silky aubergines were deceptively spicy and not overly greasy. The roti scooped the aubergine flesh up a dream. I hogged the dish.
We left, £15 out of pocket each and stuffed to the gills. Mirch Masala is a great alternative to the more popular places - it's far quieter, you don't leave smelling of smoke, and it has far more menu options, especially for vegetarians. Just don't let the waiters talk you into extra dishes - we had more than enough, but being the gluttons we are, managed it.
Mirch Masala (other locations too)
111-113 Commercial Road
London E1 1RD
Tel: 0207 377 0155
Note - it's BYO. Hooray!