By Chrissy Iley
Once in a very rare while, there comes a restaurant that fills me with such a sense of wonderment I dream about it. I don’t mean the kind of dreams you have in your sleep, but a constant yearning to go back there. A sort of instant sensory nostalgia to take that journey again to one of the most amazing culinary experiences in Britain. That place is Grand Trunk Road, South Woodford. It was quite a journey for me to get there. It was quite ironic that the concept of the restaurant is about the chronicle stretch of land built for traders in the 16th century in North India. The road was 2500km long and linked to Eastern and Western regions, facilitating trade, culture and a sampling of the various flavours of Indian history. Each dish reflects the diversity of the town it came from. Each dish has been prepared with subtlety, love, knowledge, care.
While this may make it seem grand, and it is grand in taste and ambition, the restaurant itself is neighbourhood cosy but modern. A nice cocktaily vibe and edgy but drinkable wine list. We were greeted by Director Rajesh Suri. “Hello Chrissy,” he beamed. He remembered me mostly from the Red Fort in Soho. He is the manager, director extraordinaire, super aware, and super knowing. He looks very dapper. From his beginnings in management at Oberoi Hotel Group in India to continue to launch 5-star establishments in Bahrain before moving to London where he was involved in Veeraswamy – the UK’s oldest Indian restaurant and became the creative force behind London’s Tamarind Collection. You may also know him from Masterchef where he’s a regular at the chef’s table. He has lived locally in South Woodford for many years and after all his creative launches in Mayfair, he wanted something to come home to. This area of London – Essex borders has many established local favourites but nothing like this. This is something quite exceptional and locals and out of towners and central Londoners alike feel it’s special enough to make the journey.
There was attention to detail not just in the food but in the décor, prints and wooden furniture brought over from India a perfect mix of authenticity with a modern twist.
He brought with him Chef Sharma from Mayfair’s Zaika who has 28 years of experience. His food feels authentic, inspired, creative, exquisite. The menu is bold, delicious, a sensuous experience. From the very start, we knew it was special. Even the Chutneys were wildly exquisite. There was a beetroot one which was like nothing I’d ever tasted before. Even the papadums were their own miniature banquet. We were guided by Rajesh and he delivered a starter which he made up from the tandoor menu which included the fattest, juiciest most flavoursome prawn in the universe that we had to photograph like a rare specimen. The chicken and lamb cutlet had a soft tender texture and its marinade was perfect.
For the main, there was a Bindi masala with pickling spices which somehow lifted it, rice cooked with whole spices, cumin and saffron, a truffle naan – truffle and mushrooms on bread. We’d already had an Applewood cheese naan with the starter. I don’t think I’d ever eaten so much naan but the naan was amazing. There was also a butter chicken with creamy tomato and tiger prawns with coconut milk, turmeric and ginger. This was accompanied by the best raita in the world. Creamy yoghurt with cucumber and spicy little balls on top. And as if we weren’t already bursting, dessert appeared. A chef’s plate of magnificent ice cream flavoured with saffron and star anise, and tandoor-grilled pineapple marinated in star anise, blood orange sorbet and uplifting basil ice cream, gorgeous. And even though we could hardly breathe because we were so stuffed with food, we ate it all. Everything was presented beautifully with its own miniature floral tributes.
The average price excluding drinks is lunch £15, dinner £30. Worth every bit.