Tuesday, 4 November 2008
Zayna needs some customers...
Gilly has been raving about Zayna for the last month. In that time he has been 5 times. And is already planning his next visit! Gilly and the rest of his company have decided to adopt Zayna as their "pet" restaurant.
Tucked away on New Quebec Street in no-man's land between Baker Street, Marble Arch and Edgeware Road, it's passing trade is always going to be very minimal. The whole area is about as lively as The Millennium Dome. Frankly it's brave opening a restaurant here. With hardly any natural footfall it means that the cooking has to be extraordinary for a restaurant to be successful. Look at Dinings for instance. It's tucked away in the backwaters east of Edgeware Road and is almost impossible to find first time out... but it's a brilliant restaurant. Having not seen their balance sheet I can't comment on their economic success. But that said they are always busy and attract an audience from across London.
This evening Zayna was almost empty. Admittedly, we arrived for what can only be described as afternoon tea at 7pm... but it never actually got more than a sprinkling of custom all night. And it was a random Tuesday night. The image below from their website sums up the Mary Celeste atmosphere.
But the truth is this place should be rammed full. The food is incredible. It's a great mix of robust Pakistani flavours, stylish cooking but without the pretense that accompanies some top end Indian / Pakistani restaurants.
We started with a small range of small dishes including a mixture of chickpeas with pomegranate and soured cream which was a very interesting and successful combination. A mango salad offered a fresh and tropical segue. And a spiced lamb chop was a hint of the culinary glory that was to follow.
But these little starters were only teasing us. Given that Gilly understands Zayna's menu better than anyone on earth, we let him order. We were treated to three stunning dishes. Let me try to do them an iota of justice.
Steamed tilapia arrived in a candle warmed bowl, swimming in a delicate, fragrant coconut marsala. The fish eased apart like Obama walking through a crowd. Tilapia is one of my favourite fish. It brings back memories of gorging myself on it's distinctive flesh in Ghana. It's a fish that responds brilliantly to spices. It was interesting that it had been steamed first before being doused in sauce. Great dish. One that I've never seen on an Pakistani (or Indian)restaurant menu before. I can't wait to order it again and have it all to myself.
A lamb curry provided a snapshot of what a good curry house should do well. What can I say really... the meat was great, the sauce was deep and tangy. And I wanted to pick the bowl up and and lick it clean!
But the real star of the show, and indeed, the star of Marylebone, was a prawn dish cooked with wine and garlic that had all three of us fighting for the last morsel. Oddly, it transported me not to the Subcontinent, but to San Sebastian. Rich, deeply garlicky and above all sensationally powerful. The prawns were the most succulent I have ever eaten and were worth the £33 for dinner along.
So. Dodgy location. Amazing food. Reasonable price. I feel like making it my mission to make sure Zayna is successful. If you've read this and like Indian/Pakistani food you've got to pay this place a visit. Because it is normally empty you'll be guaranteed great service. I just can't wait to go back for some more of their prawns!!!