Tuesday, 29 November 2011

New Regency Old Street Indian Restaurant - the familiar lamb biryani


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Address: 96 Old Street
London EC1V 9AY
Tel: 020 7336 8636
Nearest Tube station: Old Street / Barbican

Ratings (out of 5 *)
Price: Below £15pp
Service charge: 12.5%
Taste: ***
Service: **
Ambience: ***
As a kid, I used to attend quite a number of Indian weddings. While a number were invitations from our neighbours, most were from close family friends.

No doubt none were as lavish as the ones in India (from what Ab told me), they were still a spectacle. Loud thumping Bollywood styled music, rows of tables with colourful trimmings and all. All food served were prepared on site in a small open air enclosure by the side. Cauldrons of curry and biryani, the air was infused with spices. My mouth still waters whenever I think of that.

Some required us to queue up with an empty plate for a buffet style meal while others would have dishes brought to you usually by the extended family of the bride and bridegroom. I had quite a healthy appetite back then and never failed to ask for seconds. It must been a sight to see a six year old wolfing down all the biryani. They would have thought that Mum had starved me. To the contrary, she always made me a snack before any wedding lest I "choked myself on the food". But I'm not sure whether that helped.

That was a convoluted way of telling you that I grew up loving biryani. Whenever I'm in a hawker centre back home I'd head to a biryani stall, only to go for Hainanese chicken rice if I can't find one. A lamb biryani would be my preference but one with a huge roast chicken drumstick would do just fine.

That was how we ended up at New Regency Indian Cuisine Restaurant, an Indian takeaway/ delivery/ full service restaurant at Old Street. We were in the area and Sedap, our local Malaysian haunt, isn't open for Saturday afternoons.

Wife thought that New Regency Indian Cuisine Restaurant looked a tad dubious but my craving for lamb biryani overruled any rationality. We were the only ones there throughout the meal (see Pride of Siam). There were two staff present (both are owners apparently, more on that later). One promptly came over to take our orders. His face noticeably fell when we ordered just one main (like I said, Wife wasn't keen at all). Can't blame him really, we might had been his only customers that afternoon. Wine or beer to go with biryani? No thanks. He looked positively hurt to the extent that I asked for a lamb sheek, papadum and a naan as well to redeem myself.

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The masala papadum (50p each) was good on its own. Spicy, crisp and light, it was somewhat marred by the chutney, which I suspect was freshly scooped up from one of those wholesale market tubs. Quite unlike those at Dehli Grill.

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Lamb sheek (£3.95) looked rather desolate. Other than that, it was a joy. Not too compact yet not crumbly, the lamb sheek separated easily in the mouth. A slice of lemon came together with it. Wedged in a clip that looked more at home on a clipboard, a simple squeeze extracted the citrus juice over the lamb sheek. Nicely done without fuss. Why didn't anyone else think of that?

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At £7.25, New Regency's lamb biryani is a bargain. A small pot of piping hot biryani with chunks of lamb and a bowl of vegetable curry to top it up - it is literally a meal on its own. The biryani was cooked uniformly in spices (cardamom was especially noticeable) and the lamb was soft and tastefully marinated.

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Peshwari naan (£2.75) left a deep impression. The almond and caramelised sultana made the naan sweet on its own. Slightly crisp charred surface with puffed soft interior. The piece was torn apart and finished in record time.

Other than the initial order, the staff almost never approached our table whenever we requested for service - they prefer to raise their voice across the restaurant. Not that they were busy (we were the only around, remember?) - one was slouched over the counter while the other was toying with his stack of two pound coins (the unmistakable heavy thuds). While paying, I casually asked one (with the coins) whether he owns the business. He mumbled something about him being the co-owner with the other guy (the sloucher) while staring very hard at the counter top all the while. Fascinating. I would expect them to be more enthusiastic (Sen Viet's owner is a prime example).

Despite that, I'm going to stick out my neck and say that I find the food at New Regency Indian Cuisine rather agreeable. It does takeaways and delivery as well. Offering a 10% discount for students and NHS staff dining in with a free bottle of wine for a table of four, it'd do well in Old Street area. Biryani anyone?


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