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Something of a pioneer – Dar’s Tandoor & Grill

To get my superficial generalisations in good and early… London is made up of a series of villages. Each has its own characteristics and each tends to be strong in a particular cuisine – so when looking for Polish restaurants try Ealing. For Sri Lankan food Tooting beckons. Which leads us to the question what’s special about South End Green, Hampstead? There is a smattering of neighbourhood stalwarts – pizza, chain restos, tapas, standard curry shops - but no great focus on any particular direction. This is a quiet, well-heeled sort of place, so when you stumble across excellent Punjabi home-cooking it comes as a shock.
“Maj” is something of a force of nature. A while ago he took over the local newsagent and went about his business reviving its fortunes. He’s a key repository for Hampstead gossip. Nothing is too much trouble. Helpfulness personified. And then about six months ago he opened a small restaurant called Dar’s Tandoor and Grill. His mission was to concentrate on Punjabi home cooking, his brother stepped into the kitchen and it has ended up as the best kind of family restaurant.
The menu is a tad too long, but criticising this place for offering burgers, rolls and chips is a bit like beating a Labrador puppy for having silky ears. It is quite clear that the service ethic is uppermost and within reason the cooks at Dar’s would make you any dish you wanted. The grilled meats are very good a well spiced seekh kebab
is cooked accurately; the lamb chops from the tandoor are very good; the mutton chops are very good; samosas – well made and good pastry; there’s an onion bhaji that is worthy of your attention; aloo tikka is solid and comforting. These dishes cost between £2 and £7.50 (for the chops). Add a couple of rotis and it would be easy to just feast on the first course until replete. Trouble is you’d miss the karahi dishes – lamb on the bone; chicken on the bone, and at the weekend some classics – paya; nehari; lamb haleem. There are also various “comfort blanket” dishes for customers who persist in treating the place as a curry house – chicken korma; lamb Madraas; chicken Jalferazi. The rice is good here. The hot breads promote greed. There are biryanis. Main dishes are priced around £7.50 with only a few specials nudging the £10 mark.
If Dar’s were located in Southall, or Wembley, or any locale known for Punjabi food it would fit right in. Finding such a place in Hampstead is a bit of a surprise, but the signs are all good. It’s a case of “watch this space” and hoping that the Hampstead Heathens realise that they have something rather good to shout about and pile into their new Punjabi neighbourhood restaurant.

Dar’s Tandoor & Grill, 2 Elm Terrace, Constantine Road, London NW3 2LL www.darsgrill.co.uk (020 7482 1029)

Charles Campion - Thursday 21st February 2013

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