if you are in london and you love food you've probably already been to brixton. everyone who is into seriously good food is talking about what's happening in brixton village. in fact i am convinced that jay rayner's article in the observer has been directly responsible for the increasing traffic. on the day that i went to eat at elephant the lines at honest burgers stretched out to double the length since i was last there. as excited as i am about honest burgers (they are damn good!) and lab gelato and kaosarn thai, what really makes me proud is a little place called elephant based in unit fifty-five. for the first time since being in london i can say i've had real pakistani food. sure there are lots of place in east london like lahore kebab house and tayyab's that cook pakistani food but there is an unmistakable indianess to their food. elephant is in total contrast to that as it is purely home-cooked pakistani food.
|aloo samosa's at elephant|
the concise menu clipped to a board is as much a reflection of the tiny kitchen that imran bashir works out of as it is of the curries that most pakistani's have grown up eating steadfastly. there are two kinds of starters, samosa's and pakora. i had the vegetable samosa stuffed with a well spiced mashed potato filling. the pastry is crisp on the outside but is thick enough to give way to a soft flaky dough. you can tell that the samosa's have been fried in a searing oil as they aren't greasy. i don't usually eat samosa's but i wiped the plate at elephant clean. they reminded me of karim key samosay in rawal pindi, pakistan. those samosa's had a slightly thicker dough and were a little rougher in shape than these but they packed a punch. it's a compliment to imran that they compare to one of the most famous samosa makers in the twin cities of pakistan. there is a raita with clean minty flavours with a rough dice of cucumber and a salad on the side.
the two samosas were followed by a chat with imran as i was here to interview him for a pakistani magazine. there is a quiet energy to him and a passion for food. he tells me that elephant's menu is basically all his favourite food eaten at home. he serves in thali's because they are convenient. they allow the space to mix and match curries and are unbreakable making them cost effective. we don't use thali's in pakistan but of course they are a testimony to the shared history of the sub-continent.
|chicken curry and salad|
after a while, imran disappears behind the counter (effectively his kitchen) and reappears with a place of chicken curry and a little stainless steel bowl of daal. the chicken curry is boneless and served with a mound of shaped rice. the daal is deep yellow with turmeric and spice. we break bread together. the chicken is mild, its warmth derived from turmeric, ginger and garlic used to flavour the onions and tomatoes reduced to a jammy consistency through constant sautéing. it's the kind of curry i make at home. i am very happy with the rice which is perfectly boiled as most indian and pakistani places usually disappoint by either undercooking or overdoing rice. the daal has a slim consistency like soup but is packed full of flavour. i didn't have space to try the vegetables but will do so when i am there next week.
|salad and daal|
i finished on masala chai. this is traditionally an indian manner of serving tea and although elephant calls it as such it is much closer to the pakistani version of milky yet strong tea laced with cardamom. in the sub-continent spices like cardamom and fennel are used as digestifs so it is entirely appropriate close my afternoon at elephant on this tea. elephant gets booked up very quickly so i'd recommend reserving a space but whatever you do hurry and get here. brixton village isn't a hidden gem anymore. it's an open secret that is only going to get busier!