Thursday 19 March 2009

Zeen - Flavour of India

Came back here the second time with Meistersinger and unfortunately with mixed results. Straight to the point Meistersinger thought this place very average indeed, the buffet that he had today was not as good as Café Naz. He complained that the dishes lacked any spiciness and the options were too limited. I agreed on the latter, Zeen should’ve put on at least another five dishes or so, especially the sweets. Whereas I went à la carte and I was more than pleased with my lunch.
I think the moral of this afternoon’s meal is what you may perceive as excellent, the person who’s more qualified than you (based on ethnicity, background, etc) gazzumps your view as simply wayward. Meistersinger’s argument is if Zeen’s intentions of offering all you can eat buffet meals are serious, then how can they fluff things up, especially on Drummond Street where established veg buffets are already offered by the likes of Chutney's or Diwana Bhel Poori House. He took today’s lunch as an insult and he’s not coming back.
My starter of Fish Chilli Fry (fish tossed with peppers, onions and spices)
The batter could've been crispier but overall very good indeed. Loads of chilli kick and fragrant overtones.
M's first buffet round, I thought the potatoes were rather good, he said something like 'such a typical comment from a non-Indian', ouch.The bread is freshly baked in the kitchen for the buffet diners, if you want some more just holler to the waiting staff.M's second round- he's not happy!My mains of Goan Poussin Cafreal
Roasted spiced whole baby chicken in a marinate of fresh mint, coconut, coriander served with sauté potatoes
The coconut spices were intense. A highly measured dish but I felt Quails would do better here than the rather bland poussin. Potatoes were too greasy and a little undercooked. I still enjoyed the potential of the dish and would order again.M's final fling with the buffet dessert. These milk balls were the only choice left (Honestly Zeen! I noticed that gratis ice cream were offered to other tables but not to M. Mean old Zeen.)
Well, I still like this place and I'm definitely coming back, but unfortunately without my only Indian dining companion that's Meistersinger.


I love Indian food but I would be fooling myself to suggest that I possess an absolute authority on it. No I also don’t quite belong to that camp where (if such analogies carry any weight), for example a non Chinese person would swear by Ping Pong serving the best Dim Sum or hardcore disciples of Busaba believing that the best ever Pad Thai can only be sought therefrom. I’d like to think I’m more adept than that, I know an Uttappam from a Dosa (one’s a pancake and the other is a pancake- I’m no dunce). Still whenever an agenda calls for an Indian (both meal and person), more often than not I drag my pal Meistersinger (aka Taps, or Jabs de Hutt or The Professor) with me.

So called Meistersinger because he was a tenor and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things opera.

Meistersinger is an extremely fussy eater, his choice of food is very simple- anything Indian, Full English Fry Up and Wonton soup. That’s it, all very clear-cut and take no prisoners. Meistersinger’s roots are from Bengal and he’s also an accomplished cook (I’ve tried his prawn curry and it was very good except that I couldn’t detect a single blighter!). His ratings (forced upon by moi) are similar to that of Andy Hayler’s, i.e. a low mark needn’t be the end of the world but in fact a blessed acknowledgment.

Be Seen at Zeen (as announced on their site)- how bloody poor can that be? Gawd am I going to bump into Shilpa Shetty or Timmy Mallet- I should bloody hope not as I want to eat in peace and that’s eat well! Zeen was inputted after reading
MsMarmitelover’s review for Londonword and cross-referenced with Harden’s luker than lukewarm review a few days later. Do you know I’ll chew on me trilby if a PR company didn’t have a hand in putting this place on the map; you know the usual scenario with free meals for the press and whatnot.

One can so easily walk past this place without a blink, I mean even a fast food joint (you know 21 pieces of southern fried flightless battery emus for £3.99!) nearby had a more conspicuous presence. Ok supposing we do notice the entrance, but do we want to brace ourselves and venture into an abyss of a basement restaurant that has a tag of ‘lunch specials from £3.95’ on its front door? I know reluctance tied with apprehension start to swamp the mind. Thank goodness for MsMarmitelover, the Harden Bros and Andy Hayler himself, they were the guinea pigs and they came out unscathed.

It was like a different world down here, in fact for one minute the thought of Drummond Street was erased in favour of Covent Garden instead. It’s very much fact now, that Indian restaurants are getting brighter, and the Chinese contemporaries preferring otherwise. I like this place and sort of felt things were going to turn out well. The dining room was at best large, and when we turned up for lunch today there were only three other tables occupied (glad to report the diners were Asians [you know the distinction]). The waiting staff (Europeans, east of Teuton), although friendly and trying, needed to be taught more on the fundamentals of Indian cuisine and not to be at all clueless with what’s on the menu. Otherwise no complaints, at least they smiled (I can’t stand staff who don’t unless they have a condition) and that was good enough for me.

My word there were so much stuff on the main menu (strangely no sign of the usual Tandoori dishes like chicken, lamb chops, kebabs, etc) I wanted to order, like Whole Fresh Konkan Crab, Goan Poussin Cafreal or Mangalorian Sea Bass. I had to keep reminding myself to take things easy, as this was only a first visit. The Lunch Delicacies menu consisted of an impressive array of dishes and every one of them is only £3.95. This menu is also uncannily like the one found at Bocca di Lupo, except that it’s India that we’re travelling through, it’s miles cheaper and the portions were more generous than the usual ‘small plates’.

Here we go four from the lunch menu and a token Thali set off the main to test out the kitchen.

It has to be said the plating and presentation of all the dishes were astounding!

Uttappam with Lamb Stew- South Indian rice pancake with Keralan lamb stew
This coconutty lamb stew reminded me of the Thai Tom kha gai but without the lemongrass or galangal- a lovely dish.

Dahi Wada-Poached lentil dumplings napped with tangy yoghurt and chutneys
This dish reminded me of the Papi chana chat starter I had at Zayna, I think this is better even though I'm not that keen on having yoghurt for lunch. Meistersinger thought this dish accomplished, especially the dumplings (still firm and not morphed into some soggy mess).

Pav Bhaji-Tangy potato and vegetable mash with butter fried bread

How can anyone refuse fried bread? The mash or dip was fantastic; spicy and lemony...yum yum.

Lamb Kottu Roti-South Indian dish made with traditional chopped bread, onion, eggs, lamb & spices
Doesn't this look like a Malaysian Char Kway Teow? A stonker of a concoction, you really do not want to share this...major delicious.

Zeen Platter-Butter Chicken, Lamb Pattice, Aloo Gobi Mutter, Hyderabadi Dal, Pilau Rice, Baby Naan, Papad & Chutney

At a smidgeon under eleven quid, this may seem costly but it was packed with flavour and everything on the palette excelled. How about if I sang praises of the pilau rice- perfectly cooked and delectable (and it's only rice FGS!). The Aloo potatoes and cauliflower were equally unbelievable.

Lamb Pattice- Potato cutlet stuffed with freshly spiced ground lamb
This thali platter made the ones at the Masala Zone positively poor and pathetic.

Ok and phew, by now we were both stuffed and I had to loosen my belt (not unusual under these circumstances). I demanded Meistersinger to rate this place and I was slightly taken aback when he said 3/5. My Indian companion thought the place hatched some very tasty dishes and the prices were mighty fair considering everything. I thought likewise and we also agreed that none of the dishes were toned down in anyway, Zeen at least made an effort of authenticity with that. I actually like this place a great deal, ounce for ounce, it’s not quite Tayabbs (but then again I haven’t sampled the a la Carte yet at Zeen). Based on this meal alone with enough selection of dishes sampled as proof, I’m definitely coming back. Highly recommended.

NB Nizar Challawala, one of the head flakes at this place was rather suspicious of my antics relating to that of a foodie paparazzo. I assured him that for us to finish our lunch with little or no leftovers can only mean a decent meal. And a decent
meal constitutes a decent write up. Chill, Mr Challawala I’m coming back…and with my camera on tow.

130 Drummond Street
London NW1 2PA


eatmynels said...

i just noted that you wholeheartedly acknowledging my blog....many many thanks!!

I will be cooking the first course at the underground restuarant tomorrow night, seats still available....

bellaphon said...

Hey Nels, you're welcome. Pity I'll miss out on your contribution at TUR, let us know when you're volunteering again as I'm due for a second visit.

kerstin said...

I really enjoyed Zeen. Loved the first course I had, some kind of street food.