18 February 2019: Soho Wala - Wala wala bing bang
Another outing for the original curry blog crew (me, Tom and Louise) and our first of 2019 taking us into our 8th year of reviews. A lot has changed since then, but Louise still walks like a penguin, Tom's still bullshitting his way through the market research industry and I'm still carrying this blog on without much help from either.
After an excellent recent curry journey aboard the Darjeeling Express, it was another trip to Soho to experience another new(ish) Indian eatery: Soho Wala.
Soho Wala can be found on Great Marlborough Street, opposite the North end of Carnaby Street. It's entrance is rather inconspicuous; set back from the pavement, up a short set of steps that appear to be part of the granite edifice of the Courthouse Hotel. Indeed, inside there is an entrance for patrons of the adjoining hotel (which explained the fifty or so Chinese kids screaming in the adjacent corridor on our visit!).
Crazy kids aside, the interior is very pleasant. High ceilings and numerous lights give an airy, spacious feel and add to the all-round, stylish aesthetic. An eclectic mix of furniture and fittings set Soho Wala apart from other Indian diners. Birdcage lampshades, neon-signs, mosaic tiles, wooden parquet flooring, and a quirky range of chair designs are just a few examples of the fanciful furnishings.
This is contemporary London dining without the pretense of the West End. With little to fault and offering something a little different, it's a high score for Venue.
Starters and sides
Pani Puri Wala
Special Butter Naan
Choor Choor Naan
Garlic & Chive Kulcha
Not for the first time we were sat waiting for Louise to waddle in so ordered the papdi chaat to snack on while we waited. This bhel puri type number comprised of wheat crisps coated in yoghurt, tamarind, mint and pomegrante seeds for a fresh and textured bite.
We followed this with the pani puri which offered further refreshment with their splash of tamarind water released when munched down whole. However, these two tasty dishes were surpassed by the excellent kurkure bhaji - fried okra and lotus root crisps that were irresistibly moreish with their salty crunch; well worth the visit on their own!
Further to these snacks we had the byagdi murgh - superbly succulent tandoori chicken pieces with a chili edge - and a few breads. The latter weren't the best, slightly dry and rather plain, but didn't detract enough from the great range of options for sides and starters here. It's therefore a strong 8/10.
Dhungar Baigen Bartha
Laal Maas Rajasthani
Lucknow Murgh Biryani
It was three dishes for mains: a chicken biryani, a lamb curry and an aubergine number. The latter, named dhungar baigen bartha on the menu, was a smokey vegetarian curry that was heavy on the onion and a little bit mushy as a result. More baba ganoush than Indian nosh it wasn't my cup of chai.
Better was the laal maas Rajasthani, but this was again more impressive on the menu than on the plate. Whilst solid, it didn't stand out and was ultimately a fairly middle of the road lamb curry and not the most tender despite it being slow cooked.
The Lucknow murgh (chicken) biryani was equally tasty but a little run of the mill. Good, rich tomato and spicy flavours permeated the rice, but the chicken wasn't the most tender and the dish as a whole only slightly scratched my current biryani itch.
Being a Monday night, it was far from busy, but our waitress still managed to look a little flustered. We did have a little mix up with our order, but nothing to get upset about and it was promptly replaced. However, I do worry about what it would be like on livelier nights.
Value for money
On the whole, with the small plates no more than £4.50 and other dishes ranging from £6-£11 a visit to Soho Wala won't break the bank, despite it's prime location. The quality of the starters give VFM a boost, but the less than equal curries, keep it at a steady 7 out of 10.
Overall, Soho Wala sits somewhere between good and great. The attractive setting and limited, small plate style menu ticks all the right boxes for a modern Indian diner, but, despite some excellent flourishes from its street snack options, the curries don't quite hit the heights of those found in local rivals. Prices are good and probably the ultimate draw over other options nearby, but our decent aggregate score of 37/50 is ultimately inflated by a strong Venue, rather than great food score.
Address: 21 Great Marlborough St, Soho, London W1F 7HL
Alcohol Policy: Licensed
Summary: Stylish Indian street food restaurant in the heart of Soho