Grand Trunk Road: Make the journey

Just half an hour on the underground from Central London lies South Woodford, where some of the most exciting things in fine Indian dining are currently happening. Yes, you have read that sentence correctly. The team behind Grand Trunk Road has an enviable backstory. Without them and the people whom they trained, venues such as Tamarind, Benares, Gymkhana, Kahani and Kanishka among many others would not exist. Yet South Woodford is the venue from where the owner of Grand Trunk hails, and so it is to this part of London that he brings the laudable intention of delivering Mayfair-style dining without the associated price tag. This is a high-quality experience with impeccable attention to detail and utmost professionalism. That any venue can have 30-odd diners in it (many of whom were apparently regular visitors) on a midweek night in peak-holiday season August must speak to the fact the restaurant is doing something right.

The thoughtfulness implicit in the restaurant’s ethos extends to the idea behind its naming. For those unaware, the eponymous road dates to the 16th Century and extends from Kabul to Kolkata. As part of the research prior to the opening of the restaurant, the owner and head chef spent some six weeks travelling the length of said road in order to understand its culinary diversity, where each region excelled, and which dishes were best combined. Back in London, the team then sourced the top ingredients (many of them from local suppliers) and – voila – you have some incredibly exciting dishes.

Some of the approach is not rocket science, just superb execution. Take a classic butter chicken dish main (from Amritsar) and consider how commonplace is this offering. At Grand Trunk, however, the smoking of the meat in the tandoor and the intensity of the tomato in the sauce set it apart from many comparable dishes sampled elsewhere. The same could be said of the classic lamb curry, also executed in a flawless fashion. Beyond this, where Grand Trunk stood out was in the playful and the artful. A seafood cake starter looked deceptively plain, topped only with a dollop of roasted garlic and pepper chutney, but packed an intense punch of spice as well as subtly overlaid levels of prawn, crab meat and tilapia. Elsewhere, the combination of the humble okra with pickled onions in one of our vegetable sides was a notable masterstroke. Presentation throughout was superlative. Plaudits too for the novel cocktails (we loved their takes on both the traditional whisky sour and gin & tonic) and original wines (I had never before seen an Argentinean Torrontes paired – with effect – in an Indian venue). Visit now, before it becomes impossible to get a booking.