Entangled in the web of buzzing Brick Lane with a myriad of restaurants to choose from, it can be difficult to differentiate between them, but the glowing red lights of Papadoms will soon show you the way.
Once you’ve been mesmerized by the eerie red glow coming from within the restaurant and the wafting aromas of saffron and spice, it’s hard to walk past Papadoms without an overwhelming desire to see what’s inside. Once through the door, waiters are gratuitously vocal and scuttle around the restaurant carrying plates piled high with rice and brightly coloured curries. Pictures of Indian dancers and Hindu deities on the walls are nowhere to be seen in this restaurant and the classical Indian music is replaced by belting Bhangra beats; the traditional style Indian restaurant has had a facelift.
With simple reddish coloured walls and sleek long tables that seem to stretch for miles, the emphasis initially seems to be more on the food than on elaborate decoration. As you climb the open glass staircase leading to the mezzanine floor above, the skylights and wooden beams bestow a more intimate feel and there’s almost a sense of dining al fresco.
Whilst the downstairs dining area is energetic and full of life, the mezzanine offers an oasis of calm away from the cacophony of the restaurant where you can chill out and watch the mayhem ensue beneath you. The clientele is a mixed bag, but the restaurant is mainly dominated by large groups of people - be they lads on a stag night or guys and girls on pre-clubbing birthday meals.
With the clatter of dishes in the background, and orders being hurled across the room in assorted dialects, this isn’t the most romantic restaurant but the crazy, chaotic ambiance grants it a certain charm and charisma. Service is prompt if a little overzealous with mains arriving suspiciously soon after your starters.
You would expect the food to impress - the chef did win best curry of the year 2006, after all. However, the food struggles to live up to the restaurant’s reputation as one of the more salubrious eateries in Brick Lane. The samosas, which should be light and crisp to the touch, are instead limp and greasy with parsimonious portions of vegetable and potato stuffing.
However, the menu is lengthy and spans many regions, with a particular focus on the chef’s specials. Spice is surely of the essence and you would be hard pressed to find a dish to satisfy the milder palate. Even the dishes which are labelled mild are spicy enough to provoke a sweat - the chicken tikka masala (about £8), whilst creamy and rich, is overpowered by the potent taste of chillies making it too pungent to fully appreciate the flavours. The xacutie chicken (about £8) is bursting with coconut but lacks a certain piquancy, as if the spices haven’t been cooked for long enough to allow their flavours to infuse through the curry. On a more positive note, the pilau rice is light and airy and the naan bread fresh and doughy, but being an Indian restaurant, you’d be worried if they couldn’t at least get the basics right.
Downstairs in the raucous dining area, the box shaped bar forms the focal point of this floor, where an array of drinks are served from wine (£15.50 for a bottle and £2.95 for a glass of Pinot Grigio) to various beers like Cobra (£4.60 a bottle and £4.50 on draft) and Carlsberg. If you’re feeling brave at the end of the night, shots at the bar are actively encouraged.
The Last Word
If going for a curry is more about the experience than the food itself, then Padadoms will tick all the boxes. But if you fancy yourself as more of a curry connoisseur, then resist the temptation of Papadoms’ enticing red lights and walk on past…you’ll only be disappointed otherwise.