I really enjoy going out for a curry or ordering in at home, but am always very aware that it's my least adventurous food. I think I'm generally a pretty adventurous eater - I'll try anything once, apart from snails - but whenever I eat Indian food, I always go for a very safe chicken korma, mushroom rice and peshwari naan. I know I'll always enjoy it, so I order it again and again, but that nagging voice is in the back of my head saying "Stop playing it safe, woman!"
When I was invited to review Sheba on Brick Lane recently, I resolved to do just that - stop playing it safe. Sheba is one of the oldest curry houses on Brick Lane, and has a window full of signs listing all the awards they've won. Walking down Brick Lane on a Saturday night is a lot like walking down the strip at popular tourist destinations, as almost every restaurant has someone outside trying to persuade you to eat there. I usually find these to be the most disappointing restaurants on offer, so I was reassured to find that there was no one outside Sheba - and no need, as it was full already.
We'd booked in advance, and had a little wait for our table before we were seated and the manager introduced himself, and told us about how his father set up Sheba many years ago. He talked us through the menu, and suggsted some of his favourites for us to try. I mentioned that I was a spice wuss but wanted to be a bit more adventurous, and he assured us that the 'medium spiced' dishes were very much warm, not hot, and that we'd be fine with any of those.
After the customary poppadoms, I must confess that we did play it safe for starters - Matt had bhajis, I had lamb samosas. Handily, we got two each, so we were able to swap and have the best of both worlds. Both were served with a spicy tomatoey sauce for dipping. The bhaji was beautifully spiced, but I felt it was a bit soft. I like a good crunch on my bhajis. The samosa was lovely and crispy though, and the filling was (again) well spiced with a wonderful flavour. The samosas were small, but just the right size for a starter.
Sadly, I was less keen on the Shofri Ghust. I really liked the combination of lamb and pumpkin, which was a fantastic contrast of flavours, but it was just too spicy for me and I struggled to eat it. I know that spiciness is down to personal preference, so I feel that's partly on me, although both dishes were described as medium hot on the menu and the Shofri Ghust was significantly hotter than the Methi Noorani. There are some dishes marked on the menu with chillies to signify hotness, and the Shofri Ghust had none marked, but definitely warranted a chilli or two! It was a bit disappointing, and I found myself regretting not ordering my usual safe choice. But I suppose that's the point of venturing outside your comfort zone sometimes!
The Sag Aloo was lovely - not overly oily, which it often can be, and really tasty. And the peshwari naan was good too - the sweetness went well with our spicy curry. The portions were all enormous, and we could have easily served a third person with what we ordered! I always forget how filling Indian food is - especially when you order a curry with a side of rice, bread AND potatoes. Actual madness, but I do it every time (and I'll totally do it next time).
In hindsight, I feel we should have ordered our usual combo of tikka masala and korma, partly because we know we like it, but also because it would have been interesting to compare Sheba's take on the dishes we've ordered countless times. But I'm glad we did push our boundaries for the night - I've been getting braver with spicier food, but it did show me that I still have some more tolerance to develop there! But overall it was a great night - everything we ate came out quickly, the service was attentive and it was all well prepared and super tasty. It's up there with some of the best curry houses I've been to, and given how packed it was on a road full of competitors, it's clearly one of the best on Brick Lane. I'd absolutely return there if I was looking for somewhere to eat in Shoreditch (although I'd probably go for the korma next time!).
Sheba is at 136 Brick Lane, London E1 6RU. The restaurant paid for our bill in exchange for this honest review.