Walking along Brick Lane, past an innumerable collection of 'second hand' watches for sale, conjures up phantoms of the Artful Dodger rather than the Metropolis of modern London. The street is caught in a pungent swirl of odours, of smoke, paint and exotic spices along with the usual smells of the city. It is a wonderful paradox that amid this mischievous chaos with the brickwork drowning in graffiti, there are some of London's finest restaurants. While the various curry houses are fiercely competitive and it can be very satisfying to steadily talk yourself a better and better deal as you make your way along the street, few match the Shampan at 79 Brick Lane for quality or character.
The Shampan specialises in Moghul cooking, providing a wide range of dishes from the North of India and Bangladesh. The name, Shampan, comes from a small Bangladeshi riverboat that is similar to a Gondola and symbolises rural life. The menu is extensive but there are a few dishes that are really a cut above the rest, namely the restaurant's Lamb Biryani and their Ocra. The dry Biryani and its accompanying vegetable curry complement each other perfectly while the Ocra is full of both bold and subtle flavours. Although the drinks menu is less extensive, it has everything that you need including a delicious fresh mango lassi for those inclined towards the spicier dishes.
The restaurant itself is comfortable and the colourfully decorated walls make it feel much closer and warmer than it actually is. Outside one gets a view of some of Brick Lane's finer specimens of graffiti. There is plenty to watch on the street too since it is never very quiet and there is usually something going on. Despite the bustle, the interior of the restaurant remains pleasantly quiet. The service is extremely friendly and helpful, although as with all restaurants in Brick Lane, one has to make sure that extras are not hastily suggested and added to the table.
The service even extends beyond the restaurant since the Shampan also delivers takeaways if you are within a reasonable distance. It is arguably one of the best takeaway curries you can have and for those who do not enjoy the bustle of Brick Lane it allows you to enjoy the exquisite cooking wherever you like. The business is family run and if you eat there a few times, you will quickly get to know the owners who are always delighted to see you return. That enthusiasm is evident in everything that the restaurants does and there can be little doubt that the Shampan has succeeded in achieving its goal of bringing "out the special character and flavour of the subcontinent.