Zaha Street Grill (Pakistani) – Holborn, London
The last time we were in this area of Holborn, was to review the small and cosy Malaysian takeaway Dapur.
This time it was the turn of Zaha Street Grill, a 25-cover eatery located towards the quieter end of Theobalds Road.
The venue itself is light and airy, with a minimalist feel to it, and offers a Pakistani-inspired menu that revolves around the increasingly popular build-your-own food concept.
In fact, in a bid at aiming towards healthy, Zaha Street Grill appears to have gone to quite some lengths in sourcing its produce.
Not only is the chicken corn fed, the lamb grass fed in Cornwall, and the vegetables said to be locally sourced, but the oil used is British rapeseed and the salt Himalayan pink, with “nothing artificial” used otherwise.
As for the concept behind the menu, then the idea is to choose a given base: 1) naan roll, 2) rice bowl, or 3) fresh salad bowl; select your protein of choice: 1) Zaha chicken tikka, 2) lamb kebab, or 3) falafel/season veg; before building it to completion using a variety of toppings (12 to be precise), inhouse sauces, or a trio of dressings.
This can then be had solo or upgraded to a meal with the addition of a Street Side and a House-Made Slurp or soft drink.
The business itself is the result of the combined endeavour of two siblings and a friend, who all contributed their unique skill sets in bringing Zaha Street Grill to fruition in December of last year.
Find out more about them, and the business in general, by checking out our interview of them in the video below.
Now this is how a Mango Lassi ought to be – sweet, thick and utterly lucious. Having said that, this refreshingly zingy Fresh Mint Lemonade wasn’t too far behind either.
Stored in an open refrigerator, these would have been far better had they been properly chilled.
Given the limited space, this brewed, milk-based Pakistani tea is prepared downstairs, but with all the love and care of a newly established business that’s eager to impress.
A phenomenally good Kharak Chai which won’t be bettered elsewhere, we can guarantee you that. Rich and velvety, with the aroma of cardamom coming through soothingly with each and every satisfying sip.
As for the Arizona Green tea, then it was subtly flavoured and not much more.
These were paired with a fairly insipid mango dip, however, which, while adding a touch of sweetness, could and should have been thicker in consistency.
As for the Naan Chips, then these were well executed, being light and crispy, and were accompanied by an average tasting hummus, which could and should have been far smoother than it was.
There’s chilled and then there’s chilled. This was chilled to the point, we suspect, of having just been pulled out of the fridge.
In any case, we all agreed that this Chaat was fairly imbalanced. In our estimation, what makes a good one is the distinct contrast and interplay between the sweet and the sour. This lacked in a diverse contrast of flavours.
Texturally, it was a little on the watery-side, which wasn’t very pleasant. The weakest of the starters had.
This Zaha Roll is a signature special which we’ve had the pleasure of being one of the first to try before it’s rolled out (no pun intended) across their menu.
And we’re glad we did too, because this was a superbly conceived kebab roll made special by an utterly gorgeous thin, crispy and buttery Pakistani paratha, which was filled to the hilt with a moist and succulent Bihari Chicken that was pulled so well that it was almost mince-like in places.
Gently spiced, with the sweetness of the crunchy white onions therein, along with a mint sauce off-setting the gentle spices, this was, for us, the dish of this review.
Of the two proteins had in this colourful and busy-looking Rice Bowl with aromatic pilau, the Zaha chicken tikka trumped its lamb kebab cousin, with an impressive level of tikka grilled smokiness coming through. And while the latter also delivered a good degree of barbecue aroma, it wasn’t quite as charred as its rival, though definitely meatier than your ordinary lamb kebab.
And with a dollop of hummus on the side, coupled with an assortment of condiments all smothered in a trio of tangy and spicy sauces, rest assured that no one single bite will be the same as the next or any other.
In the end, what you’ll be left with is a pillau rice, which was almost there in terms of its cooking, thoroughly soaked and coated in the juices of the meat, making it a wonderful finale to a superb rice bowl.
This was the weakest of the bowls had, with the stars of the show not being particularly good. Falafels are meant to be moist and relatively fluffy on the inside, with an exterior that’s closer to crispy than uber-crunchy.
On a more positive note, the rest of the ingredients all came together to provide a plethora of flavours and textures that meandered in between the sweetness of the roasted aubergine and red pepper, the roasted courgettes, and the organic brown rice, the chick peas, salad, hummus, and so much more.
Wrapped in a naan, which retained a touch of crispiness while bordering on the chewy, was the afore-praised charred and smokey chicken we enjoyed. This time, however, it was marinated in what management called an “inside job” – a secret marinade that’s available on request, and which offered a pleasantly light chilli and lemon kick.
Also added, but again not part of the default selection of toppings, was avacado, which brought some good texture while acting as a cooling agent of sorts against the gentle heat of the marination. This too is available on request.
And while the fragrance of the cardamon lingered in the background, this biryani was certainly a fierce one courtesy of the green chillis therein.
However, not even the nicely chilled tub of cucumber raita succeeded in dampening the intense heat of the garam masala, which lingered harshly on the palate. It was strong even for our collective taste buds.
With a generous portion of diced salad on the side, and despite being a good portion, this wasn’t quite as well balanced as we’d have liked.
- NO/ NO
- UBER EATS
- UCL PAKISTANI SOCIETY 10% OFF
- LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS 15% OFF
And unlike some other recent build-your-own brands we've come across, including Pali Kitchen, this place hasn't compromised on the spices and flavours, but remained true and confident. As a result, the food is far more flavourous, punchy, and quite delicious all round.
Having said that though, they aren't quite there yet. But, since it's early days for them, the shortcomings we encountered can easily be rectified.
While the toilets are located downstairs in the basement, Zaha Street Grill have informed us that they'll be looking to introduce a Pakistani-inspired breakfast menu very soon, which would be very exciting, especially given how good their paratha and karak chai are.
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