Sunday, April 5, 2015

Review: Kolapata

Something Bangladeshi

Lunch spread in Kolapata, Whitechapel
Authentic Bangladeshi fare in London

Update (30/12/16): 
I've changed the value score here from 7 to 6.5, given there are definitely other places in East London that do better food for a lower price. 

A Bangladeshi restaurant in the UK is a rarity, despite what the touts in Brick Lane would have you believe. Granted, a few of the British-Bangladeshi curry houses have started advertising themselves as Indian and Bangladeshi nowadays, and I'm glad to see this emerging confidence in "Bangladeshi" as a brand. But the reality is no South Asian label completely describes the dishes these restaurants serve, which remain firmly British innovations. Kolapata stands in complete opposition to this narrative, however, by not only branding itself as Bangladeshi but actually dishing up authentically Bangladeshi cuisine at the same time. I assume it is well known by Bangladeshi folk in and around London, as even my parents managed to hear about it in the short time they spent in-country.

The restaurant entrance

Located on Whitechapel Road, the walk up to the entrance should make it obvious that this is a very casual restaurant. I know it's been described as more upmarket than some of the even more casual Bangladeshi eateries around the area, but don't let this relativity distort expectations. The tiled interior is laid out with simple wooden chairs and tables, and the front space backs onto an open window-counter into the kitchen. A corridor alongside this leads into a back space, where you can expect a few plants and decorative tiles attempting to liven up the very basic decor. In all honesty, Kolapata reminds me of Hirajheel quite a bit.

On the left, an iftaar platter of fritters, pakoras, chickpeas, jilapee and fruit
On the right, weak and bony haleem 

I admit the first time I walked into the restaurant it was the month of Ramadan. This is always risky at a Bangladeshi venue: more often than not a special menu runs for the fasting period, and the food suffers a drop in quality. It was bad judgement on my part, especially since I was on a date. I used to have this habit of taking dates to various restaurants in London I wanted to try - it's a great way to get through your to-do list and find out if you match food-wise. We arrived at an empty restaurant to find that the normal menu was suspended, and they were only serving iftaar platters and a few sides. Having expected this, we got on with things and ordered platters and haleem for two. While the haleem evoked the right flavours, it lacked intensity and contained little to no meat. At £3.75 I didn't expect massive chunks, but something more than gristle and bone was still warranted. The iftaar platters had the expected items: various Bangladeshi veggie fritters, a kebab, chickpeas, jilapi and fruit. The fritters were sadly lukewarm and soggy, although the chickpeas were better (read: authentic and almost hot). The jilapi would have been nice too had it still been crunchy. This was a general problem with the platter - it contained many iftaar specific foods that need to be made fresh and served immediately. The food we got at our table though had clearly been prepared some time earlier and at around £7 per platter, I felt a bit hard done-by. We'd made the effort travel in all way from West London, but sadly the food just wasn't worth the trek.

On the left, fuchka. On the right, lamb samosas. 

Despite the disappointing iftaar, I went back to Kolapata a few months later. We lunched as a small group, and as I'd suspected the food from their normal menu was noticeably better. I personally ordered the fuchka out of nostalgia, and found it compared poorly to what you can get on the streets in Dhaka. The filling was a bit bland and the tamarind chutney sweeter than usual. The meat samosas my friends ordered were slightly better. The pastry was hot and crunchy while interior remained nice and moist, although meat was not as flavoursome as I would have liked. 

On the left, mixed vegetables. On the right, pomfret bhuna.

Thankfully, the experience picked up considerably as our mains arrived. We'd ordered a variety of dishes that ranged from the everyday to food for special occasions, and had quite a cross-section to work through. The mixed vegetables or shobji, a variation on a dish I've written about here, were nice albeit not special. They edged towards the fried rather than soggy mush side of things, which is always a positive. The pomfret or rupchanda bhuna one of my friends ordered was genuinely good, with the spices nicely balanced and reminiscent of how the fish would be traditionally cooked in Bangladesh. It's a dish I would go back for, and stands out above the food score I'm giving the venue below.

On the left, curried liver and biriyani sauce. On the right, kacchi biriyani. 

Sadly my kacchi biriyani was a letdown like the haleem - correct in it's spice combination and clearly espousing Dhaka flavours, but lacking in oomph that the biriyani sauce on the side didn't quite make up for. I was glad to have the liver curry livening up my meal, which was again a well done authentic but a little overloaded with oil and spices. The portion was generous, and it definitely made for a heavy meal - I could feel it weighing down on my stomach for a few hours afterwards. 

All in all, I left Kolapata satisfied, and this had a lot to do with the cost in relation to the quality of the food. Biriyani starts at about £7 here, and with a £3 starter you can easily have a £10 meal at Kolapata. However, friends tell me cheaper and better food can be had in the area, and I will revisit the score if subsequent forays into East London enlighten me further. Service on both occasions had been friendly and efficient, although we weren't the most taxing of customers as I hardly needed help with items on the menu. I can't rate them too highly after the poor iftaar experience but know that bar a few caveats, they do some good food. If you visit, try not to end up there during Ramadan and avoid the fancier dishes or more generic curry house type items. Ask for the Bangladeshi staples - these are authentic, done well and in fact deserve a higher food score than below.

Food: 6.5/10
Service: 7/10
Atmosphere: 6.5/10
Value: 6.5/10

Final Score: 6.5/10

Contact Information
A: 222 Whitechapel Road, London E1 1BJ
T: +4420 7377 1200

NB. The final score, while influenced by the sub-scores, is a qualitative reflection of my overall impression the establishment.

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