I booked Needoo for three reasons: (1) a friend from out of town wanted to go have a real curry; (2) I had heard good things about it; but (3) I couldn't book a table at Tayyabs. Let's be fair, there was bound to be a comparison to Tayyabs at some stage in this review, so let's make it in the first sentence.
There is no getting away from the fact that Needoo will always be compared to it's more famous cousin around the block. They both serve excellent Pakistani (rather than Indian) style “curry”, they are both in the heart of Whitechapel and they are both dirt cheap. The big differences between the two are the atmosphere and the service: whilst Tayyabs is always jammed to the rafters, buzzes and has a (rightful) reputation for short tempered waiting staff who are in a rush to get people through the door and feed as quickly as possible, Needoo has a more low key feel, with Bollywood blaring from the big screen TV at the end of the room. The most noticable difference, however, is the service: nothing could be further from Tayyab's rush here. The room (a truely forgettable red, mirrored affair, with that omnipresent TV) is not as packed. The hoardes aren't (yet) queing around the block, and this means that the waiting staff have time to attend to their customers.
We arrived, sat down, were served with some excellent popadoms and chutney and given a cork screw. A nice touch that: knife, fork, spoon and corkscrew; the essentials. The waiter came over a few minutes later and asked if we were ready. Our “could you give us five minutes?” was met with a smile and no problem. In Tayyabs, we'd have been thrown out. Or at least glared at, with the waiter hovering behind until we'd been cowed into ordering.
The food is generally very good – as always, we overordered: chicken tikka, some kebabs and some onion pakora for starters. The first two were gorgeously spiced. The chicken was moist and cooked to perfection. The kebabs chared beautifully. The onion pakora, however, was one of the oddest I've ever had: it wasn't that the spicing was wrong (just the right hit of chilli and coriander), it was just that the proportion of potato to onion was too high. Potato should be there to give a little body, not take over.
Mains, which come before the starters are finished (the owner, after all, still has his roots at Tayyabs), were all very good too: the pick was a “dry meat” dish (lamb), which was succulent meat, slow cooked with a hint of spicy gravey. Not, maybe, your usual dish for a Pakistani grill restaurant, where sauces are more often built up rather than reduced down, but executed marvelously. Butter chicken was a little over generous with the ghee, the dal makhani was creamy and the lamb chops perfectly fine. For a restaurant special, however, this latter dish was a little disappointing. Pakistani grills all specialise in lamb chops. They should be thick slabs of chop, well spiced and seared to buring point on a hot, charcoal grill. These were just that little too thin to really be able to stand the time on the grill needed to sear the flesh. Nice, but not the best ever.
As with most east end curry joints, this is BYO (hence the corkscrew), although they serve the usual lassis and soft drinks, and water is tap not bottled.
Even though we had overordered (we rounded off the food with rice and na'an), the bill came comfortably under forty notes for four of us: with the tip, two bottles of wine and the taxis too and from the restaurant, four of us were well fed and watered for less than the cost of a main course in some posh joints in the west end.
All in all an excellent restaurant, with excellent food at an unbeatable price; perfect for those looking for a fantastic Pakistani grill, without the surley atitude offered at some places nearby.