Shola is the Urdu word for ‘spark’ and aims to ignite Londoners’ interest in Pakistani food. The chef behind it is Aida Khan, a former banker turned Leiths School of Food and Wine student who grew up in Karachi and hosted a Pakistani TV show called ‘For the Love of Food’.
She’s brought that love to the campus-like surrounds of White City Place and if the colourful canteen setting doesn’t at first sight scream passion, then a closer look reveals details such as covetable light fittings that will have you heading back to the office to track them down online.
Khan’s cooking, however, is a case of love at first bite. Shola roasts and grinds its spices on site and you can taste that freshness in a chicken tikka which offsets a red chilli marinade with the coolness of turmeric-infused yoghurt. Lamb shoulder dials down the heat but is no less delicious, while there are roti and paratha to scoop up the well-balanced dal.
Vegetable dishes include sautéed spinach with paneer, smashed tomatoes with curry leaves and okra fries; we enjoyed the textural jumble of aloo chaat contrasted with another small plate of crispy chicken pakora.
To drink, there are half a dozen wines available by the glass or bottle, though the lively spicing means a can of ginger beer or bottle of lager might be more appealing.
Most of the clientele on our lunch visit inevitably looked like they’d come from the surrounding offices of media companies, though Shola is well placed for a quick bite before a film at the new Electric Cinema nearby.
Several of the dishes are available as a wrap and all of it can be taken away, either for lunch al desko or al fresco in White City Place’s landscaped gardens. Even if you eat in, you may find yourself asking the staff to box it up to take home: low prices and alluring flavours make it easy to over-order.