Most of my friends back up north don’t really understand how I cope living in London as they perceive it to be so cripplingly expensive. I am inclined to grumblingly agree, although most of the things that take a wedge out of my wage are standard stuff like rent, travel, bills & brogues. (Ok the last one slightly more me-specific) I think the danger when you live in a capital city is that the ££ can really stack up is when you eat/drink out. This shouldn’t mean you have to spend your evenings home along nibbling cream crackers though…I really believe you can find numerous places to eat out for a reasonable non-crazy-inflated-London price if you hunt hard enough.
I find the Kentish Towner one of the best sources of new (cheap and cheerful) places to sample in North London. In fact I visit this blog so much that I recently switched to Google Chrome and it’s the only website that comes up on my frequently visited tab. Stalker! It was there that I first read about my new #1 favourite Indian restaurant Hazraj. As you may have gathered from even casting a glance at my blog I’m a totally hopeless romantic, so it actually wasn’t the glowing review or the reasonable prices that made me determined to take a visit to Hazraj. It was when I read that the owner Raj had named the restaurant by adding his wife’s name (Haz) to his name (and first too, good man!) therefore creating Hazraj. Doesn’t that just make your heart swell?
The day my boyfriend and I headed to Hazraj had been pretty work crazed for both of us and I remember we ummed and ahhed about where to eat, what to do, cuisine type etc as we were both too screen-fatigued and zombie-faced to make anymore decisions! He suggested Hazraj and I am so glad he did, as every scrap of bad day and work stress was soon a distant memory, replaced with cheery grins, messy mouths and wide eyes!
Hazraj specialise in Mumbai Street Food which is also known as Indian Tapas and Tiffin Cuisine. As I mentioned when I wrote about Tayyabs, I grew up in Bradford so a huge proportion of meals I have ever eaten are curry based in some way. However Hazraj got me seriously whipped into a frothy food frenzy as I scouted the menu, as so many items on there I had never ever heard of, let alone tried! And for less daring types there are still delicious versions of all the old favourites (bhaji, samosas, paratha, tikka). Hazraj pride themselves on creating healthy Indian cuisine and use very little oil & salt, which is really clear when your food arrives without a bubble of grease in sight. Relating to this I assume, I noticed quite a heavy focus on veggie options too – in actual fact there were more (V)s on the menu than non vegetarian choices!
Before we’d even started considering our food options, I was in dire need of a drink. The drink menu was extensive, with wines especially selected to compliment the various courses. I squealed in delight (attracting a few stares) as I spotted tequila beer on the menu. It’s a recent discovery of mine (a bit slow considering tequila is my favourite spirit) but I think I might be in the minority group of fans since it’s barely and rarely stocked anywhere! As we perused the food menu and I happily supped on my Desperados, a friendly waitor (who I later learnt was the legendary Raj!) came over and politely asked how my beer was as I was “the first person to ever order one” (!) I thought it was really heartening in such a new business to see a) the owner greeting and serving guests but b) enquiring after their feedback. It also gave me opportunity to beg Raj to keep stocking it, even if I remain the only person to ever order it for the rest of time! He said he has really worked hard on the drinks menu to offer a diverse selection of beers, recently adding Crabbies ginger beer too, which I imagine would work well with the more fiery dishes.
For starters we ordered the Mumbai Street Chaats, having no real idea what they were or what we were doing, we thought it wise to opt for the platter to try a bit of everything and at £9.95 you get more than your moneys worth! When they arrived like this, it evoked another squeal of delight from me (if the food wasn’t SO worthy of it, my boyfriend might have been tiring of the squealing by this point…)
The platter came with 4 types of chaat, with ample amounts for two to get a good few gobfulls of each one! The flags detailed how best to eat and what was included in each chaat. This was my absolutely favourite thing about Hazraj, as when you eat an entirely new cuisine its easy to to feel intimidated by it.. This was such an easy (and adorable) way to help us understand what to do in a non patronising and educational way. It’s a delightful notion and just one of the many ways that makes you feel like more than just another customer to Haz & Raj.
I can’t accurately describe the taste sensation that followed with each chaat as anything but MMMMM! You really have to just go and sample for yourself. It’s messy, it’s crazily healthy (mostly vegetable based and spiced with unusual ingredients to perfection) and its devastating when its over!
For main courses there is an easy meal deal offer. Main, rice & naan = £8.95. Main, rice, naan & veg = £11.95. For the incredibly high quality of the food, this seems insanely cheap. Every item was delicious, in perfect portion size and presented like the starters; with such pride and attention to detail.
As with the starter, the food was faultless other than the fact at some point it had to end. Hazraj was such a pleasent experience above and beyond the food though. Every staff member we came into contact with was so caring and welcoming, the ambience was a buzzy but not busy (although we were there on a Monday night, I believe Fridays & Saturdays can attract a bustling queue – hardly surprisingly!) and the decor created a fairy lit enchanting escape from the noise and turmoil of the busy Fortress Road outside.
We were having such a brilliant evening that we ordered chai lattes to extend our trip even longer (not a second tequila beer for me you’ll note, it was a school night after all…) and even these were the best I have ever had. You are probably starting to think I’ve been paid (or subliminally messaged though the mellow Indian music playing throughout our meal) to write this as it’s such a glowing review, but the Kentish Towner agreed with me and gave it a rare 9/10! So DO believe the hype! And if not, believe the happy look on Nick’s face…
I grabbed Raj for another chat at the end and he was so proud and passionate, it’s clear to see why Hazraj has been such a roaring success without spending a penny on marketing! A brave choice (instead they chose to invest the money into the venue, food and service) which has completely paid off. He is hoping to extend the restaurant to cater for more diners in the future and also planning to offer take away hampers in the summer for Hampstead heath dwellers. With smart ideas like that, you can see that I won’t be the last person to rave about Hazraj.
There isn’t much more to say except hurry up & go, then tell me how amazing it is yourself!
I’m already day dreaming about my next visit, as it’s an entirely guilt free experience both on the waist-line and the bank balance. I basically want to eat here every week until I try everything, then start over again… so maybe I’ll see you there.
Address: 1A-1B Fortress Road, Kentish Town, NW5 1AA