Since the government’s first imposed lockdown was brought into effect last March, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, takeaway and delivery, fuelled by third-party apps, has completely turned British dining culture on its head. Some restaurants have pivoted and thrived, others have struggled to profit after parting with Deliveroo and Uber Eats’ astronomical commission; but with such poor government guidance and support, delivery has been essential for restaurants to survive. First opened early last year, Natak has spent almost all of its lifespan relying on takeaway and delivery. A casual Indian restaurant in Limehouse, Natak serves classic Indian food embellished with feint contemporary flourishes, all available for delivery via UberEats, Deliveroo, Just Eat, and Slerp.
At the restaurant, itself, the space is comfortable and informal, with a 24-cover terrace that will hopefully be in a position to get plenty of use this summer. At the moment, however, that seems like a distant dream. While pre-pandemic dinner experiences were about so much more than just the food, it’s practically become the be-all-end-all of at-home restaurant deliveries and meal kits, bar the delivery service that’s generally met with little-to-no consideration from consumers.
Meaning “kitchen is always a theatre”, Natak’s namesake is further reflected in its food menu, split into sections such as, ‘Act I – The Opening Act’, ‘Act II – The Story Teller’ (which, itself is split into sub-sections), ‘Act III – The Finale’, and ‘Supporting Cast’ – a collection of sides. A recent dinner at home began with a khastor khachori chaat, concealing chickpeas and lentils under a nest of crispy vermicelli noodles and puff pastry, plus yoghurt, mint chutney, tamarind, and pomegranate seeds: an overall exemplary balance of contrasting flavours and textures. Curries also travelled well, including a solid murgh moghlai with its thick, rich sauce, and a modern riff on baingan bharta harbouring chunks of smoked aubergine lavished with a sweet, sticky sauce of tomato and peppers: a certain highlight.
Natak’s gosht saagwala was another stand-out with dry heat that builds gently, studded with chopped spinach and cubes of slow-cooked lamb with ideal texture – soft but not taken to the point of complete submission. (Leftovers also make a delicious breakfast, cold, straight from the fridge; a treat that doesn’t come with eating out). While kebabs don’t tend to travel well, murg tikka was perhaps ever so slightly cooked (thanks to the steam in transit), but not to the point of disaster, while the vivid marinade with Kashmiri chilli, garlic, yoghurt, and coriander made the actual chicken seem like the least important aspect of the well-balanced dish.
A supporting cast of breads and saffron rice were also fine, but tend to lose some of their flair on the short journey across the river. The restaurant can’t be held responsible for science, or for the Blackwall Tunnel. After a few minutes in the oven, however, the breads provide a welcome vehicle for chasing every last drop of Natak’s dal Bukhara with its black lentils in a milky, gently-spiced sauce. It’s comfort food at its finest, which we need more than ever at the moment.
On the current Natak delivery model, Operations Manager Karan Mody told The London Economic: “Opening during lockdown, we were very aware of the challenges we faced but took the chance to develop and perfect the much-loved takeaway. We had to ensure our signature dishes were of outstanding quality – guaranteeing the customer as much of a Natak experience as possible in the comfort of their own home. It gave us the opportunity to grow a side of the business that was not our main focus beforehand, but it has shown us the resilience of our lovely staff and local community who we hope to welcome as soon as possible.”
Natak can be found at The Mosaic Building, 51 Narrow Street, London, E14 8DN.