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Poncho Khana – Whitechapel

You wouldn’t dream of paying for home food, can you imagine what your mum would say? I know what my mum would say or do, possibly a clip around the head followed by “what were you thinking? I had food ready for you at home” actually my mum would clip my head – Sorry mum, if you’re reading this I am just setting the scene here.

But really, where could you find curry and rice, freshly cooked with the spices and flavours you’re used to at home? It’s a tough one, generally we tend to eat western or non-Asian or non-Indian shall I say when out and about. Well this place is about to change everything, as an Asian you probably would agree, there’s nothing like rice and curry to feed your appetite and hunger.

Keeping it real

In the heart of Whitechapel, surrounded by vegetable stalls and clothes shops is Poncho Khana. Don’t be deceived by the PFC exterior or the bright colours that dazzle the eyes and distract you from the food counter. There is a real authenticity about this place, it reminds me of my visits to Bangladesh in the early 90’s, a no nonsense eatery busy with locals and travellers. On the walls are pictures of Asian vegetables and tigers, the use of red and green representing the Bangladesh flag, basins in each corner of the restaurants for washing your hands so you can tuck in the traditional way.

What really tempted me in was the open window that passersby watch freshly made parathas being made in a large iron flat grill. Paratha with beef curry is a breakfast tradition that I had to try, there was brain and shutki on the menu but my taste buds had made the decision for me. We took our seats, ordered Aloo Bhaji for my son, beef curry, prawn with beans with rice and paratha on the side.

As we waited, we spoke to two of the waiters, they were polite and friendly. Always eager to help and provide suggestions on what to order, we enquired on what Poncho meant. Apparently before the independence of Bangladesh, people were limited to five currys. Poncho meant five and Khana meant food. Poncho Khana was also a name of famous restaurant in Bangladesh.

While our food was being prepared, we saw the number of older generation elders coming in to dine. The diners were not limited to Asians, there were European and North African guests also, this place seem to be well known by all. Both my wife and I were surprised that we hadn’t visited sooner in its 7 or so years of business.

The Food

First to arrive was the freshly cut salad with two green chillies and three fried chillies on top just to mess with my ego. I had to eat them or at least attempt to, my wife looked at me with a disappointing frown. I really need to find someone who encouraged me more on my Man vs Food opportunities…

The rest of the dishes all arrived, the paratha fresh of the flat grill, the currys fresh out of the microwave. The food is all cooked fresh each day, the waiter assured us that the volume of customers meant they had no choice, which I had no doubt on however the food did need to be reheated. With 25 dishes available there is something for everyone.

The beef curry was very good, slowly cooked with lots of garlic and ginger slowly infused with beef fat and an authentic blend of home masalas. It was very close to my mum’s spices, so good that I would recommend anyone wanting to try beef curry of a high standard needs to give this dish a try. It was moist; the buttery taste marinated all the way through each piece of meat, cut in small pieces to be eaten with paratha with ease.

The Aloo bhajji was good, turmeric, chilli, mustard seeds and a dash of chopped carrots.  The salt content was okay; it had a distinct flavour not look my family bhajji but still adequately flavoursome. My only criticism is that it was a tad greasy and borderline lumpy, this is a dish that probably tasted better fresh off the fryer.

The prawn and beans was last on the tasting list, it still had a slight crunch which together with the runny medium spice sauce gave it a real authentic homely taste. I would have be happy with a little more kick some fresh green chillies and a table spoon of chilli powder, understandably medium spice was good for the masses.

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Final thoughts

We really enjoyed our visit to Poncho Khana, the waiters were very polite with food coming very close to home food in our opinion. The menu was varied and changed depending on the season; the decor was nothing special but authentic, reminiscing of a local restaurant in Bangladesh a few decades ago. The salad would have been spot on if it came with a Deshi lemon (Lemboo) and had they served lamb chop curry it would have have put in the lime light for sure with upset home cooks everywhere.

Poncho wasn’t trying too hard or trying to be something more than what it was, to be fair they didn’t need to. Yes, it wasn’t the cleanest looking place or somewhere that you went for business meals, but that’s not the point here – on seconds thoughts, maybe you should have your next business meal here and spread the word on what real Bangladeshi food is like. This is a home away from home; I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a crew of mums and Chachis making these currys in the kitchen. I would be wary of telling your wife or mum of this place, it certainly ticks the authenticity box and worth a visit.

The Damage

Meal for 2, 3 dishes with Rice and Paratha £19

241 Whitechapel Rd, London E1 1DB, 020 7247 7712

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