While you might not think that a furniture shop entrepreneur could have the ability to create an authentic slice of Northern India in the heart of south London, Clapham’s latest culinary offering attests to the contrary, writes Amy Hopkins.
Just six months ago, Zumbura was opened by Aamir Ahmad, former owner of the 30-strong contemporary UK furniture business Dwell, following two years of preparation. The venue opened with little fanfare, but also with the steadfast intention of providing authentic and delicious North East Indian Purab cuisine devoid of Westernisation, for, as Ahmad claims, this is an establishment which “does not believe in reinvention”. With just his mother’s recipes, and the skill of head chef Raju Rawat – formerly of Michelin-starred Benares, The Cinnamon Club and Bombay Bicycle Club – Ahmad set about achieving the same success in the catering world, as he had already achieved in the design world.
Zumbura sits somewhat unassumingly in Clapham’s Old Town, where a reticent exterior may fool passers-by into assuming it is nothing other than a flagging cocktail bar, but step inside the restaurant and you will be greeted by a blanket of vibrancy, colour and warmth indicative of its spiritual region. Initial appearances rightly infer that this is a place with an intention to marry traditional and modern aspects of the sub-continent.
Channelling understated charm with simple décor, elegant patterns and fresh colours, the surroundings of Zumbura are much reflective of the food it offers. Exposed terracotta brick work with pools of deep sapphire paint enhances the homespun feel of the place. Meanwhile, look up to the ceiling and you are greeted by the gaze of painted parrots wearing butterfly headdresses.
Kofte: lamb and turnip stew
A large homely bar features an array of spirits, wines and fresh ingredients for fruity cocktails, while cappuccino-coloured sofas offer a comfortable station for hungry guests.
When my companion and I arrive on a blustery Tuesday evening, we are eager to warm ourselves with a hearty curry, and it seems we were not alone. Despite its youth, Zumbura seems to have already cultivated something of a cult following with, most tables full of chatting families, friends and work colleagues.
Many were most likely drawn in by the extremely affordable price of all dishes. Starters range from £4-4.50, while mains will set you back between £5.50-£8.50, sides vary between £3 and £4.50 and desserts cost £3-£3.50.
While the food is incredibly reasonable, this might also lead to a fair amount of prejudice. Those in search of a high street curry house may believe they are in luck should they stumble across Zumbura, anticipating that a spicy biryani or creamy korma is within licking distance. But while the restaurant’s price point is not too different to these atypical establishments, its quality and setting is decidedly more up market.
To start, my plus one and I ordered two of the recommended cocktails (priced between £7-£9): the Molly Moo Moo and the Bubbleberry. A mix of vanilla and raspberry-flavoured vodka, limoncello, apple and passion fruit juices, the Moo Moo was well balanced, and appropriately both sharp and sweet, while my guest found the Bubbleberry (a mix of rhubarb liqueur, Fraise de bois, and muddled strawberry topped with fizz) a little lacking in rhubarb tartness.
Our taste bids whetted, we browsed the food menu – an Indian tapas-style affair which recommends a small selection of different dishes. It is also at this point that we are told the food on offer is essentially a culinary scrapbook from Ahmad’s North Indian family, both strong in authenticity and decidedly un-anglicised. We are also warned that if we are unlikely to find a sweat-inducing dish with a ferocious punch of spice, since Purab cuisine is more informed by delicate aromas, and subtle, balanced flavours.
To start, we are brought spiced mince puff pastries, Pakora, a selection of breads, and a chutney plate. The pastries were hearty and tasty, though the spiced lamb centre was a little frugal, while the Pakora (spinach, onion and chickpea flour fritters) was flavoursome, crispy and happily lacking in any surplus of grease. The section of flaky, buttery, wholemeal and sweet breads were also generously portioned and made for moreish munching.
Ghuggni: One of Zumbura’s hearty mains
The multiple dish main event consisted of lamb and turnip stew and coley fish curry, accompanied by daal, Bindi okra and rice and peas. The stew is a warming, lightly spiced, comforting, smoky and simple combination of slow cooked meat on the bone, chunky vegetables and meaty juice which was full of flavour. If you were having a bad day, this is no doubt what Ahmad’s mother would make you. The coley curry is slightly less pleasing since an over use of salt masks the delicate flavours of the soft white flesh of the fish and the otherwise fresh and aromatic sauce.
Crunchy stars of okra offered a peppery counterattack to the salt surplus, while the creamy pool of garlicy daal was a welcome addition and the rice and peas was, well, rice and peas.
Desert options were minimal, but the kheer – chilled rice pudding with cardamom – was refreshingly aromatic and sweet, while my partner’s mango sorbet was deemed a tangy palate cleanser.
The main charm of Zumbura lies in its clear lack of pretention – it has “good food for all” ethos and an abundance of authenticity. Staff members are chirpy, knowledgeable and attentive, but not so much as to smother, while the restaurant’s affordable prices are likely to make it a quick favourite among Clapham’s young urbanites. Its menu shows clear intent with its lack of exotic foodie trends or west-meets-east culinary tropes.
If you’re looking for fuss-free, no frills, wallet friendly good and interesting food, leave the glad rags at home head over to Ahmad’s restaurant to try his mother’s cooking. No doubt she’ll be eager to hear what you think.
Zumbura, 36a Old Town, Clapham, London SW4 0LB, Tel: +44 (0)207 720 7902