Shola in White City: Fresh ingredients and fragrant spices bring Pakistani flavours to the forefront
Blending traditional Pakistani recipes with a modern approach, chef Aida Khan brings her culinary heritage and zest for light and healthy dishes to her new restaurant in London’s White City. Shola, which is situated in an area buzzing with innovative business ventures, not only houses seating for diners but also offers take-out options for good food on the go.
Behind Shola is Khan’s passion for authentic flavours. Blending and roasting spices on site and freshly preparing and marinating each individual dish daily, her latest restaurant offers a journey through the different traditions of Pakistani cuisine – paying close attention to the vibrant Karachi, where an accumulation of the different provincial styles meet – whilst hoping to clearly distinguish them from those of India.
A fresh, contemporary vibe seeps through the decor. Pastel hues reminiscent of the Sindh coastlines pair up with subtle rattan lighting and there are small artistic nods to the founder’s Pakistani background that help create an airy, calming, modern dining room. The spaces are adaptable to all sorts of patrons: bar stools tucked under countertops allow for a quick bite, four-person booths nurture an element of intimacy whilst the casual, long sharing tables make for the perfect informal feast.
Our lunch begins with a selection of “Bites” to share. The popular Kurkuri Bhindi skinny okra fries coated with spicy, gluten-free breadcrumbs are surprisingly non-greasy and crisp to the bite. Served with sweet Shola house chutney, they offer a healthier choice than the appetising Masala Fries with homemade chaat masala that we also get to sample. Endless retro enamel colour-rimmed dishes appear on the table and as we nibble away on bite-sized Chicken Pakora in mild Shola seasoning we note that their crispy exterior then yields to a surprisingly tender, juicy meat.
We try three vegetarian sides which work well in terms of sharing, a creamy spinach Palak Paneer sprinkled with delicious homemade crumbly cheese and dotted with fried paneer cubes on top and an Aaloo Chana Chatt, a dish of fresh, crunchy chickpeas blended with tiny pieces of potato, tomato and onion. The spicy Yellow Khatti Daal, consisting of slow-cooked yellow lentils, put some heat in the selection, showcasing lovely roasted cumin which also then added a fragrant depth to the trio.
For mains, we are recommended something from the restaurant’s own in-house Mibrasa oven chargrill. The BBQ Sabzi seasonal vegetable plate with a scattering of smoky, rotund mushrooms creates a unique and tasty vegan offering, whilst the Lamb Shoulder has notes of cardamon and cinnamon enveloping the delicately seared meat. Fluffy Basmati rice and ghee-cooked paratha do well to clear the palate between dishes, and a Chicken Tikka Bolti marinated overnight before chargrilling literally falls apart in our mouths before revealing a tasty and fiery turmeric infusion.
Rounding off our selection of sides and sharing plates, we opt for the Naan Khatai, sweet, small, crumbly shortbread-style biscuits of semolina and cardamon, which sidle up perfectly to their homemade Doodh Patti Chai milky, aromatic tea. We work our way through a sickly-sweet version of paratha and some exotic kulfi ice cream sticks of pistachio, mango and vanilla with a cardamon blend. These interesting pairings yield a spicy delight for the senses.
With an affordable menu available in take-out style boxes to go, and the chargrill dishes also prepared in wraps, Shola Kitchen pitches perfectly to the millennials. Simple, stylish, Instagram-prepped interiors and a passion for fresh ingredients bring Pakistani fayre to the forefront and deliver its “spark” to this West London district.
Photos: Filippo L’Astorina
To book a table at Shola, Unit 6 Media Works Wood Lane London W12 7FP, call 020 8735 2822 or visit their website here.