The suburb of Neasden, famed for its humongous Ikea, is the unlikely home to the largest Hindu temple outside India (Guiness book of world records, 2000). This exquisitely carved marble temple is testament to the hard work and devotion of the Swaminarayan sect, to which many members of the local Gujarati community in Harrow and Neasden belong.
Since a fortnight ago, Neasden has also become home to the temple’s restaurant Shayona, which sits quietly tucked away at the back of the temple's car park, beside a very large and well-stocked Indian grocery store and super-tidy sweet shop (all run by the temple's trust). To me, the temple is a real taste of exotic India amidst a very suburban British landscape. It strangely feels like the last remaining relic from the era of a fictional sixteenth century Indian conqueror, with the bland housing estates and industrial parks of Neasden developing around it. Visiting it always suddenly transports me in a matter of seconds to my local Gujarati temple in Bombay. I get the same feeling at Shayona; it feels very much like an upper-middle class restaurant from Bombay or Ahmedabad teleported in an alien yet weirdly comforting way into a car park in this bit of suburban London.
Inside, tables are spaced well-apart and everything is shiny and gleaming. Service is attentive and very pleasant but they did make a couple of silly mistakes with our order. Given that it has just opened, the management are still sorting out teething problems, and so this is understandable.
The team of chefs hails from Gujarat and North India and the restaurant specializes in “Gujju” staples like undhiyu , thepla (spiced, thin Gujarati flatbreads) and chaat [Indian street (fast) food] besides serving a few South Indian specialities, as well as a long list of North Indian spiced gravy dishes.
The food is served in supposedly trendy but not entirely practical triangular and oblong plates. The food itself is fairly traditional Indian fare and ranged from mediocre to outstanding depending on the dish ordered.
Not long after we arrived, we were served some complimentary crunchy boondi (crispy-fried lentil droplets) while we looked through the menu. The boondi was incredibly spicy but very fresh and delicious, as long as you can stomach it.
Next we tried the sev puri (lentil puff pastry topped with sweet, hot and sour chutnies, mashed spiced potato and the un-translatable crunchy ‘sev’). The puris were small, well-formed and perfectly arranged. The pastry was crispy and had all the right ingredients for toppings but somehow the dish as a whole was not as tasty as it looked.
Next up was a beautifully crispy, large but mediocre dosa (a South Indian rice & lentil crepe) served with a sambar (spicy lentil dip) that was nice enough but didn’t taste too authentic and a chutney (coconut dip) which was vile (I suspect that it was made from preserved coconut rather than fresh – sacrilege !!! ).
Then came a plate of hearty, well cooked chips. Very nice and filling !!
And finally the piece de resistance – an outstanding pau bhaji consisting of a beautifully spiced mixed vegetable gravy accompanied by breads that could be used to mop the gravy up. It’s been a very long time since I’ve tasted this dish served up this well anywhere outside Bombay. The use of the right proportion of spices allowed the stewed and braised vegetables to mellow into a mouth-watering dish with the texture of good quality mashed potato. The bread, though not authentic Bombay pau, was perfectly adequate.
Much as I regretted it, we had no space for either the thali (set meal) or pudding that would have been next on my list. So we came to the end of a very pleasant and satisfying meal that set us back roughly £18 for 4 dishes and 2 drinks. Perfectly reasonable prices for the quality offered.
And best of all, I could head outside, finish my Indian grocery shopping and buy some delectable Indian sweets to take home.
I’ll definitely be back in a few weeks to try this place once it’s fully operational and has the full menu available to serve.
Shayona, Meadowgarth Road
Ph : 0208 965 3365