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By Isobel Van Dyke
What do I do? This one’s always a hard one,” says born-and-bred north-west Londoner Simran Randhawa. “I tend to say journalist or food storyteller.”
At 24 years old, Simran already has an impressive resumé under her belt. A writer, activist and model, as well as a former political editor at Gal-Dem, her latest venture branches into cuisine. “A lot of my work centres around how my identity intersects with different mediums, such as fashion, beauty or food. I like the way food impacts communities and is used as a vehicle for storytelling.”
It’s safe to say Simran is a foodie. She even has a second Instagram account (@simsnackin) dedicated to, well… Sim’s snacks. Being of Malaysian-Indian heritage, she spent time in Malaysia while growing up and was thrilled when she first discovered Roti King, the Malaysian basement restaurant in Somers Town, central London. “For nostalgic and home purposes, Roti King will always be one of my favourites,” she says. Right now, though, Korean food is her go-to: “Since first lockdown – Korean food, wow. There’s this place called Yori which is amazing, they have kimchi-jeon, which is like a little pancake with kimchi in it.”
Authentic-tasting Indian food is, she says, hard to come by here in the UK. “I feel like Indian food is either Dishoom or the kind of stuff you get in south London, which is a lot more homely, but not as accessible. I feel like lots of people go to Dishoom for the atmosphere more than the food. Don’t get me wrong: the food is good. But that’s the main kind of representation of Indian food in London.”
Having lived in London for the past 20-odd years, Simran has finally discovered her perfect Indian restaurant. Tucked away on Mortimer Street, hiding behind the bustle of Oxford Circus, sits an intimate, carrot-orange building: Pali Hill. Impressively, the restaurant is still fairly new, but it quickly found a place in Simran’s heart. Here, she tells us why.
They include things on their menu which are a little bit different but still really traditional. They have this chaat [typically a spiced potato, chickpea and yogurt side-plate] which is so, so good. Growing up, chaat was like a snack for most of us – you’d have it with tea maybe at 4pm – but they’ve made it into this really amazing starter; oh my god, it’s so good. They have this sea bass which is steamed in banana leaf – a nod to south India. And I don’t really eat meat – honestly, I haven’t eaten meat for the past seven years – but I went with my best friend and she ordered the lamb chops and I was like: oh my god, that looks insane. I took the tiniest bite and felt so naughty… but it was so worth it. The lamb really reminds me of my childhood and growing up.
It’s actually a funny story… I go to Glow Bar a lot, which is also on Mortimer Street. I went there for something and was walking past Pali Hill and was interested because I didn’t know what it was: it doesn’t look much like a restaurant, it kind of looks like a coworking space. I walked up to it, realised what it was and thought: “I have to check this out at some point.” And then 48 hours later, the PR reached out to me and I was like: ‘Wow… that’s so weird’. But technically, I discovered it by walking down the street.
The last time I went, which was with my best friend. We had this really cute date day where we went and did pottery painting and then we went to Pali Hill afterwards, and the whole time we were sitting there laughing. We felt really bad because we thought we were being really obnoxious by being so loud, but we just couldn’t stop laughing and enjoying the food. It was a really cute date.
And then also, she went to the bathroom and was like: “Bro, the bathrooms are a vibe.” I went downstairs and they were playing Kano in the bathroom and I was like: “What the hell, this is literally a representation of my life in one building.” It was so crazy. Upstairs is like, Indian-vibey, and then you go downstairs and they’re playing Kano in the bathrooms.
OK, so when you walk in, you want to sit in the right-hand section. They have these nice long sofas and you can watch the chefs – which I love to do – because they have an open-plan kitchen.
Well, that depends if you’re in the bathroom or not. The music isn’t overpowering. It’s also not a dark place, which I like. Sometimes when I walk into somewhere like Dishoom, it’s very dark and the incense hits you first thing. This is not like that at all. They have big windows at the front, so it’s light still. There are lots of subtle details in the decor and lots of small things – the little attention to details, and the laid-back, but weirdly opulent at the same time, feel of the place.
I’ve been with both and it’s great. Because of the way the food is, it’s easy to share lots of different things. It’s great for a date, because you get to share food, but then also for a whole group of people.
The outside. It’s very understated. Like I said, I didn’t know it was a restaurant from walking past, but the branding and the little logos and stuff are so nice. So look out for it.
If a place catches your eye, take the time to investigate – you might stumble across a gem.
By Isobel Van Dyke
Galleries have reopened and the city is pulsing once again with the return of culture, art, music, people. We hear from the women leading the art scene on what galleries they’re heading to this summer and what they’re most excited to see