Street spice

Jane Pikett gets a taste of traditional India in a contemporary package at Dabbawal, Newcastle


In a city the size of Newcastle, food may form a rich culinary and cultural tapestry, but it is rare to find a new restaurant that is genuinely original.

Dabbawal Street Food is that rare thing; a place like no other, with a genuinely interesting story to tell.

Named for Mumbai’s dabbawallas – the lunchbox delivery men who throng the city’s streets, delivering home-cooked food to office workers – Dabbawal specialises in fresh, healthy traditional Indian street-style food.

With a full range of tapas-sized grill options, street classics and traditional meals, Dabbawal has created a genuinely original way of serving beautiful Indian food, for Newcastle at least, and my, they do it well.

The tapas-sized grill dishes include such delights as Jaffrani salmon – succulent cubes of fish marinated in honey, dill and saffron – and Punjabi chilli chicken tikka in a chilli, cumin, garlic and ginger marinade.

The mixed veggie grill is among the best of these grills, while the citrus king prawns with chilli, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves shines a warm glow on a light lunch which might be accompanied by a salad with greens, veggies, chicken or salmon.

Dabbawal is unique in serving homemade roomali rolls (roomali being a thin, light wrap) filled with such delights as spicy potato, seekh kebab and spicy chicken.

When Indian office workers have lunch, they either eat from a stainless steel tiered lunchbox (a tiffin carrier or dabba) of homemade food brought from home by a dabbawalla, or they go outside and eat food bought from roadside vendors.

Dabbawal brings the two together, delivering tiffin boxes to Newcastle city offices and serving in-house diners with the freshest, tastiest traditional street food cooked to order in an open kitchen.

But while the names of the dishes here are familiar to anyone who has walked an Indian street, the presentation of the food is at another level entirely. The quality of the produce and traditional spice blends, all done in house, are also at five star level.

The beauty of lunch here, apart from the artistry of its presentation, is in its light simplicity. The tapas and roll dishes are all around £5 and all very sustaining. Classic bites such as lamb samosa parcels and lentil battered okra are a welcome taste of Indian life, while the chaats, served with yoghurt, tamarind and coconut chutney are works of art and sustaining with it. The sweet potato chaat is, in fact, the restaurant’s most popular lunchtime dish.

You can also go for a larger main meal at lunchtime, but dhansak, madras and korma is again served with a light touch.

I last visited with my friend Warren; a former professional footballer turned events promoter and a man of highly developed international taste in food thanks to severael years living in the Middle East.

Unusually for him, he was rendered almost speechless by our tapas feast, which he declared some of the best food he has tasted anywhere in the world.

We both enjoyed the informal lunchtime atmosphere, while at night the lights go down and the linen comes out to create a more sophisticated ambience.

The street theme prevails after dark, however, with another tapas-size grill menu and an extended and more indulgent main dish menu.

Any time of the day or night the chefs also indulge the Indian love of sweets, and the dessert menu includes such gems as gulab jam – cardamom milk dumplings with lime syrup – and homemade lemon tart (added ingredient, orange zest).

Special compliments to the lovely waitresses and the talented chefs, who when asked to display their roomali-making skills just for me, were shyly self-effacing, with absolutely no right to be, considering their talents.

Next door to Panni’s on High Bride, this is a perfect pre or post-theatre stop, and a great lunch stop or supper indulgence.

A big hand for Jo Nassa, who runs the place; her baby is just a few weeks old, and already it’s found its feet.

Dabbawal, Hig  Bridge, Newcastle, NE1 6BX, tel 0191 232 5133,

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