The Shahi Nan Kababs vs Shahi Naan Kebab – Southall, London
Having recently covered the history and controversy surrounding famous Pakistani restaurant brand The Shahi Nan Kabab in our article: ‘History of The Shahi Nan Kabab in Southall & the controversy‘, this review was always on the cards.
It involves a trio of restaurants situated in west London’s Southall, with two located within a minute’s walk of each other on the very same road, and a third that’s variantly spelled Shahi Naan Kebab around the corner.
This apparent confusion though is compounded by the fact that while all three have some affiliation to the original ‘Bridge Walleh’ site on South Road, where it all started way back in 1969, one has a familial connection, and the other two merely an association of sorts.
If you haven’t read the aforementioned editorial yet, you’d be well advised to first in order to fully understand the relationship between these restaurants going head-to-head.
It should also be noted that this review (marks at the bottom of this page), while as always being judged out of five, will be compared to the ‘Bridge Walleh’ version we enjoyed back in the day. We’ve also excluded the branch on 88E Northcote Ave, since they don’t serve theirs in a tandoori naan.
SHAHI NAAN KEBAB (108 SOUTH ROAD)
There’s some history to this particular location on 108 South Road that requires mentioning before continuing.
In short, this was the site to which the original owners of the ‘Bridge Walleh’ The Shahi Nan Kabab (take note of the spelling) relocated prior to the demolition of their iconic takeaway shack in 2017.
According to said owners, unfavourable circumstances in the form of a global pandemic conspired towards forcing them to move to 88 High Street soon thereafter.
This restaurant was then taken over, apparently, by an ex-employee, who attempted to open a fast food joint called Chixy’s Grill, before controversially reverting back to the tried-and-tested.
Out went the use of the definite article ‘The’, and in came an additional ‘a’ and an ‘e’; thus was born Shahi Naan Kebab (with remnants of the previous business remaining on the menu in the form of “Chixy’s Kebabs”).
In any case, in an attempt to perhaps combat the hardships brought on by Covid, this is the only one of the three which, according to Google, is open 24/7.
What’s more, it also boasts quite the setup too, with a modern refrigeration unit at the back, and plenty of spacious, boothed-seating for 36 at the front.
The manager here repeatedly placed huge emphasis on the fact that they source their meat from HMC-certified Hanif Halal on The Broadway.
Right off the bat, the presentation of their kebab was uniquely different to the other two we reviewed, with all constituent parts surprisingly served individually!
The method behind this seeming madness, we were told, was so that customers could decide for themselves on how to construct theirs.
Be that as it may, we built it in the only way we’ve ever known how when it comes down to these famous kebabs: naan as the base; kebabs on top; covered firstly with the salad, then followed by plenty of chilli and garlic sauce – twas ever thus!
While the kebabs certainly came out with good charring, and were slightly longer than their competitors (though that doesn’t necessarily equate to thicker), they failed to deliver on that deep, smoky aroma that’s always been so distinct of these kebabs.
And while the naan was perfectly adjudged, we found the kebabs to have a soft almost chalky texture, which, when combined with all the condiments, quickly deteriorated towards the mushier side, leaving us ultimately disappointed.
This was not the case with their rivals, where the meat had been formed in such a way as to retain some much needed texture to stand up against all that sauce, which itself failed to deliver on that familiar spicy kick that the ‘Bridge Walleh’ became so renowned for.
THE SHAHI NAN KABAB (56 HIGH ST)
According to its owner, this branch was bought, with full support and blessings, from the ‘Bridge Walleh’ proprietors back in 1996.
Hence, while it isn’t, strictly speaking, part of the original clan; it has, nevertheless, been a long-standing bastion of the brand over the years.
Having had a face-lift quite a few years ago, this 36-cover eatery is in fairly good shape, boasts a hygiene rating of 4, has quaint ceiling fans attached to the walls, and only accepts cash.
With plenty of that signature sauce and not too much of the garlic, this version was far closer to the original we all love and remember.
Significantly, and unlike the previous one, these kababs not only delivered that all-too-familiar smoky char with the very first bite, but also had a firmer, more chewier texture, that we really enjoyed; and which stood up till the very end.
And though the naan was, again, beautifully fluffy and crispy, the sauce wasn’t quite as intense in its heat as we recall from back in the day. Nonetheless, it definitely had that light and tangy, finger-licking quality to it. In short, this was far better than the previous one.
THE SHAHI NAN KABAB (88 HIGH ST)
Finally, we come to the actual ‘Bridge Walleh’ family, whose branch is now located on 88 High Street opposite Southall police station.
Having moved here last year in February 2020, they initially tried their hand here at opening a buffet restaurant to take advantage of the 3-storey building they had acquired, only to find that their customers were interested in one thing and one thing alone: their signature kababs! As such, they reverted back to doing what they do best.
With a hygiene rating of 4, and a spacious layout of 40 seats, perhaps their single most important decision recently was to take that step of finally bottling their iconic chilli sauce, that’s freshly made on-site, for commercial purchase.
In all honesty, there wasn’t much difference between this and the previous one, both in terms of taste and size (although, from what we recall, all three appeared shorter in size than the original’s). Nonetheless, both were easily better than the first from all angles.
Resting atop a crispy tandoor naan were a trio of kababs which, again, boasted that smoky-charred goodness all Shahi Nan addicts have come to love over the decades.
The only difference between these kababs and their 56 High Road counterpart was that these were slightly less dense, and, therefore, a tad less chewy, but still robust enough to hold up till the very end. Out of the three, we preferred these.
The chilli sauce elicited nostalgic memories of old. Being strong and tangy, with a salty edge to it, this was strong enough without having to ask for more, allowing us to enjoy that juicy, meaty taste and aroma.
Of the three, this was the closest to the ‘Bridge Walleh’ from yesteryear. And yes, we couldn’t help but pick up a bottle (or three) on our way out.
THE ROAR RATING
NB – This review, while typically being scored out of five, will only be judged against the standard set by the one and only ‘Bridge Walleh’ we enjoyed so many moons ago.
If you're going to associate yourself with a brand that's branded its trademark kabab on the very psyche of its dedicated legion of fans, it'd be tantamount to blasphemy to present this in any way other than the traditionally tried and tested.
Their Large Kebab Roll (3 bar), which was the cheapest of the three at £4.30, was perfectly acceptable if served at any other eatery. But Kababs they certainly are not!
Firmer and slightly chewier in texture than their rivals on 108 meant that these didn't disintegrate in a hurry once all that sauce was poured over the top.
More importantly, they had that meaty-cum-smoky aroma and taste, alongside a chilli sauce which had both the heat and that tangy edge we remember.
But, their Large Kabab Roll (3 bar) is the most expensive of the three at £4.90!
With the 'Bridge Walleh' owner's son now running the show here, both the kababs and the famed chilli sauce were as close to the original as memory serves.
Given the quality of their perfectly textured kababs, the £4.60 price tag of their Large Kabab Roll (3 bar) was easily justified, with that addictive chilli sauce finally available for purchase 50 years later. Better late than never!