In the midst of the hottest week in recent memory on the eastern seaboard, residents gave Brick Lane, Montclair’s new and most eagerly awaited Indian restaurant, a fervent welcome.
For locals frustrated with inconsistent meals at Baristaville’s other Indian restaurant, it’s been a long wait for this offshoot of two successful New York-based restaurants which take their inspiration from East London’s Brick Lane, a landing area in decades past for Irish, Jewish and Bengali immigrants, on which many curry houses are now located.
From an expected opening in March, the months had dragged on, followed by a worrying interim period more recently when the letters spelling out the restaurant’s name disappeared off its planned Valley Road location.
It was a mark of our eagerness that despite a half-hour wait for a table reserved in advance, our patience didn’t wilt, although our hair and clothes did on that sweltering 100F evening. The smart, walnut-floored, wood-furnitured restaurant was filled to capacity, with three other parties waiting, by 7:00pm.
For entertainment, I conducted impromptu exit interviews with patrons who had eaten, and found a recurring, encouraging theme – the food and service were pronounced fabulous (several were already repeat visitors within that first week; it was one woman’s third visit), but they added gently that the waiting time could be improved.
Once we were seated, it didn’t take long before the food started arriving, and our exhausted servers, attempting to cope and placate customers as power cuts disrupted the brand-new air-conditioning system on that hot day, were most polite and attentive.
The kids were intent on naan and chapati, two Indian breads which were the perfect vehicle with which to mop up dhal makhani (a sweet and spicy black lentil dish). Well-versed in Indian restaurant dining, they also ordered a mango lassi each, before checking if it even was on the menu. That traditional Indian yoghurt drink comes sweet, salty, savory (with added ginger and chillies) or blended with fruit such as mango, the final option being the perfect, sweet riposte to fiery curries.
We also had Chicken Khurma, a creamy, mildly spiced, slightly sweet curry, and Chicken Dhansak, a bit heatier and thickened with lentils. Lamb kofta patties (which resembled grilled burgers) were beautifully spiced, flecked with mint and served on a bed of caramelized onions. Every dish was tasty and freshly made, and the breads warm and perfect accompaniments.
Needless to say, there were plenty of leftovers to take home, which, as with many spiced dishes, tasted even better the next day.
Verdict: Excellent. Definitely worth visiting.
Other dishes to try: For starters, try the lassuni gobi, a cauliflower dish in a tomato and garlic sauce; tandoori snapper is a whole snapper baked in the tandoor, great for two people. Boti rolls are like a wrap, with fillings of tofu, chicken, lamb or prawns, which may be shared between three people. Stuffed calamari has been described as “to die for,” octopus stuffed with seafood such as scallops, clams and oyster, and cooked in a tandoor. Other breads to sample would be the garlic naan, the bharatha (a flaky bread), and Peshwari naan (a sweet version with raisins and coconut), another great partner of spicy curries.
Here’s Baristanet’s interview conducted this Monday with Ritesh Patel, Brick Lane’s Montclair-based communications guru.
Why did it take Brick Lane so long to open?
When we took it on, we underestimated the amount of work we’d have to do, and there was rather a lot of it. The bathroom was right in front and needed to be moved; the kitchen needed complete reconfiguration; the floor, which was messy and uneven, had to be dug down to the foundations and redone. There was a standard we had to keep and we wanted everything perfect.
Was that wait a financial drain?
Business always loses money when there are delays, but that was what it took to set up here. It’s faster to do things in New York.
Are the owners from the UK?
The partners are all from the UK. Sati went to culinary school in India and worked in New Delhi in high-end restaurants, later joining Carnival Cruise Lines, where he honed his skills for catering to lots of people.
How did Brick Lane land in Montclair?
The town itself isn’t far from NY, and there are lots of New Yorkers, and a lack of really good Indian food. The ones on Bloomfield were hit or miss, pretty much like the one next to Charlie Brown’s, the former Royal India, which has made way for a sushi place.
I chanced upon Brick Lane’s current location three years ago, while out walking with my then-5-year-old son. I saw the empty ex-Peking House space, sent a picture to Sati and told him this was his new location.
How has Brick Lane been doing so far?
Since opening on the 15th, the restaurant has been doing very, very well. Word has spread pretty quickly. There have been a few hiccups – one night, the AC wasn’t working for a few hours, the ice machine as well. But overall, we have been fortunate to have been well received and it’s been packed every evening.
Is there room for expansion?
We’re potentially considering outdoor seating, depending on the weather, on the front and side of the restaurant. We’ll need a permit for this, hence the “potentially.”
What’s coming up in the next months?
As winter approaches, we’re figuring out a delivery schedule for locals. We’re also negotiating with local businesses to enhance parking options for our customers.
Have there been any issues since opening?
I’ve opened about 20 restaurants and the first month or so is always … interesting. We’re now trying to get the timings right, in terms of seating people and keeping the wait times down. We hope Montclair bears with us as we work out the opening kinks.
Check out Brick Lane’s Facebook page here.
(Photos show, from top, lighting fixture at Brick Lane, mango lassi, naan bread, chicken dhansak, lamb patties, and Karthik Kumar, Brick Lane Montclair’s chef-owner.)
540 Valley Road
Montclair, NJ 07042
Sun-Thurs 12 noon to 11:00pm,
Fri-Sat, 12 noon to 1:00am