Wednesday 24 January 2024


A taste of Calcutta at Paro in Covent Garden

Nearly seven years ago I had the absolute pleasure to review City Spice in Brick Lane. It's still one of my favourite restaurants, and I make sure to take friends to it when they're visiting London. However, it's not very central and I'm not often in Brick Lane these days. So I am thrilled that its executive chef, Niaz Caan, has opened a brand-new Indian restaurant smack-down in the centre of town: Covent Garden. Paro officially opened its doors in October and it's already buzzing.

Even though the restaurant only opened a few months ago, Londoners know where to find it already. Located in the same building as the Lyceum Theatre (host to Disney's The Lion King), it's very well positioned for a pre- or post-show meal. And that's just what we did. We visited early evening on a Saturday before going to a nearby theatre and we weren't the only one with that idea. The restaurant looked fully booked and yet service was incredibly quick (and friendly). No risk here of rushing to make the start of a performance!

We opened our meal with a mango lassi (when in Rome, or West Bengal in our case...), which was the perfect blend of sweet and tart. It was also very thick (not watered down by ice cubes as I have unfortunately experienced in the past elsewhere), which to me is an absolute must in a good lassi. 

Our first starter was the very decently priced vegetable samosas (£4.50 for two). On the menu it says it's made from Calcuttan filo pastry (although, to be honest, I do not have the knowledge to assess what makes this type of filo different – but I can say that it was perfectly crispy and not at all greasy), five-spice mashed vegetables, and Paro's own spice blend. It was delicious. Not spicy, but incredibly flavoursome and not one bite tasted the same. The samosas were complemented well by the vivid mint and yoghurt dip it was served with. 

The other starter we shared were the potato chops (£6.95 for two); breaded and fried egg potato balls served with the same colourful dip as the samosas. I chose these as they sounded a bit different from the starters I usually order at an Indian restaurant. They were nice but not quite as filled with flavour as the samosas. Had I tried the starters the other way around, my experience would've been different – but my tongue was still tingling from the fragrant samosas. 

For my main I chose the tandoori grill from the meat section (one of the more expensive items on the menu at £25.95, but there are plenty of large plates at lower price points too), a really great option for people who can't decide what to order and want to try a little bit of everything. The dish comprised of tandoori chicken, lamb tikka, chicken tikka, and paneer tikka – a true delight for fans of the tikka spice blend! This was another mild option, but the flavours still packed an incredible punch. 

My absolute favourite item on this dish was undeniably the paneer tikka. Paneer can be quite bland but at Paro it was anything but. It was so fragrant and perfectly cooked – the texture firm but squishy. On a future visit I'll definitely try other dishes with paneer on their menu as this one was an absolute win! Out of the two chicken options, one was ever so slightly drier (there was only one piece of this on the plate though) but the other was scrumptiously succulent, falling apart as I picked it up with my fork. And the lamb did what is says on the tin; a yummy addition for a great variety of protein options on one plate. 

I will say, though, that it was a lot of food for one person and you can easily share it with two people by adding a few sides. In my case it was particularly excessive as  I'd also ordered pilau rice (£4.50) and a cheese naan (5.95). The naan was probably not necessary, but I cannot go for an Indian and not have one. The rice was fragrant, colourful, and tasty but the naan was the absolute star of the show at Paro for me. So crispy and so delicious; you can wake me up for one any day of the week. 

My friend opted for the vegetarian thali (£21.95), which is a great option for non-meat eaters who can't make up their minds either and want to sample a variety of dishes. This one came with basmati rice and a naan as part of the package, so there's also no need to order those separately from the side dishes. 

The little pots were filled to the brim with chili paneer, Calcuttan stir fry, raita yoghurt, spicy pappad, and Bengali daal. My friend said that the variety included was fantastic; filled with fresh veggies, paneer (a particular favourite of hers), rich daal, and fluffy rice – and the delicious naan was one of the highlights for her too. These curries were mild, making them very accessible for all palates, although there are spicier items on the menu too if that has your preference. 

Paro was absolutely buzzing when we visited – undoubtedly a combination of people curious to try a new restaurant and their enticing opening offer – and this excitement will hopefully continue once the initial hype has died down. It's particularly impressive when you consider that its founder and chef, Niaz Caan, is just 23-years-old (but then again, he also published his cookbook Vegan – An Indian Cookbook just a few months before opening Paro, so he's clearly doing great things!).

We had a great experience and I was particularly impressed by the speed with which our food came to the table (perfect for a quick pre-theatre dinner) and the portion sizes of the different dishes we ordered (I usually over-order with Indian food anyway, but with "only" one main per person this time around we still had far too much for the two of us to finish). 

There are already some more established Indian places in central London but Paro is an excellent addition with its competitive price points, great location, quick and efficient service, and varied menu catering to different dietary requirements. I'll definitely be returning and the samosas, paneer, naan, and mango lassi will most certainly become a recurring part of my order as I'm still thinking about them several days later – yum. 

Paro is located on 21 Wellington St, London WC2E 7DN (just off Covent Garden in the same building as the Lyceum Theatre).

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