You wouldn’t know Hullabaloo was there unless you were looking for it. Despite its Deptford High Street address, the tiny, almost-vegan Indian restaurant – just three tables and counter seating – is actually tucked around the corner on Douglas Way, writes Holly O’Mahony…
Thankfully, a friend had tipped me off. What she’d said was Hullabaloo is the place to go in Deptford for decent Indian food.
Hullabaloo looks nothing like your typical Indian restaurant found on your typical UK high street. Plush, carpeted interiors have been swapped for wooden floors and surfaces, while there’s not a formal, clinically-white tablecloth in sight – instead the wooden tables lay bare and exposed. Lending itself to western hippy vibes, the restaurant is kitted out with rustic cutlery pots, exposed lightbulbs hanging from ropes and a scattering of houseplants. While Indian inflections can be heard in the playlist and seen in a spread of retro Bollywood film posters smothering the walls. The result is amiable, trendy and refreshing.
On the dark and drizzly autumn night of our visit, the warm glow from the restaurant’s windows was a pleasing sight. This warmth was followed through by Baloo, the restaurant’s founder and head chef, who was all smiles and handshakes as soon as we pushed open the door. Before opening Hullabaloo in 2017, Baloo had previously worked in Mayfair’s Tamarind – one of the first Indian restaurants in the world to receive a Michelin star. He’d also worked with twice Michelin starred chef and TV personality Atul Kochhar.
Baloo was late to finding his way in the kitchen, though. Born and raised in Ambala, into a big and very traditional Indian family, he lived by the status quo that dictated women do the cooking and men enjoy the eating. Following school, Baloo studied Hotel Management in Delhi. “To be honest, at that time I couldn’t cook anything,” he admits. Baloo ended up working as a hotel shift manager but a few months in, found his fascination lay within the kitchen, so he began training to be a chef. “After a while I managed to land a job working as a chef in one of India’s most famous 5 star hotels – The Oberoi in Delhi, where I spent the next few years learning my trade,” he says. Then one day, an offer came out of the blue to move to the UK and work for Mogul, an Indian restaurant in Greenwich.
Ten years later and Baloo has been living in London ever since. Having been a vegetarian all his life, making his own restaurant meat-free was an obvious choice. Deptford was also a given for Baloo, since the area had become his second home since moving to the UK. Hullabaloo’s menu is actually entirely vegan bar the dishes that come with paneer – a soft, Indian cheese. There’s also no booze license here, but diners can bring their own or make do with canned soft drinks, masala chai or a non-vegan mango lassi.
We began our meal with a couple of starters, opting for an onion bhaji and a portion of Paneer Shaslik. The bhaji arrived on a slate, sliced and drizzled with a sweet and fragrant chutney, like a small plate in a fine dining institution. We were off to a good start. The paneer followed, arriving in a similar format and punctuated with chargrilled peppers and onions. The slabs of cheese themselves were fresh and pleasingly ungreasy.
Nourishment came in the form of the Veg Saadwala – a muddle of spinach, spices and tofu – while the Veg Chilli Masala, which we opted to add paneer to, was smoky, slightly tangy and thankfully not too spicy. A generous plate of Peshawari naan was fluffy and heavy on the coconut – rightly so. But the star of the show, for me, was the Dal Makhani – slow cooked black bean lentils with tomato and fenugreek – which was buttery and silky enough to give Dishoom’s acclaimed House Black Daal a run for its money.
While those who are oblivious to Hullabaloo’s existence probably haven’t noticed it before, the restaurant has built up a loyal crowd of regular customers since opening a year-and-a-half ago. On the night of our visit, the little joint was packed by 7pm. Our advice? Join the crowds and dig in.
111 Deptford High Street