It now takes all the fingers of both hands to count the number of smart Indian restaurants that occupy significant sites across London’s West End.
There is the grandfather of them all, Veeraswamy, on Swallow Street; the Gaylord on Mortimer Street; the Red Fort on Dean Street; Benares on Berkeley Square; Chutney Mary on St James’s Street; Quilon on Buckingham Gate; Gymkhana on Albemarle Street, sister to Trishna, in Marylebone.
Now there are two newcomers: Indian Accent, further up Albemarle Street, and Jamavar, which opened a year ago on Mount Street. There seem to be three reasons contributing to these openings. First is the growing number of those from the Indian subcontinent who have made London their home or second home. Then there is the UK’s increasing taste for spices. And finally, India and the UK share a long association with certain alcoholic drinks — gin in particular — which gives the bartender, an essential figure in any restaurant today, a starring role.
Indian businessman and restaurateur Dinesh Nair opened Jamavar in December 2016. Last year, the restaurant gained a Michelin star, having secured the talents of Rohit Ghai, who won the same accolade while at Trishna and Gymkhana. But, as if to prove his worth, Ghai has moved to pastures new (either somewhere else in London or back to India, according to the rumour mill) and his place will be taken by Surender Mohan, flown in from Mumbai. On the basis of what we ate at Jamavar in early January, his arrival cannot come too soon.
There was nothing drastically bad except that almost everything — including a very weak William of Orange cocktail (Martin Miller gin, lemon and orange zest and orange bitter) — lacked the sophisticated spicing that can make an evening in an Indian restaurant so compelling and would have justified our bill of £180 for two.
We began with two dishes from Jamavar’s list of sharing plates.
The lobster dish, although artfully served, was crudely spiced, while the kid goat kebab was accompanied by a comforting bone marrow sauce. We then went our separate ways, my wife ordering a very generous soft-shell crab, gently coated in Tellicherry pepper, while I decided on a Tulsi chicken tikka, a macher jhol — fish stew — rice and a bread basket.
My choices were disappointing. The chicken tikka comprised four slices of chicken breast, served on a wooden platter, without any of the oomph or heat that I had expected. The macher johl was a fillet of sea bass served in a dull curry of aubergine, potato and chilli.
What was missing was the range of flavours that we had hoped for. Chilli — more or less and sometimes too much — seemed to be the only spice in the kitchen. Perhaps we expected too much but we wanted dishes that would zing with seasoning and transport us back to past trips to India.
More exciting options are to be found at Indian Accent, an outpost of the Delhi original, which has already opened a sister establishment in New York.
The New York influence can be seen in the clean, rather anonymous interior, but even more in the complex style and presentation of the food.
Each dish comes meticulously plated and there is less emphasis here on rice as a filling and separate accompaniment. The breads, including a kulcha — a kind of naan with a wide choice of stuffings, such as black pudding — are excellent. And there are plenty of vegetarian choices as well.
The menu itself is slightly off-putting in that its typeface is small, it only uses lower-case lettering and includes a pretty bewildering tally of terms and ingredients. But the staff, which includes both Indians and Europeans, proved to be well-briefed, and the wine list is excellent, especially those available by the glass.
From an amuse-bouche of blue-cheese naan to a sizzling dish of thin slices of beef on a base of millet, to a main course of ghee roast lamb served with four different chutneys and roti pancakes (eaten in the style of a Peking duck), this kitchen seems to have got their spicing spot on.
Not quite India perhaps — but pretty close.
Source: FT Weekend