If you think you know Indian food you’re in for a surprise, for this gastronomic masterpiece is a far cry from the curry houses of Brick Lane.
Chef Manish Mehrotra has brought his niche cuisine to London following the success of his award-winning outposts in New York and New Delhi; the fact that it has been the only restaurant from India on the World’s 50 Best list the past three years surely gives you an idea of its calibre. The London branch, in Mayfair, opened its doors last month and has already caused a stir.
Mehrotra reinterprets nostalgic Indian dishes with openness towards global techniques and influences, including rarely seen Indian foods such as makhan malai, a medieval dish made of aerated milk infused with saffron. While the nine course tasting menu at dinner will set you back £80, and the recommended wine pairings £55, there are also options for a two (£25) or three (£35) course lunch with accompaniments so a visit needn’t break the bank unless you want it to. Having said that, I’d suggest that you do want to. It was, quite frankly, one of the best meals I’ve eaten in London.
The restaurant’s architecture combines materials familiar in Indian architecture with contemporary additions, creating a slick, plush space that feels inherently special without being stuffy. A Wednesday evening visit saw the place swiftly fill up after our 6.30 arrival and pretty soon there wasn’t a spare table to be seen. So far so good.
Upon the recommendation of our waiter the tasting menu was really the only choice. Despite lasting for nine courses, and a good two and half hours, truth be told we didn’t want it to end. I shan’t chew your ear off with the intricate details of each morsel, but suffice to say each and every part of it was culinary perfection.
Our feast began with a helping of warming wintry pumpkin soup, with a gentle kick of spice and a miniature naan filled with a subtle tang of blue cheese. Tiny little puchkas - almost mini discuses of poppadom and a common Indian street snack - were accompanied with five delicately flavoured waters to pour into them before eating. The first was too hot for me, but those that followed were delicious shots of flavour. A potato chaat with white pea mash was a highlight, closely followed by an utterly spectacular kashmiri morel mushroom accompanied with walnut powder and parmesan papad. The flavour was extraordinary and the texture quite unlike anything else I’ve tried; as something of a fungophobe this may have converted me.
A baked cod amritsari fell apart the moment my fork touched down, while a beet and peanut vadai, a crispy ball dipped in peanuts and filled with goat’s cheese was a cacophony of flavour. A bowl of soy keema and quail’s egg was perhaps the only dish that wasn’t mindblowing, yet still a delicious addition to the menu. The meetha achaar ribs with sundried mango could quite easily have been an entire rack such was their juicy satisfaction. The anaar chuksi that followed - essentially a refreshing pomegranate ice pop - proved a welcome palate cleanser. Ninety minutes in and we were on to the ‘main’; a spicy chicken kofta with a punjabi kadhi and onion pakora, a real winter warmer with an underlying kick.
As the meal began to draw to a close, and our waistlines threatened to burst, an almost pannacotta-esque makhan malai was proof of saving the best oil last . With saffron milk, rose petal jaggery brittle and almonds, delicately shrouded in gold leaf, it was a delicate, creamy concoction that was the tastiest end to a perfect meal.
It’s worth noting the absolutely delicious wine pairings that came along with our food. From a rich, nutty Madeira, to a glass of Moet et Chandon and a particularly spectacular 2007 white Rioja each was ideally matched. Needless to say after nine courses trying to leave without waddling out in a semi-dazed food coma was no mean feat. Everything about the evening was perfection. This is Indian food, but not as you know it.