You know what they say about London buses? Well last week I had that with great London Indian restaurants. In the space of a week I dined at three restaurants that proved just how excellent Indian food can be and demonstrated the artisanal skill in delicately balancing the wonderful flavours and spices that characterise Indian food. There is so much more to Indian food then your local curry house (not to dismiss them, I hasten to add, they play an important role too!). In the hands of a talented and knowledgeable Indian chef those spices can transform the ingredients into something fantastical.
The Cinnamon Club
My triumvirate of Indian restaurants started at The Cinnamon Club in Westminster. Set in a beautiful old library within striking distance of many governmental departments, this has always been a restaurant frequented by politicians, civil servants and business people alike – particularly at lunch time, which was when I visited. They have an excellent set menu deal at £24 for three courses, which represents extremely good value.
I started with a stir fried baby squid with garlic and chilli and a layered paratha, which had just the right background heat from the chilli to compliment the juicy squid.
This was followed by a pan-seared whiting fillet served with a Keralan curry sauce and steamed rice. The fish was exceedingly tender and flaked easily with the fork and was complimented well with the spicy sauce.
To match with the fish I chose a carafe of the 2010 Malvasia from Simon di Brazzan (Fuili, Italy), which had an orangey-yellow hue and a slightly honeyed aroma. It was slightly drier than I was expecting, but had a good balance for the fish.
For dessert I had a dark chocolate and mint mousse with an orange shortbread. This was a nice dish, somewhere between underwhelming and overwhelming – a place I like to call ‘whelming’; it was exactly what I was expecting it to be and gave a nice end to the meal.
The standard of cooking on exhibit here was exquisite and the setting was ideal for what this was – a business lunch. I would say that the service was a bit absent at times due to how busy the restaurant was, but fortunately we weren’t in any particular hurry so this didn’t cause us an issue.
Last Saturday I took some friends to a local Indian restaurant (Babur) that I have already reviewed on my blog once before. I had been looking forward to this return for some time, as I knew what I was going to get – attentive and enthusiastic service, coupled with (to-my-mind) Michelin starred quality cooking, and this is just what we got.
Last time I visited they had a focus on Indian Islamic cooking, but this section of the menu had changed and I was intrigued to see that they had instead a focus on Nepalese cooking this time. One of my cousins is currently living in Kathmandu and therefore with him in mind I had to go for one of their Nepalese starters: Gurkhali tikka with mooli sesame chutney, which was very attractively presented on the plate and delivered an abundance of flavours. The meat was beautifully cooked and contained a real zing from the Szechuan peppers. Unfortunately the photograph I took of this course didn’t come out well at all. Trust me, it looked very pretty!
I followed this up for main course with Laverstoke Park buffalo lal maas served with crispy okra and ghee rice, which had a deep, rich flavour from the deliciously tender buffalo meat. I can’t remember having had buffalo before, but this is certainly a meat that I would have again; its firm structure holds up well in slow cooking, which is perfect for these kinds of Indian dishes. This dish had the highest rating on their spice-ometer due to the Rajasthani masala sauce that the meat was cooked in.
As last time, one of the great things about Babur is that for all the main courses they have a recommended wine available by the glass to accompany it, which is very helpful as Indian food is probably one of the trickiest cuisines to match wine with. I had the 2012 Malbec from Andeluna in Mendoza, which had a very difficult job standing up against the intense heat of the buffalo, but did a pretty good job.
I decided against a pudding this time and opted for an after-dinner whisky, a rather nice 12 year old Talisker, which was a fitting way to finish off a rather splendid dinner.
The last venue of my grand tour of stellar Indian restaurants was the one Michelin starred Quilon. Once more this was for a working lunch and again we were able to utilise their generous lunch menu, which presented plenty of choices.
I started with a masala dhosa, which had light fluffy potato and a nicely fragrant (although to my taste it could have been a bit spicier) samba. This was a good size and was presented in a nice triangle shape, which looked very neat. To drink with this I had a bottle of Mongoose, an Indian lager that you don’t find in most restaurants (ie: it’s not Kingfisher or Cobra!).
For main course I went for their fish curry, which was rich, deep and creamy with some nice chunks of white fish in. Again, this wasn’t an overly pungent dish, but it was certainly flavoursome. I wanted a glass of white wine to go with this course but struggled a little here. I would have wanted to have a light, slightly sweet white really (probably an off-dry Riesling), but none of their aromatic wines were available by the glass. Instead I opted for a glass of the 2012 Flint Dry from Chapel Down, a vineyard that I (along with my siblings) have leased six vines from this year as a Christmas present to my parents! The wine was nice, if a little lacking in flavour when compared to the strength of the fish curry.
We opted against puddings this time, which was probably for the best given my extravagant week! Overall I would say that Quilon represented great value for a starred lunch and it was nice and quiet too, which meant that we got good, attentive service.
Well, what a week that was! I tasted, to my mind, what represents some of the best Indian cooking that you can find. There is, however, one great Indian restaurant in London that I haven’t been to yet and dearly want to – Benares. I think I’ll have to leave it a little while before going though…
Lovely descriptions Tim! I love a Friday night takeaway curry but was left speechless by a meal at Benares a couple of years ago – dishes that sounded so complex came together beautifully – there was also an exceptional sommelier with some very interesting suggestions – everything worked. That reminds me… I must return!
That’s made my mind up for me – I will make a trip to Benares by the end of the year!
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