Urban Turban reviewed

Saturday, February 23rd , 2008

 hibiscus 1024 nice presentation-crop-v3.JPG
Rasoi Vineet Bhatia has decided to follow in the steps of other celebrity chefs and open a lower-priced bistro which can pack them in and make some money. Urban Turban is the prototype in what apparently may be a chain, yet I found it a rather flawed experience. For a start “Indian tapas” (trying various small dishes together rather than a formal starter, main course and dessert) is, surely perilously close to what everyone’s experience of Indian food had been for years?  If the intention is to reproduce Bombay street food, then for me this did not work. For a start the dishes were by no means all put together fresh e.g. the dried out aloo chaat, and did not reflect the vibrant spicing that one encounters in India. Some quite decent starters were let down by some dull and mushy main courses, and at £12 for a curry this is scarcely the price of street food, even in Westbourne Grove. Odd flashes of competence e.g. good naan, were overshadowed by errors, and on this meal’s experience I will not be rushing back. As it happened the couple on the next table to us were even less happy than we were, but the slick PR machine will no doubt draw many in.
At the other end of the value spectrum, I ate at old favourites The Brilliant and Diwana Bhel Poori. The bhel poori snack at Diwanas was so vastly superior to the similar snack at Urban Turban I hardly know where to start – freshly put together, with carefully judged tamarind sauce, lively spicing and a garnish of fresh coriander. Yet here the entire meal was £10 a head, which would barely buy you a bland, sad main course dish at Urban Turban. Similarly at the Brilliant we had a vast selection of dishes, carefully made and authentic in nature, all (with plenty of drinks) for less than £20 a head. Regular dishes like jeera chicken, aloo tikki and murgh methi were supplemented by tandoori quail, tandoori salmon and karahi lamb; the rice is superb here, and the romali roti and bhatura were excellent accompaniments.
The Devonshire has had some mixed (and in some cases quite bitchy) press reviews, yet I had another entirely competent meal here this week. Guinea fowl was very nicely cooked, tender and moist, accompanied by good red cabbage. The place was packed out when we visited, and apparently is doing 50-70 covers at lunchtime, so Mr Ramsay certainly appears to have the last laugh over the mainstream critics. It seems to me a capable gastropub doing unexciting but enjoyable British food.
Hibiscus  was the culinary highlight of the week, my second visit. Dishes that I had tried before were still delivering e.g. the excellent pork in two servings, in particular the superb sausage roll. The pollock with black olives (pictured) was also still excellent.  I was rather troubled by a dish of scallops and sweetcorn where the taste of sweetcorn completely overwhelmed the delicate scallops, which seemed to me a rather unbalanced dish. This meal was overall maybe 6/10, though for the moment I have retained the 7/10 score given the better previous meal I had here soon after opening.
This time of year sees few restaurant openings in London (who in their right mind would open in February?) but I am planning some interesting culinary trips in the next few months. More anon. The week after next will see me venture to the deep south – Savannah rather than Croydon.