I try the new Andaman

Saturday, August 23rd , 2008

 brilliant 5472 assorted curries-crop-v3.JPG
It was only a few months ago that I was bemoaning the lack of high end dining openings in London in recent years. Since Tom Aikens opened his own restaurant there have been no really ambitious restaurant openings in London until a couple of months ago. Now, like buses, we have a clutch arriving almost at once. I have written previously about Ambassade de l’Ile and Helene Darroze at the Connaught. The latest is Andaman at the St James hotel, with two chefs from the top German 3 star establishment Dieter Muller (the kitchen is pictured). The restaurant does not fully open until around late September, but its soft opening began this week. Even on the second day of operation the cooking was most impressive. Dishes such as a stunning prawn soup, with remarkable intensity and perfect seasoning, mark this as a restaurant that has high potential. I look forward to returning and see how the food develops, but already this is operating at strong 7/10 level. 
The Botanist is in a great location on Sloane Square, is pleasantly decorated and is already packed to the gunnels with drinkers and diners. The cooking was mixed, but this is the kind of place that is so trendy that it could probably serve up grilled doormats without noticeably reducing its income. Given this, it is surprising how decent the food actually is, though the chaotic service and disco-level noise hardly makes for a relaxing evening.
I also went back to regular haunt The Brilliant in Southall, which consistently produces terrific Punjabi food (pictured). I find the main course curries to have great complexity in the rich, accurately spiced sauces, but a starter of aloo papri chat showed the versatility of the chef here. The tamarind sauce with this has just enough chilli bite to remove any hint of cloying sweetness, and this goes really well with the crisp pooris. 
I am sorry to hear that the quirky cooking at Bacchus has “changed direction” and now moved to a more conventional, possibly more economically sensible, but less interesting style. The founders of Bacchus were genuinely charming when I spoke to them, and I wish them well in the new format.
The second Asian City that will get a Michelin Guide appears to be Hong Kong, at least according to the Times. While there were some other possibilities (Singapore, Shanghai, Kyoto) this seems logical to me, as Hong Kong has long had a strong foodie scene, and there are enough prosperous people in the city that may purchase a Red Guide to make commercial sense for Michelin. I have been three times to Hong Kong, but not in recent years, and it will certainly be interesting to see what the chaps from Clermont-Ferrand will make of it. Given the surreal scores they gave the deeply ordinary Reikasai and China Blue in Tokyo, I hope that this time they use some inspectors who have at least a passing acquaintance with Chinese food. It is unclear at this stage whether the Guide’s remit will extend just over the old border to Macau.