Halkin Arcade, Motcomb Street, London, England, SW1X 8TJ, United Kingdom

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What follows are notes from a much less good meal in December 2004, by way of comparison.

They are “too posh to popadom” here and indeed the whole menu idea seems a bit precious. It is styled after the supposed habits of Indian noblemen, who would eat a bunch of grilled meats and then finish things off with a biriani. Well, I can’t say I have ever encountered this particular way of dining in India, but even if some rich guy a hundred years ago used to do this, does that mean we all have to? Anyway, this twist gives them the “dining concept” no doubt desired to set them aside from other Indian restaurants.

The dishes (except the biriani) arrive haphazardly, and this is not good, as we ended up with a dry potato dish with no sauce at all, and a bread basket arrived with no dishes whatever to eat it with. Oddly, though no popadoms are allowed, there were some remarkably ordinary chutneys: tomato, plum and some mango powder. These were quite nondescript. Having finally navigated the menu, the first dish to arrive was a chicken tikka (with a marinade of black pepper; one with paprika is also available). This was actually very good, the four pieces of chicken very tender and picking up spicy flavours from its marinade (13/20).

Next up were a pair of scallops, served in their shell with what was supposedly a green herb sauce but in fact tasted exactly like a spicy coconut sauce. This worked very well, the chilli edge to the coconut base an unusual and effective one; the scallops themselves were diver caught and nicely timed (13/20). A giant tiger prawn was also carefully cooked, again served in its shell with a little hint of a similar spicy green sauce (13/20). The diced potato dish that arrived was pleasant but was not that warm, and needed something to go with it (like another dish). 11/20 only for this. Similarly a dhal was adequate but not a patch on the one at Yatra, lacking any great flavour (11/20). Breads were a plain naan, a roti and a naan flavoured with mint, and these were rather ordinary, suffering in particular from a complete lack of salt; to be fair, when we asked for some salt this appeared without demur from the helpful Dutch waiter.

Finally a dish of minced chicken served in a banana leaf was pleasant but lacked any real interest (11/20). The biriani was served with some ceremony in an iron pot over a little burner, and it was correctly prepared with a coating of pastry to seal the flavour. In this case the biriani was vegetarian, of artichoke hearts and chickpeas, but while the rice was pleasant the artichoke hearts were cooked ultra-lightly (on the verge of raw) and the rice lacked the fragrant flavour that the best birianis have, so was again 11/20 (for a good example of biriani without going to Hyderabad try Madhu's at Southall). There was a set of desserts offered, and I tried a granité of lime, a lychee jelly and a granité of plum, which were all pleasant enough (12/20).

There was a quite respectable wine list with a somewhat esoteric set of New World choices, and some eccentric Old World ones (one Gewürztraminer only, and this was from Italy?!?) but I had Cobra beer at an extortionate £3.85 a half. That’s £7.70 a pint. Indeed the bill is the big problem here, because for over £70 a head with just four beers and one glass of cheap wine between us, you’d have to ask would you not rather have two rather better meals at Haandi in Knightsbridge? They are clearly aiming at the Cinnamon Club set of people who want to eat Indian food in a posh setting, and commercially this seems to be working, with almost a full house on this potentially dead-end Thursday between Christmas and New Year. I must admit that when I found out the ownership was the same as the dismal Veeraswamy and the erratic Chutney Mary my heart sank, but this is much better than either of them. However at this price I can’t see myself returning in a hurry.


Further reviews: 01st Aug 2012

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