Black Salt opened in May 2021 in East Sheen, on the Upper Richmond Road. The restaurant owners are Nand Kishore Semwal and Sanjay Gour from Dastaan and Sanjay Patel, who had worked at Cipriani and was keen to bring high quality Indian food to Sheen. The head chef is Manish Sharma, who was at Copper Chimney and had also worked at Jamavar and Kahani. The front of house is led by Rakesh Nambiar, who has previously worked at Amaya and Rivea.
The menu draws heavily on the dishes of Dastaan but has a slightly greater emphasis on plant-based dishes. The short wine list is the same as at Dastaan and was very basic, with no vintages shown and no still wine above £37. Example labels amongst the fifteen wines on offer were Arche Trebbiano Rubicone at £19.95 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £7 and Black Rock Malbec at £31.95 compared to its retail price of £14. Fortunately, corkage offers up the world of wine to customers, and was a very fair £15.
The dining room has several sections, and up to 65 guests can be seated at one time on the well-spaced tables. There is a bar to the side as you enter, and a garden terrace at the back available in summer. There are a lot of hard surfaces, so noise levels can be a little high if there are noisy guests, but there is no music playing in the room. The level of attention to detail can be seen in the unusually good popadoms and the selection of freshly made chutneys, with a particularly good tomato chutney.
Channa papdi chaat comprised chickpeas, wheat crisps, potato, yoghurt, tamarind and mint chutney. The chickpeas were tender and the sweetness of the tamarind was nicely balanced by the yoghurt, with a pleasing mix of textures provided by the potato and the wheat crisps. Chaat is a common dish but is rarely of this quality (15/20). Mixed vegetable bhajias involve spinach, onion, kale potato, tamarind and mint chutney, fried until crisp. These were a world apart from most versions of the dish, the flavours distinct and the outer layer crisp and entirely avoiding even a hint of greasiness (15/20).
Tandoori lamb chop was served with mooli (daikon) raita. The slab of best end of lamb was generous and tender, lightly cooked in the tandoor and having nicely absorbed its spice marinade (14/20). Malai chicken tikka featured a generous trio of pieces of chicken breast that had been marinated in spices and a little cheese to soften the meat. These were cooked in the tandoor and served with tomato and cucumber chutney. The meat was beautifully tender and nicely absorbed the spices, which themselves were balanced by the chutney. This was a super rendition of this classic dish, up with some of the better ones that I have eaten in India (easily 15/20). Best of all the starters were tandoori chilli garlic tiger prawns, with very high-quality prawns (from the supplier Pacific Seafood in Hayes) marinated with spices and lightly cooked in the tandoor until just tender. I have had worse prawn dishes in plenty of Michelin starred restaurants (16/20).
Butter chicken is a classic north Indian dish, and was very well made here, rich but not overwhelmingly buttery, the meat tender and lightly spiced (14/20). Methi chicken was particularly good, the chicken tender and enlivened with plenty of pungent fenugreek and other spices (15/20). Monkfish tikka was another well-made dish, monkfish having enough flavour to stand up well to spices, the fish having nicely absorbed the flavours of the marinade and then carefully cooked in the tandoor, entirely avoiding dryness (15/20). Makhani dhal was cooked overnight, the black lentils flavoured with tomatoes flavoured with dry fenugreek and enriched with butter, the final result having deep flavour and a subtle smokiness (15/20). Lasooni palak was spinach with onion and garlic, the spinach having plenty of flavour and a pleasing buttery texture (14/20). Kala jeer aloo managed to nicely retain the texture of the potatoes, whose flavour was enhanced by the garlic and onion seeds that they were cooked with (14/20). Plain naan was pleasant but tonight was not quite as light and fluffy as the best versions can be (13/20).
Pistachio kulfi was made in the kitchen rather than bought in, and was unusually good, served at an optimal temperature so that the ice cream yielded nicely to a spoon, and avoiding the ice crystals that can bedevil this dish in some other dining rooms (14/20). Mango kulfi was similarly well made (14/20). Gulab jaman was a classic rendition of the rich spheres of milk solid dessert, a delicious mix of skimmed milk, butter, wheat flour, semolina, baking soda, cardamon and sweet sugar syrup (15/20).
Service was excellent, the staff professional and attentive. The bill came to £55 a head for copious amounts of food. This was a very impressive meal with some real highlights like the tandoori prawns and the malai tikka. The parent restaurant Dastaan may have a slight edge but this is still cooking of a standard that most fancy central London Indian restaurants can only dream of. The meal was so enjoyable that I went back just a few days later.
On my second visit the mixed vegetable bhajia was lovely once again (15/20) as was the murgh malai tikka (easily 15/20). This time I tried the pork cheek vindaloo, a dark, brooding Goan curry with tender pork cheek flavoured with plenty of vinegar to balance the richness of the meat, the spices vibrant and exciting (15/20). Channa masala was also excellent, the chickpeas tender (14/20). A green bean side dish was also well made, retaining the texture of the beans well (14/20). I really enjoyed a latcha paratha, a bread that tends to be either too greasy or too flaky and dry. This was the Goldilocks version: just right (15/20). Also, better tonight than a few days ago was a freshly made naan bread, light and fluffy (14/20). I suspect the difference was that this was served quicker to the table from appearing out of the oven. The bill came to just £41 a head for more food than we could eat. Service again was attentive and professional.
One thing that is noticeable about Black Salt, like Dastaan, they do not buy in powdered spices or grind a big batch at the start of the week. Instead, the spices are ground just as needed, keeping them fresh. It sounds like a small thing, but the reward is the distinct, vibrant spicing that is found in the dishes here. There have been a lot of high end and well-financed Indian restaurant openings in Mayfair in the last year, but for food quality none of them is close to Black Salt. Go while you can still get a table.