Editor's note: chef Srijith Gopinathan left in mid 2022, and the restaurant lost its two Michelin stars as a result.
This restaurant is in the Taj Hotel in the financial district. The hotel building dates back over a century and reopened in 2007 after a lengthy refurbishment. Campton Place has seen some well-known chefs pass through its kitchen over the years, including Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park. Its current executive chef since February 2008 Srijith Gopinathan is from southern India. He worked in luxury hotels in India and also at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons. Prior to moving here in 2008 he was sous chef at the Taj Exotica in the Maldives. He gained a Michelin star for the restaurant in the 2011 guide and a second star in the 2016 guide. His cooking is a fusion of Californian and Indian influences.
There was a 10,000 bottle wine cellar presided over by Richard Dean, only the second person to be awarded the Master Sommelier title in 1975 (by 2015 there were still just 229 that have passed this strenuous exam, explored in the documentary film "Somm"). Neither the executive chef nor the head sommelier put in an appearance at this service.
The dining room is accessed via the lobby of the hotel, a few steps down on the right as you enter the building. It has more than a usual "hotel dining room" feel to it, not helped by the fact that breakfast is served here to people just before the lunch service, which begins at 11:30. As the first lunch bookings arrived there was still one family lingering over their orange juice from earlier. Tables are quite well spaced, with no tablecloths.
At lunch only a three course lunch at $49 was offered, or a two course version. At dinner three courses were priced at $79, and there was a six course tasting menu at $129. The wine list was certainly substantial, even including a good selection of German Rieslings, as well as plenty of French and US bottles. Examples were Josef Leitz Dragonstone Riesling 2005 at $50 for a wine that, if you could find it in a local liquor store, would be at least $30, Jordan Russian River Chardonnay 2012 at $75 compared to a retail price of about $40, and Marchesi Di Barolo 2009 at $110 for a wine that will set you back $40 or so in a shop. For those with the means there are more luxurious bottles such as the lovely Kistler Hyde 2012 Chardonnay at a very fair $205 compared to a current market price of $215, and Leroy Baudines 2009 Chassagne Montrachet at a much less kind $600 for a wine which can be obtained for about $220.
A nibble appeared in a little glass: a kind of smoothie of arugula (rocket) avocado and green apple. This was pleasant enough but a rather odd thing to offer as the amuse bouche in a two star Michelin restaurant (12/20). Given that the cuisine was essentially Indian and with four of the starters based on naan bread, I was curious as to why regular bread was offered rather than Indian bread. The slices that arrived were bought in from a Berkeley bakery called Acme and were fine, but it just felt a little incongruous.
My first course was a sort of "naan-wich", a pair of small naan breads each containing spiced shrimp, radish, coriander and green heirloom tomatoes. Perhaps this was a nod to the kind of street food you see in locations such as Chowpatti beach in Mumbai, where bread is often used to wrap around a variety of fillings. Either way it was nice enough, the bread soft and supple, the shrimp tender and cooked properly with a gentle touch of spice, the coriander fresh. I was less convinced about what the tomatoes added but this was certainly a very pleasant dish (14/20).
I ordered an extra course, which turned out to be the best one of the meal. Maine lobster was served with Brussels sprouts, puffed rice and coconut curry. This sounds quite strange but worked out fine, the lobster tender and having good flavour, the puffed rice adding a crunchy texture, the spicing gentle but evident. The Brussels sprouts were perhaps a touch under-done to my taste, but better that than the alternative. These worked quite well with the spices, so although I was not expecting this dish to really work I actually enjoyed it (strong 14/20).
Spiced tandoori chicken came on a bed of saffron rice with oddly named "biryani spices" (as distinct from what other spices?), along with shredded scallions (spring onions) and red bell pepper which were, puzzlingly, topped with a fried egg. Perhaps the breakfast chef had some left over? I guess it was a chicken and egg problem, but from a flavour viewpoint it made little sense to me. The chicken was fine though the spicing was somewhat one dimensional, more a curry powder kind of taste than a set of distinct spices. If I draw a polite veil over the fried egg then it was a pleasant enough dish (a generous 13/20). Quite why the waiter offered an Italian style pepper grinder to add pepper to what after all was already a spicy Indian dish before I had tasted it entirely eluded me. Dessert was a mango and orange concoction with lime foam, along with grapefruit segments and lemon confit. It wasn't especially elaborate, but was refreshing enough (13/20).
Service was well-meaning if not exactly slick, and dishes came at a canter. Even with my ordering an extra course I was in and out in 64 minutes from start to finish. Presumably it is a little more leisurely in the evenings. The hotel has Wi-Fi, but only for residents and meeting attendees, which seems churlish. When I pointed this out my waiter helpfully went away and secured an access code, which was a nice gesture. The bill came to $80 with just tap water to drink, and I left a $20 tip for the waiter who had patiently put up with me whinging about the Wi-Fi, so $100 (£68) in all. At dinner and with modest wine and coffee a typical cost might come to around £100 a head.
Overall I quite enjoyed the food at Campton Place, and it is interesting to see a modern take on Indian cuisine, though it is scarcely a bargain. It was not remotely in the league of the terrific Indian Accent in Delhi, but it was nice enough. It is also not up there with somewhere like Darbaar in London, which also has some modern Indian dishes on offer.
Campton Place’s Michelin assessment is another matter. It would seem to be generous indeed to give this a star, but to award it two is simply baffling. Suppose a one Michelin star chef from (say) France or Germany, working flat out to elevate his cooking from one star to the elusive two stars but not yet succeeding, came here keen to see how it was done. If he ate this meal, complete with its fried egg, then I think he or she would either burst out laughing maniacally or seek to throttle any passing Michelin inspectors; possibly both. Consider for a moment the food here and compare it to a serious two star restaurant like Taillevent, Sa Qua Na or Guy Lassausaie. Does any sane person really think Campton Place is up there in that league? Seriously? I have now been to 135 of the current 2 star restaurant crop globally, and this is one of the most absurd ratings I have encountered.
This is an issue with Michelin, not the restaurant, which is producing playful and enjoyable modern Indian food, albeit at a high price. The main problem the restaurant really has is the hotel setting and its associated service along with its cost, and indeed most customers at this half empty service seemed to be hotel guests. As long as you don't mind this slightly surreal environment then you can enjoy a pleasant, though far from cheap, meal.