I occasionally used to visit a Chelsea restaurant called Vama, which eventually folded and is now the home of Medlar. The owner and executive chef of Vama was Andy Varma, and in November 2011 set up a restaurant called Chakra in Notting Hill. This apparently takes inspiration from the palace cuisine of the Indian aristocracy of Lucknow in northern India, though I doubt that “Chakra black cod” owes much to 19th century cookbooks. The ground floor dining room is smartly decorated, with cream leather seating, not the most practical colour for a restaurant, and there are already signs of wear and tear. Unnecessary muzak was played at too high a volume.
Popadoms here were unusually good, light and delicate, served with mint chutney. A little nibble of potato patty with chutney was rather soggier than it might have been (12/20). The first proper course was masala murgh (£11.95), the chicken grilled then sautéed with red onions, coriander and a little chilli. This was good, the chicken reasonably tender and the onions nicely caramelised, though the token salad with it had lettuce that was distinctly brown at the edges (13/20). Tilapia was cooked with garlic and carom seeds, coriander and ginger, served with a mint and coriander chutney. This was a pleasant dish, the distinct flavour of the tilapia easily able to withstand the spices (13/20).
Surkhi jhinga (£15.75) comprised tandoori prawns that had been marinated in ginger, garlic and lemon before being cooked in the tandoor; the prawns were tender and of reasonable quality (13/20). A main course of tandoori duck (£13.95) involved smoked Gressingham duck that was pressed and tenderised with papaya then marinated before being cooked in the tandoor; this was excellent, the duck very tender, the spices going well with the meat, though you could not describe the portion as generous (14/20).
Channa was peculiar in that there was no sauce, instead just a pile of cooked chickpeas; they were tender enough, but this was an odd and not particularly appetising dish (10/20). Bhindi (okra) is often a good test of an Indian restaurant. It is usually pan-fried, and easily reduces to a mushy consistency. Here they avoided the problem by shredding the okra and then deep-frying it. The overall effect was very dry, unusual but not bad, though the bhindi flavour barely came through (11/20). Better was a black dhal with plenty of smoky flavour and still some texture from the lentils (14/20). Paratha (£3.50) and naan (£3) were fine, with reasonable texture (12/20), but plain rice was extortionately priced at £5.50.
I was curious to try one of the desserts here, as the menu offered some unusual things. Spiced tart tatin had decent pastry, not enough apple and was served with custard and a flavourless ice cream than I presume was intended to be vanilla, though not too many vanilla pods suffered in the creation of this; still, the apple was pleasant enough (just about 12/20).
The bill for the meal came to a hefty £66 a head, with a couple of beers and glasses of wine to drink between us. This is the nub of the issue here: the food was generally quite good and ventured off the usual high street staples, but this is a lot of money for the quality that was delivered.