Chutney Mary St James

73 St James's Street, London, SW1A 1PH, United Kingdom

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Chutney Mary moved in the summer of 2015 from Chelsea to St James Street, taking over the premises that used to house Wheelers. There is a large bar at the front, the dining room being accessed through it. The main room is partly carpeted and partly wood floor, tables lacking tablecloths but the décor looking very smart. Chairs with low backs were not particularly comfortable; as so often in London restaurants the chairs seem chosen for their looks rather than for actually sitting in. The new location seats 100 diners, in addition to the large bar area. As well as a lengthy set of choices on the menu there were two tasting menus, one at £45 and one at £65.

There was a substantial wine list starting at £28. Examples were Sauska Dry Furmint 2013 at £38 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £11, Brocard Chablis 2013 at £52 for a bottle that retails at £16, and Janasse Chateauneuf du Pape Tradition 2011 at £115 for a wine that will set you back £32 in a shop. At the posh end of the list, Haut Brion 1998 was £650 compared to a current market price of £329.

A pair of scallops (£13) were griddled and served in a Mangalorean sauce with fenugreek, raw mango and coconut. The scallops had reasonable sweetness and were cooked lightly, the sauce having good balance and going well with the shellfish, the coconut adding a note of freshness (13/20).  Goan crab cake (£12) was also good, the crab tasting fresh and accompanied by a sweet tamarind chutney and chilli raita with a little bite (13/20).

Quail (£24) was deboned and then reassembled, with a quail egg at the centre. This was served on rice that had been cooked in a quail stock, and garnished with bak choi, with a spicy sauce of the quail available to pour over the meat. This was an excellent dish, the meat carefully cooked, the rice having good texture, the sauce rich and pleasantly spiced and the bak choi providing a useful foil for the quail (14/20).

Turbot (£28) was marinated with dill and then grilled. This was a simple dish and so accuracy of cooking was crucial; sadly the fish was somewhat overcooked, not grotesquely so but enough to not make the most of the noble turbot. The marinade was fine but the fish was clearly not prepared as it should have been (barely 11/20).

Dhal was served in a curiously tiny pot and was pleasant enough; it was not watery but I prefer my dhal thicker than this (12/20). Raj aloo (£5.50) had crisp potatoes suffused with a Rajasthan spice mix. This dish was a regular on the menu at the previous incarnation of Chutney Mary. and worked well, the spices enlivening the potatoes (13/20). 

Bhindi (£6) came with onion, tomato and sesame seeds. Okra is difficult to prepare well, and needs to be cooked very dry or it quickly goes mushy, a technique that seems to elude almost every Indian restaurant in London except the late, lamented Rasa Samudra. The version here was far from the worst I have tried but was still verging on soggy (11/20). Naan was made with spelt flour, the bread itself just a touch on the hard side, though I think this was due to being made a bit too early and waiting around rather than any issue with the use of spelt (12/20). 

Lime tart (£8) had good pastry, though the filling itself needed more lime tartness, while the rhubarb ice cream on the side was pleasant (13/20). However the halwa soufflé (£8) was in a different league, and the dish of the meal. The soufflé had consistently good texture and plenty of sweetened carrot flavour, an original idea and one that was carefully executed. The roasted pistachio ice cream with it was also unusual, the use of salt in the ice cream quite bold but actually working well (16/20).

The waiters were well drilled, attentive and courteous. I was recognised and did not see a bill tonight. However if you shared a modest bottle of wine then a three course dinner would come to around £80 all in. As at the original Chutney Mary I found the food to be rather erratic. The best dishes (the quail, the halwa soufflé) were very good indeed, but there were also slips such as the overcooked turbot. The place is smart, the service good and the menu appealing. Even on this Tuesday soon after opening I saw tables being turned around us, so it is already doing very well. The pricing is in line with the smart area, but at this price point the kitchen needs to be more consistent in its execution.

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