The Cricket Lounge in Cheam opened in Cheam, founded by Vinu Kalia, who has a long background in hospitality and has a passion for cricket. The head chef Mr Mohamed Asrar trained with the Taj Hotel Group in India, worked for two years in Israel and then moved to London in 2007. He worked with Clipper Restaurants and also as a sous-chef at Dishoom before moving here in November 2021. He and the owner are from Delhi, and there are one or two nods to this in the menu. The Cricket Lounge carries on the cricket theme in various aspects beyond just the name: the menu is in the shape of a cricket bat and the drinks list in the shape of a cricket ball. There is a mural of a cricket ground along one wall on the opposite side of the dining room to the bar. The menu has plenty of familiar dishes but also some rarer ones too, such as raan, the slow-cooked leg of lamb dish that can also be made with goat. Starters were mostly priced at £6-£9, mains generally £11 to £12 with side dishes around £6 and bread £3. There were a few token wines but I drank beer, which here is Cobra on tap.
After popadoms with a trio of chutneys that were made from scratch in the kitchen, we tried two starters. Malai murgh tikka is a version of chicken tikka, the thigh meat haing a spice marinade including chilli, garlic, ginger and cardamon, and also cream cheese to tenderise the meat. This came with some salad and a cashew sauce. The meat was quite tender as you might hope, the spicing rather subdued, the chicken itself having somewhat limited flavour, but the overall effect nice enough (13/20). Amritsari fish used tilapia that had been rubbed with spices and then deep-fried. This was very good, the batter crisp and the fish carefully cooked (14/20).
For the main course, methi chicken featured fresh fenugreek leaves and tender pieces of chicken, cooked together with a mix of spices (14/20). I also sampled the lamb raan, a dish I have rarely seen outside India (they do a superb version at the Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur). It involves a lamb leg slow cooked for many hours with red chilli, caramelised onions and assorted spices, the result being meat that falls off the bone. This version was very good, the meat very tender and the sauce quite rich, though a little less spicy than I expected (14/20). Dhal Bhukara follows the recipe of the black dhal in the Bukhara restaurant in Delhi. The lentils are cooked in ghee overnight on a charcoal clay oven. This is a frequently reproduced dish, and the version here was excellent, the lentils having a gentle smoky hint and retaining their texture well. I think this version may have the edge over the original (15/20).
Saag paneer is a creamy spinach dish that was pleasantly executed here (13/20). Jeera aloo was decent though the least good of the dishes, with potatoes tossed in coriandser seeds, mixed spices and cumin seeds. There was just not enough cumin for me, the potatoes retaining their texture reasonably well though I would prefer them a touch firmer (12/20). Both garlic naan and paratha were very good indeed, the naan freshly made and supple, the paratha having excellent texture and being pleasantly buttery without being greasy. The paratha always walks a fine line between greasiness and dryness and few restaurants get it right; this was spot on (14/20 breads).
We also tasted a couple of desserts. Phirni is a dessert made with ground rice, cardamon, sugar and milk, and in this case some pistachios. This had creamy texture and nice pistachio flavour (13/20). Mango kulfi was a slightly unusual version, involving rose syrup and served in a sundae glass. I am not sure that all the distractions were really needed, but the kulfi itself was fine (13/20).
The bill came to £24 a head, and service was attentive and friendly. The Cricket Lounge serves some unusual dishes on its menu, with the cooking at a higher standard than you might expect. Some dishes, such as the black dhal, were genuinely excellent. There seemed to be a level of restraint in the spicing that was unnecessary, but the kitchen is certainly producing some interesting food.