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Deya

34 Portman Square, London, England, W1H 7BY, United Kingdom

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This restaurant closed in summer 2007. A shame. The notes that follow are of historical interest only.

The restaurant is owned by Sir Michael Caine, Claudio Pulze and Raj Sharma (of Cuisine Collection). The executive chef is Sanjay Dwivedi (also of Zaika) but the actual cooking is being done by Verapan Muragapan, who is a long-standing Zaika chef. The room is an impressive one, with a very high Georgian ceiling with intricate plasterwork (painted white), a dark wood floor and walls painted eau-de-nil. The walls are uncluttered, with just a couple of large mirrors and large brass side-lamp fittings. Lighting is from these and a large central fitting hanging from the ceiling in the style of the root system of a tree, with multi-coloured bulbs. 

David d’Almada, the designer, has placed a long cocktail bar in between the dining area and the bar area, on the back of which (i.e. the side that you see from the dining area) is a mural of Indian figures and scenes. Western muzak plays, though at a low level, and despite the wood floor the noise level is not too high. Tables are fairly well spaced.  On each is a white linen tablecloth with matching napkins, a single rose in a glass jar and a lamp in a Moroccan-style pottery lampshade (maybe this was also Moghul style). Crockery is plain white “Porcelana”. There is banquette seating along the long wall, while chairs are somewhat out of character with the classical feel of the room – they are modern, low, ugly, upholstered in a variety of colours (blue, brown, red) and are very uncomfortable. The chairs are a bewildering choice to go with the grand setting, and if I was Michael Caine I’d be asking for a refund from the designer for this little error of taste.  Waiters seem to be mostly Italian, and stylishly rather than formally dressed. Service was very good, with wine topped up well and dishes emerging at a steady pace.

Popadoms are of the mini-disc variety favoured at Zaika, with three chutneys served in metal dishes on a square dish lined with a banana leaf. These were very fine indeed, a tomato chutney, a sweet mango chutney and an aubergine chutney. Each were made from fresh ingredients and carefully spiced, a world away from the jar contents that most Indian restaurants use. The tomato chutney managed an intense flavour that was enhanced by a rich blend of spices (15/20 for the chutneys). A recurring theme is the similarity with the old Zaika, which of course is hardly surprising given the backgrounds of the chefs, and it is notable that the chutneys at Zaika were always a great strength.

The wine list is extensive and well chosen, ranging across the world and stretching to over 20 pages. Louis Roederer champagne is £49.50 i.e. about twice retail. Other mark-ups are less generous e.g. Chassagne-Montrachet 2000 Jean-Marc Pillot is £66 on the list, but is available at £20 even from the pricey Berry Brothers and Rudd. The excellent Marques de Murrieta "Capellania" Gran Reserva 1997 Ygay, Rioja is listed at £21 compared to around £8 retail. At the higher end of the list mark-ups remain at about three times retail, with Pommard 1er Cru "Clos des Epenots" 2000 Domaine de Courcel at £95.50 compared to retail of around £30. There were even five dessert wines, two by the glass.  A large part of the wine list is £30-45, but there are some selections around the £20 mark, and in fact very little over £80.  Growers are generally intelligently chosen e.g. from the USA we have Au Bon Climat, Qupe and Bonny Doon, which are all excellent choices. 

There was an amuse-bouche. This consisted of a tiny puri topped with chickpeas and yogurt, and garnished with sev.  There was also a good cauliflower pakora, hot and fresh with crispy coating (14/20). I began with mustard tuna. The first thing to note here is that this is bluefin tuna, the very highest grade of tuna, which is a rarity in a London restaurant. Slices of tuna were marinated with ginger and chilli and cooked with mustard seeds, which give a pleasing crunchy contrast to the voluptuous texture of the tuna (which can easily handle spice without being overwhelmed).  The fish was served on a bed of excellent shredded spiced cabbage, a little asparagus and a small salad of bitter leaves (red-stemmed chard) with no dressing. This was a very successful dish (15/20)

My wife's crab rice was carefully heaped into a little ring, topped with fresh crabmeat and sweetcorn. Inside the rice was a raita with additional crab meat, and garnished with a samosa of crabmeat and sweetcorn. A drizzle of mint and yoghurt sauce surrounded the rice. The crab was fresh and perfectly cooked, with carefully controlled use of spices, the samosa crispy and providing a good texture contrast to the crab (14/20). Four large tandoori prawns were of high quality and superbly cooked, resting on an excellent utthapam (a pancake made from rice flour and “urad” lentils) topped with onions, chillies and baby shrimps. The utthapam was golden and crispy but not too crisp, just as it should be.  The prawns were served with a salad of red-stemmed chard, shreds of beetroot and rocket with no dressing.  There was also a small pot of coconut chutney. These were as good tandoori prawns as you will find anywhere in London (15/20)

Green chicken had chunks of good quality, tasty chicken, cooked in a thick sauce of cardamom, chilli and fennel, with spinach leaves. The sauce was garnished with coriander and showed fresh, well-balanced spices.  Although labelled “spicy” this would only seem spicy to Americans (13/20). Green vegetables were stir-fried green beans, broccoli and mange touts, with cashew nuts and shreds of fresh coconut, cooked with spices and mustard seeds. The vegetables were very lightly cooked, and the dish is the same as that at Zaika except for the lack of baby sweetcorn (14/20).  Baby new potatoes were cooked with mint. There was no sauce here, the potatoes cooked with spices and retaining their firm texture (13/20).

Boiled basmati rice was excellent, light with the grains clearly distinct (14/20). A raita was thick and creamy, with cucumber, tomato and onion in it. The texture was superb and the spicing accurate (15/20). Garlic naan was fluffy, with finely chopped garlic and restrained use of butter (14/20). Paratha was made with mint, was of the non-greasy variety, light and without the mint flavour being out of control (13/20). 

Pre-dessert was a lychee granita. This was correctly made, the lychee taste coming through strongly and possessing good texture (15/20). Stella had pineapple and mango, thinly sliced with a little passion fruit juice, served with excellent coconut ice cream which had strong coconut flavour and a smooth texture (14/20). I had pistachio kulfi with supposedly a mango ice cream but was actually coconut ice cream (a rare service blip) and a chocolate samosa with crispy pastry and a liquid chocolate centre. A decorative chocolate tuile arch was a nice presentational touch. The kulfi had good taste and texture (13/20).  My double espresso was of reasonable quality (13/20). My wife's tea was served in a teapot was was actually a teabag marked “French breakfast tea”, which was not very good. There were even petit fours: peanut brittle, salted pistachios coated n white chocolate, a meringue stick, raisins in milk chocolate and hazelnuts in dark chocolate. These were all pleasant rather than inspired (12/20). 

The bill was £109.69, with food and drinks at £97.50 and service at 12.5% i.e. £12.19. After some of the outrageous prices now being charged by “Modern Indian” places the bill came as a pleasant surprise. After all, there were two forms of nibbles, pre-dessert and petit fours here, as well as some high quality ingredients. Water was £3 for Hildon water, and Cobra beer was also £3. I thought this bill was quite fair in context.

Deya is a real surprise. The dining room is grand but not overwhelming, the cooking is excellent, with genuinely high quality ingredients e.g. bluefin tuna and prawns of a quality that would shame many a French restaurant. Spicing was well handled, and the extras were great, with magnificent chutneys and good bread. This was how I recall the old Zaika at its best.

Several visits here have confirmed a very consistent, fairly priced experience.

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