Empire, Empire is the creation of Nirmal Save, executive chef of the Gunpowder group since 2015. He previously was head chef of Imli. “Empire, Empire” is in a parade of shops and seats up to forty guests at one time, with a few additional seats outside in good weather. The head chef here was Nikhil Ganacharya, who formerly ran the kitchen at the Holiday Inn in Reading. The dining room is in two sections, with a juke box playing mostly Indian film music, as well as, as an unusual decorative touch, a photo booth. There was a short wine list, with offerings such as Gran Cerdo Tinto Tempranillo 2021 at £35 for a bottle that will set you back £12 in the high street, Amphora Rosso Guttarol Primitivo 2021 at £59 for a bottle that will set you back £25 in a shop, and Huguenot Signature Blanc de Blanc NV champagne at £78 compared to its retail price of £33. Disco lager was £6.
Kale patta chaat (£8) was generous in size and crisp in texture, with tamarind chutney providing sweetness and pomegranate seeds bringing freshness. This was an excellent way to start the meal (14/20). Chicken malai kalimirch tikka (£11) had meat that had been marinated in yoghurt and cream cheese as well as spices and turned out very tender as well as avoiding dryness (14/20). Kachori had minced ox cheek from Surry marinated with spices and encased in an outer layer of dough that is deep fried; here the dish came with a rich, dark, spicy laal maas sauce featuring yoghurt and chilli and made from ox bones and celeriac murabba (14/20).
Chicken biryani (£22) had a pastry seal that contained the aromas of the rice, which had well defined, distinct grains and large chunks of chicken (14/20). Tandoori haryali king prawns were very large prawns that had been marinated and then carefully cooked (14/20). Butter chicken was genuinely good, the chicken carefully cooked and the sauce well spiced, rich without being absurdly buttery (14/20).
Bhindi (£9) is a dish that eludes most Indian restaurants in the capital for some reason. I have had lovely bhindi in India, but in London it is usually either greasy, or occasionally deep fried and tasting mostly of batter. Here the bhindi dopiaza had okra cooked in a base of onions, ginger and garlic as well as a mix of spices, and managed to get the texture of the okra just right (15/20). Dhal makhani (£9) is the classic black lentil dish that is cooked overnight, and here the lentils still had some texture, resting in their dark, slightly smoky sauce (14/20). On the side, both naan and paratha (£4) had very pleasant, soft texture (13/20).
We tasted two desserts, a classic gulab jaman (£8.50) that was well made and was not overly sweet (14/20 and a rather less inspiring saffron milk cake (£9), which just seemed to me a little bland (12/20). Service was excellent, led by a manager who used to work at Jamavar. I was entirely unable to get a bill, but a typical cost per person with beer to drink might be around £60. “Empire, Empire” was a very enjoyable experience, with a relaxed atmosphere and food altogether better than I was expecting.