So, you are going to name your new restaurant. You want something memorable but different, something that reflects your brand. You are going to cook Indian food with an emphasis on romali roti, the ultra-thin Indian bread. You are in a brain-storming session with your marketing advisor and decide that “Hankies” is your best choice. At this point you should reconsider what form of agricultural product you have been smoking or hire a new marketing advisor. “Hankies” conjures up various images in the mind, none of them remotely appealing or edible in any way. What were your other candidate choices that you rejected? “The Septic Tank” perhaps? “Bandages”? No really, I’d love to know. Apparently hankie is a nickname for romali roti because the bread is very thin before it is folded up, and Hankie in Hindi is “Rumaal”, which is a bit like romali roti, which can be spelt “rumali roti”. That is all very well, but it doesn't mean you should name your restaurant after it. This is the same logic that led to real but misguided product names that include “Defecation Tea”, “Placenta Beauty Soap”, “Golden Shower Fountain Fireworks” and “Bowel Buddy Bran Wafers” – seriously, these are all real things, though I suspect mostly due to horrifically bad translation: Hankies doesn't even have that excuse, though I guess it is memorable.
Moving along, Hankies opened in December 2017 In the Montcalm Hotel near Marble Arch. It is in the premises that used to be the underrated Sixty One, and is a nicely decorated room with a dedicated entrance, which helps offset the dreaded “hotel dining room” feel. There is another related restaurant called Hankies Café on Soho, which opened around the same time. I have the impression that the pair of establishments are operated as a unit under the same owners, and that Hankies is somewhat independent of the Montcalm hotel.
Heading up the kitchen here is chef and co-owner Mr Anurudh Arora, who was head chef of Moti Mahal for a decade after working at Benares for two years as sous chef from when it opened in 2003. He had previously been head chef of Udaimahal at the Oberoi Udaivilas hotel in its spectacular Rajasthan desert setting. As a nice touch, the romali roti breads are made in full view of the dining room, at a counter near the kitchen.
The wine list had 39 labels and started at £19, going up to £550, with a median price of £51. Sample references were Swartland Winery Founders Chenin Blanc 2017at £25 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £8, Groot Constantia Merlot 2015at £57 compared to its retail price of £18, and Chateau Batailley 2011 at £124 for a wine that will set you back £50 in the high street. For those with the means there was Dom Perignon 2009 at £425 compared to its retail price of £150, and Krug NV at an excessive £550 for a wine whose current market value is £174. The average markup to retail price was 3.2 times, which is pretty high, though you are in central London here in a hotel.Cobra beer was £3 a glass, which is not bad by the excessive standards of the capital.
The meal began with a little glass of mixed vegetable shorba (spicy soup), which had good texture and nicely balanced spices (easily 13/20).Bhindi bhel was an excellent version of the Indian street food snack, with crisp okra in addition to the usual puffed rice, and pomegranate seeds that usefully helped the dish avoid the dryness that can sometimes be a problem with this dish. Okra is a tricky thing to cook well, and here it was very good, crisp and retaining its flavour (14/20).
Achari paneer was served with little pickled onions. The paneer (cottage cheese) was unusually good here, completely avoiding chewiness, cooked with mustard oil, onion, ginger and spices. The pickled onions were an unusual accompaniment but their sourness was quite an effective foil for the cheese (14/20). Tandoori lamb chop was enjoyable, the meat having pretty good flavour. For me the spicing could have been bolder, but this was certainly very pleasant (13/20).
Pulao rice with chicken had very light, fluffy rice and meat that avoided dryness. A vegetable pulao was of a similar standard (13/20). Mustard sea bass was steamed and wrapped in a banana leaf, the fish nicely cooked, the skin covered in spices (13/20). The only dishes that let the side down a little were just that: a couple of side dishes. Peas had a rather mushy consistency (11/20). A seasonal dish of Brussels sprouts was really a mixed vegetable curry, and sadly the vegetables were consistently and significantly overcooked, which was a shame (barely 11/20). Fortunately the signature romali roti was a star dish, the bread light and airy, avoiding some problems that can commonly occur with it. This roti, which is rarely seen in London, tasted like romali roti tastes at a really good restaurant in India. I had a second one just to be sure, and it was equally excellent (15/20).
For dessert, mango and saffron kulfi was made from scratch in the kitchen and had plenty of flavour as well as smooth texture (13/20). Even better was chocolate fondant with lime and pistachio kulfi, the fondant itself very classy, with rich, liquid centre and a soft outside coating (15/20).
Service was very slick indeed, the staff extremely attentive even on this busy night with tables being turned around us. The bill came to £48 per person all in with beer to drink and with lots of food. The pricing of dishes was quite modest by central London standards, with raita at £2, kulfi just £3 and romali roti £1.75. Overall, aside from the name itself I enjoyed my evening at Hankies. The waiters were excellent, the menu interesting and the cooking had some genuine highlights. I would have scored it a point higher aside from the two less good vegetable dishes. I would certainly be happy to return.