Jamavar is the first incarnation of the restaurant brand that was not attached to one of the luxury Leela Hotels in India (the hotel group has recently been acquired by Brookfield Asset Management). I have tried a number of the Jamavar restaurants around India, from Jamavar Bangalore to Jamavar Goa, Jamavar Mumbai and Jamavar Delhi. The London Jamavar opened in 2016. Chef Surender Mohan moved to London in early 2018 to oversee the kitchen, but although he is based here he became the executive chef of the whole group. He was previously based at the Jamavar in Bangalore, which he opened in 2001 and was promoted to oversee six Jamavar restaurants. Jamavar London is spread over two floors and is smartly decorated, with an attractive flower display just ahead of you as you enter. The tasting menu (a vegetarian version is also on offer) was priced at £95, but there was a full a la carte choice as well. Small plates averaged £16, tandoori dishes just over £25 and main courses £29, with side dishes around £10. This review covers two meals in quick succession, one a la carte and the other with the tasting menu.
Aloo tikki is a street food snack from northern India, fried spiced potato patties made with tamarind chutney, yoghurt, white pes, spicy mint chutney and pomegranate seeds. Here this simple dish is presented attractively but retains its core appeal: the sweetness of the tamarind complementing the potato, with the cooling yoghurt balancing the spices. The spicing level here was well judged, with just enough chilli kick to make things lively but not so much as to dominate the other flavours (15/20). Scallop moilee is a Keralan dish, here using hand-dived scallops resting in a gentle spiced coconut sauce, with ginger relish and plantain chips. The scallops had good natural sweetness and the coconut sauce worked well with them, there being just a gentle spicy bite that enhanced the flavour of the shellfish but did not overwhelm it. The little plantain chips added a textural contrast (15/20).
Malai stone bass tikka had fillets of fish marinated with green cardamom and mace and served with an avocado and mint chutney. This has long been a signature dish here, stone bass a having slightly meaty texture that particularly suits the marinade and tandoor treatment. The fish was cooked very precisely, the spicy marinade well-judged and the mint and avocado chutney worked well with the fish (17/20). Adraki (which means ginger) lamb chops were marinated with a raw papaya paste to tenderise the meat along with ginger, garlic and chillies. The chops are then cooked in the tandoor with royal cumin and served with a fennel, carrot and ginger salad. The lamb had excellent flavour and was cooked pink, the meat having beautifully absorbed the spiced marinade. The little salad was a clever foil for the richness of the meat. I have eaten plenty of tandoori lamb chops over the years and these are as good as any I have tried (17/20).
For the main course we tried lamb biryani, served as it should be with an intact pastry case to seal in the aromas of the cooking process. These are released when the pastry case is removed on serving, enclosing a dish of aromatic basmati rice with distinct grains and pieces of tender Hampshire lamb flavoured with crisp onions and a little fresh mint with raita. This was a very good biryani, the meat of higher quality than is used in a lot of Indian restaurants and the cooking of the rice being excellent (15/20). Malvani prawn curry involved king prawns resting in a sauce of coconut milk, tamarind and Malvani spice mix. Malvani cuisine is the cooking of the coastal Konkan region that overlaps Goa to the south and Maharashtra to the north, the spice mix traditionally made in this area typically combining a dozen or more spices including as cumin, turmeric and fenugreek. One feature of this dish was quality of the prawns, which were a long way from the small, cheap prawns that all too often turn up in Indian restaurants. These were large and had good natural sweetness, carefully cooked and having nicely absorbed the complex blend of spices with which they were cooked (15/20). Butter chicken is a classic north Indian dish, this version using corn-fed Suffolk chicken, cooked in a rich sauce involving tomato fenugreek and plenty of butter. This dish certainly lived up to its name, but the gentle spices were enough to cut through the richness, and the chicken was also of better quality than most birds used in Indian restaurants in London (15/20). I very much enjoyed Malabar potatoes, which used Desiree potatoes, crushed garlic and slow-roasted chillies, the cubes of potato retaining their texture well but having a pleasing kick of spice from the chilli and the pungent garlic (15/20). A side dish of achari gobi was also excellent, little cauliflower florets lightly cooked and flavoured with ginger, tomatoes and pickling spices.
We finished with a trio of kulfis: hazelnut with Malabar coffee, rose and lychee and finally white chocolate, all served with fresh fruits including raspberries and red berries. The kulfis had smooth texture and plenty of their respective flavours came through (15/20). Dishes arrived at a steady pace and service was friendly, albeit with rather erratic wine topping up.
At a separate meal we went for the tasting menu, which began with Tellicherry pepper and garlic soft shell crab. Quite often, soft shell crab can end up greasy when fried, but here it had a clean, fresh taste, nicely cooked, the natural sweetness of the crab offset by the garlic and pepper. With the crab was a plum chutney, which was a good pairing since the crab itself is dry, as well as garlic chips and garlic pickle (15/20). This was followed by lobster idli sambhar, which comprised pieces of lobster cooked with spices and black pepper, little rice lentil cakes (idli) and a well-made sambhar (aka sambal). The shellfish was tender and the idli went nicely with the vegetable sambhar (15/20).
There was then a sequence of tandoori dishes. Malai stone bass tikka was superbly cooked, prepared with mace and green cardamon and served with an avocado and mint chutney. This has always been a lovely dish here and the execution today was spot on, the fish flawlessly cooked and its flavour nicely enhanced by the marinade (17/20). Tulsi chicken tikka was also excellent, the chicken entirely avoiding the dryness that can easily afflict this dish, the meat flavour lifted by its spicy marinade and going well with its accompaniments of sweet basil, pickled radish and yoghurt (16/20). Next was adraki (ginger) lamb chop, cooked with royal cumin, a prized variety of cumin grown in Kashmir. This came with a little salad of fennel, carrot and fresh ginger, which did an excellent job of balancing the richness of the meat. The cooking of the lamb was absolutely superb, the meat beautifully pink and evenly cooked, the overall effect really dazzling (strong 17/20).
Also glorious were dakshini jheenga, spiced prawns cooked in the tandoor and served with a curry leaf and peanut chutney. Unlike a lot of Indian restaurants, the quality of the prawns here was high, the seafood having good natural sweetness and again the cooking was extremely even and precise, resulting in lovely texture (easily 16/20). This sequence of tandoori dishes was up there with the best I have had in India.
For the main course we had Delhi butter chicken which used Suffolk corn-fed chicken and a sauce involving fresh tomato and fenugreek, as well as more butter than it was probably wise to think about. It was suitably rich, the chicken tender and the mild sauce suitably buttery (15/20). Malvani prawn curry had king prawns in a sauce of coconut milk, tamarind and a complex blend of spices. Again the prawns were carefully cooked and the spices combined to excellent effect (16/20). On the side there was excellent black dhal, the lentils cooked overnight and the overall effect complex, smoky and comforting (16/20). Palak paneer had freshly made cottage cheese with spinach along with tomato, fenugreek and fresh chilli. There was plenty of spinach flavour and the paneer had unusually good texture (15/20). A selection of breads was excellent, each freshly made and having lovely soft texture.
For dessert, mango rasmalai had a central wheat biscuit that was light and spongy with the usual creamy syrup made from milk, cream, sugar and saffron but flavoured with mango. In this case there was also a mixed berry chutney (15/20). Service was excellent today, with a good pace to the dishes and wine topping up very good at this meal. I was being treated to this meal, but a typical cost per person might be around £90. Jamavar is on top form at the moment, with the tandoori cooking in particular being really impressive. Dishes such as the adraki lamb chop and the stone bass tikka are really special, but the standard across the many dishes that we tried was very high.