Kahani, which means “Story” in Urdu, opened in September 2018. It is quite near Sloane Square, in premises that used to house Canvas and, before that, Le Cercle. It is a basement dining room seating up to 90 diners and they have done a nice job with the refurbishment. A wine cellar is visible behind a glass window and the kitchen is also semi-open. Music played in the dining room, though at a tolerable volume level. Rather quixotically, the evening started with Elvis Presley and other 1950s hits as we contemplated the menu of exotica such as sirloin kebab with truffle oil, fennel and cumin.
Kahani’s head chef is Peter Joseph, originally from Chennai, who trained at ITC Sheraton and then moved to London. He worked for 14 years at Tamarind, originally joining as sous chef in 2004 and becoming head chef there in 2012. He was not working at the service tonight. The menu was set out as a “small plates” format but despite some unusual dishes like the sirloin kebab, was mostly seemed fairly conventional. Several dishes were available either as starters or mains. There was a tasting menu at £70, as well as a vegetarian version at £65, but we went a la carte.
There was quite an extensive wine list, ranging in price from £30 to £745. It was arranged by style rather than country, with categories like “fruity red” and “crisp white”. Examples were Esterhazy Esterhas Gruner Veltliner 2017 at £35 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £12, Bodegas Colme Salta Estate Malbec 2015 at £51 compared to its retail price of £19, and Nyetimber Classic NV at £91 for a label that will set you back £35 in a shop. At the prestige end of the list, Etienne Sauzet Champ Canet Puligny Montracher 2016 was £285 compared to its retail price of £108, and Chateau Palmer 2008 was £520 for a wine that has a current market value of £206. As can be seen, the markups at the upper end of the list continue to be high multiples of their shop prices, rather than moderating to reflect cash margin, so this was not a list where a wise man would splurge.
Popadoms came with a trio of chutneys: tomato, tamarind and pineapple, which were pleasant. A paneer tikka starter was nicely made, the texture of the paneer good, having been pickled lightly before cooking, accompanied by mint chutney (14/20). Lamb chops from Somerset were marinated with spices including Kashmiri chillies and cloves from Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu. The chops had good flavour and had nicely absorbed the spices (14/20).
Prawn biryani had quite fragrant rice, the grains well separated, in addition to having carefully cooked prawns (14/20). A pair of dhals comprised a black dhal and a yellow dhal. The former had good smoky flavour and was suitably rich (14/20), but the yellow dhal was rather watery and its flavour somewhat insipid (barely 12/20). Kingfish curry was excellent, the fish nicely cooked and the sauce quite complex, featuring shallots, turmeric and coriander amongst other spies (14/20). A potato side dish aloo chatpate had new potatoes stir-fried with green chilli and tamarind. The cooking retained the texture of the potatoes well, with their spicy accompaniment nicely lifting their flavour (14/20). Also good was a mint raita (14/20), but naan bread was rather dry and flaky (12/20). For dessert, a trio of kulfis was fine, the pistachio one being my favourite but all being nicely made, each having smooth texture (13/20).
The bill actually arrives in an elegant wooden box, and experience tells me that the more elaborately the bill is presented, the worse it will be. At Essex House in New York, Alain Ducasses’s venture in that city that opened in 2000 and closed six years later, the bill initially came with a wide choice of Mont Blanc (and also Cartier) pens to sign the credit card. When that happens you know you are going to be hosed. The bill here, after I nervously removed it from its box, came to a pretty hefty £83 each with just beer to drink plus a solitary cocktail. If you drank wine then the bill would creep higher still.
The staff at Kahani were well-meaning but our waiter seemed quite inexperienced and not very well trained. “Do you like curry?” is an odd introductory line for a waiter at an Indian restaurant. I guess that if we had been turned up expecting pizza or Chinese food then perhaps it is best to check first, but this seemed weird. The order taking was rather a cumbersome process, and then the same waiter rather oddly asked us if we would like clean plates and cutlery after our starters. Er, yes, I think at £83 a head I would rather hope that an extra clean plate and a knife and fork could be rustled up by the restaurant. Odd service aside, the food was generally very good this evening, with just one or two minor glitches. However the bill seemed quite steep, even by the standards of Chelsea, even though it was nestling in a pretty box.