The Painted Heron is tucked away in a quiet corner on riverside Cheyne Walk in Chelsea. The ground floor dining room has a wooden floor, white walls with black and white prints and a few oil paintings, and quite good lighting. The menu is unusual, offering some unfamiliar and in some cases ill-advised dishes, such as strawberry curry. A fixed price menu at £35 is available, but starters are around £8, main courses mostly around £16, with side dishes at £5, and bread at £3.75.
There is a surprisingly extensive wine list, with plenty of choices under £30 as well as some pricier options for the wealthy locals. Shaw & Smith M3 Chardonnay 2008 was £44 compared to a retail price of around £17, Felton Road Pinot Noir 2008 was £67 for a wine you can buy for around £22, while at the top end of the list Cheval Blanc 1988 was listed at £395, which sounds a lot until you realise that it costs £206 to buy, so at least has a less aggressive relative mark-up.
Popadoms arrive with a trio of home-made chutneys: garlic, pineapple and avocado; it is nice to see an Indian restaurant making some effort here rather than just spooning out the mango chutney and lime pickle from a jar, and the popadoms themselves were fried rather than grilled, and crisp (13/20). My starter of tandoori salmon with basil (£8) was presented as a three little piles of salmon, with pleasant mint chutney and a very good tamarind sauce, as well as a coconut chutney. This was enjoyable enough, though the basil was a bit lost in the spices, and the salmon itself had little taste (12/20). Devon plaice fillet (£7.50) was also cooked in the tandoor, with garlic and chilli paste and the same chutneys. The fish itself was cooked too long, and was rather limp and lacking in flavour, ending up just a vehicle for the spices (barely 12/20).
Scottish scallops and tiger prawns (£15.50) were supposedly in a hot and sour Goan sauce, but this was a pale imitation of the vibrant sauces I have eaten in Goa, in this case offering just a one-dimensional warmth; worse, the scallops were overcooked, though the prawns were cooked acceptably (12/20). A piece of Dover sole (caught from Hastings) was served on the bone (£16) having been cooked on the tandoor, served with a potato and broad bean mash and curry. The fish itself was reasonable, but the mash was cold and the broad beans had not been podded (12/20 overall). A curry of spinach and mushrooms (£5) was a little oily, though Bombay potatoes (£4.50) at least retained some texture, though their tomato-based sauce lacked spice (11/20 for these). Naan was too hard in texture, the edges being brittle, though the centre of the bread was decent (11/20).
Desserts are not made at the restaurant but bought in from the Ambala Sweet Centre. Gulab jaman was too dry (10/20) though mango kulfi was acceptable (11/20). Service was of the “who ordered which dish?” variety. The bill of £52 a head seemed an awful lot of money for what we had, given that that we had beer rather than wine. Overall, the menu had some interesting ideas and some effort had gone into sourcing the ingredients (at least the fish) but spicing was subdued and the cooking was inconsistent. At these prices a more even level of execution should be happening.