Editor's note: in September 2015 it was announced that this restaurant would be closing "soon". The last service was actually on October 8th 2017.
Vineet Bhatia trained at the Oberoi in Mumbai before moving to England and creating a reputation for himself at Zaika, before opening his own establishment; he has since opened a sister restaurant at the Mandarin Hotel in Geneva. I last visited Rasoi (which means kitchen) when it opened, and felt it was time to see whether anything had changed. The dining room is in a Chelsea townhouse (those with long memories may recall it as the site of the English Garden). The room is smart and cosy. There was a tasting menu at £75, starters were £12 – £19, main courses £15 - £42, mostly around £26, desserts £9 - £12. A lunch menu was £21 for two courses, £26 for three courses. There was a fairly extensive wine list. Service was attentive, perhaps a little too formulaic e.g. did the waiter really need to explain to my (Indian) dining companion what a bhaji was?
As well as mini-popadoms, served with a good mango chutney, there was an amuse bouche of bhel poori. This suffered from being made long in advance rather than being assembled fresh, and had a surprisingly dull tamarind sauce in amongst the crushed poori; by comparison, the version at Diwana Bhel Poori is streets ahead of this (barely 11/20). Things improved with the starters. A crab cake was prettily presented with streaks of crab chutney and a crab and corn samosa (13/20). Mustard chicken tikka was tender, served with a pleasant vegetable bhaji (13/20). Least good was my tandoori quail, which was served off the bone with a rather dull marinade, the meat itself a little over-cooked and managing to taste of little. A quail and potato mash did nothing for the dish, while a glass of green pea and quail jelly and chilli masala roti straws seemed to me a lame attempt at fusion influences. I have had a couple of outstanding tandoori quail recently and this was simply disappointing (11/20).
Tandoori black spice chicken breast took its colour from squid ink, served with a tomato and cashew chutney, mooli (grated daikon) relish and a decoration of gold leaf (a hint at mogul days perhaps). The chicken was tender but the squid ink seemed a gimmick and the relishes were adequate but did not seem to me to enhance the chicken particularly (12/20). Better were tender tandoori lamb chops that at last tasted properly of spices, with a masala mash and a little more dhal. I’m not sure what the other elements added but the lamb itself was tender and tasted excellent (13/20). Sea bass was baked in the oven, served with tandoori crushed potatoes, spicy crisp okra as a garnish and a coconut sauce. The fish was very nicely cooked and the sauce was a good South Indian partner for the fish (14/20).
Both plain naan and paratha were very good (£5 each for three small pieces), having good texture (13/20). Side dishes were generally disappointing. Potatoes tossed with curry leaves and shallots were poor, the potatoes cooked for far too long and so nearly disintegrating, and lacking any obvious spice marinade to distract from the texture (10/20). “Creamy black lentils” was a rather watery dhal that lacked either distinctive taste or texture (11/20) while a channa masala had chickpeas that were tender but a tasteless sauce (11/20). Rice was a pleasant surprise: distinct grains, cooked just about perfectly and with a hint of saffron (15/20).
Dessert platter included a pleasant chocolate samosa, a quite good chocolate torte, a rose petal and vanilla bean sorbet (an odd combination but decent texture) and a vermicelli pudding (12/20). Tea is presented in a display box, and there are even tubes via which you can sniff the tea. Presumably this is to help you come to terms with why a cup of Jasmine tea (say) costs £4.50.
Overall the dishes are well presented, with dishes that try to add a modern fusion take on tradition but for me mostly did not succeed in doing so e.g. coating chicken tikka with squid ink seems to me to lack any obvious virtue, while adding various flavours of mash to many dishes again did nothing for me. The best of the cooking was very enjoyable e.g. the nice lamb chops, the well cooked sea bass and the excellent rice. Yet technique was not always so good e.g. the poor potato side dish and overcooked quail.
Then of course, there is the bill. Essentially the prices here are almost as high as at the nearby Gordon Ramsay (£75 tasting menu, one main course at £42, vegetables and bread extra). But there were no langoustines, wild turbot and the like to add to the cooking costs: a little bhel poori is hardly comparable to three Michelin star amuse-bouche; how much effort does it take to make a dhal? As I noted, technique was variable and some dishes ill-conceived and over-engineered. If I just take some standard dishes and compare, the bhel poori was just poor, the channa well below the standard of the one at Haandi, the dhal far inferior to that at Tangawizi. Hence just on the cooking alone this is by no means the best Indian food in London. If you consider the prices then things start to look absurd. I did slightly prefer this to recent meals at Tamarind and Benares, but I just cannot grasp the Michelin star and the slavering reviews elsewhere. Pleasant food; mad prices.