The Kokum London, named after a type of mangosteen fruit that grows in Goa, opened in Dulwich in July 2023. Heading the kitchen is Manmeet Singh Bali, who has worked at the Ritz Carlton in Dubai and The Turnberry hotel in Scotland as well as with noted chef Vineet Bhatia (the earliest chef to earn a Michelin star for Indian food at Zaika in 2001, along with Tamarind on the same year under Atul Kolchar). The restaurant is backed by Sanjay Gour, who was head chef at Gymkhana before setting up Dastaan and Black Salt. The Kokum’s large dining room can seat 85 diners at any one time, and there are even plans for expansion. Tables were quite generously spaced, but there are a lot of hard surfaces, which caused quite high noise levels on this busy service.
The wine list had 23 labels and ranged in price from £19 to £70, with a median price of £34 and an average markup to retail price of 3.4 times. Sample references were Leftfield Sauvignon Blanc Nelson 2022 at £32 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £12, Mingaco Cinsault Vinos Mingaco 2020 at £45 compared to its retail price of £26, and Moet et Chandon NV at £70 for a wine that will set you back £53 in the high street. Beer was Kingfisher.
The menu has small plates, starters and main courses, and we actually opted to sample dishes from all three sections. This was a touch greedy, but there it is. Raan is a dish that I have eaten in Udaipur but is rare in the UK, a slow cooked dish of leg of lamb with ginger, cardroom, cinnamon, saffron and other spices. The origins of the dish are disputed but it may well date back to the time of Alexander the Great.
This version was kid lamb cooked for twelve hours served on an utthapam, a thick dosa normally served in southern India for breakfast, along with coconut chutney. This was an interesting blend of north and south Indian influences, and the raan was really superb, meltingly tender with the meat tasting of the complex blend of spices that it has been cooked with. The pancake base was a clever way to balance the richness of the meat (16/20). Quinoa tikki came as a vegetable pattie with burnt butternut squash, masala chickpeas and spinach. The chickpeas were very tender and the inherently fairly bland flavour of the quinoa was nicely enhanced by the chutneys it was served with (14/20). Pani puris contained moong sprouts, chickpea and potato as well as mint and coriander, the hollow puri containers crisp and providing a good textural contrast for their contents (14/20). Stick pork ribs with spring onions and a “Chindian” glaze, a pleasing mix of Chinese and Indian spices, with the pork itself falling off the ribs (15/20).
From the starter section of the menu we tried tandoori roast cauliflower with makhanai sauce, coriander, yellow chilli and pomegranate seeds for freshness. The cauliflower retained its texture well and nicely absorbed the spicy flavours that it was cooked with (14/20). Classic chicken tikka was flavoured with mace, cardamom, cream cheese and berry murabba, so essentially a malai tikka. The chicken was very tender and acted as a pleasing vehicle for the spices (15/20). Kasundi prawns were a Bengali dish with large tiger prawns with mustard, chillies and nasturtium. Kasundi is a spice blend of red chillies, garlic, salt, mustard seeds and shredded mango. The prawns were precisely cooked and the spices were quite vibrant (15/20). Best of all were lamb chops using best end of lamb marinated with mint and chilli and served with pickled onion. The lamb was absolutely superb, cooked pink and having excellent flavour, having absorbed the spices well and with the richness of the meat balanced by the sharpness of the pickled onions (16/20). Chutney paneer tikka had a block of paneer (cottage cheese) coated with a vivid green coating of coriander, mint, chilli and Bombay thecha (chutney). The paneer had a surpassingly silky texture and the spices enlivened it well (easily 14/20).
The main course stage of the meal saw a further sequence of dishes. Pork vindaloo is a Goan speciality with toddy vinegar (a fermented vinegar made using sweet coconut tree sap) and a Goan spice mix. The pork was very tender, its richness contrasted by the sourness of the vinegar (15/20). Chicken kohlapuri featured tender chicken pieces cooked with coconut, Byadagi chilli (from Kamataka in southwest India) and cinnamon (14/20). Kaffir prawn curry had a coconut sauce with lime leaves and pattypan squash. The prawns were superbly cooked and were nicely balanced by the earthiness of the squash and the mildly spiced coconut-flavoured sauce (15/20)
Best of all was khumb palak, a dish of concentrated spinach leaves with mushrooms, garlic and dry red chilli. This is a Dastaan dish and the version here was pretty much as good, which is praise indeed, as this is one of the very best vegetarian Indian dishes I have eaten. The depth of spinach flavour obtained is quite remarkable (16/20).
Aloo tuk has slices of crushed potato coated with a tamarind glaze and, I think, a touch of vinegar. The sweetness of the tamarind was an unusual touch and worked well with the potato (14/20). Dhal makhani was excellent, dark and rich black lentils with a hint of smokiness, cooked overnight (15/20). Naan bread and paratha also had a very good texture. We had no room for dessert, though there were a few available.
Service was friendly and capable. The bill came to £72 per person but that was with more food than we could eat, spread across three separate sets of savoury courses plus poppadoms and plenty of beer. A more typical cost per person might be nearer £55 a head. The Kokum serves genuinely top-class Indian food. The khumb palak in particular is a remarkable dish, but there were plenty of other lovely dishes such as the raan. The food here is better than of plenty of London Indian restaurants that have a Michelin star. There may not be a grand piano in the corner of the room or be in Mayfair, but there are very few places indeed that serve better Indian food in the capital.