The Hilton at Terminal 5 is a long way from Prescott Street in Aldgate, where Café Spice Namaste is established. However this is where Cyrus Todiwala has opened up in west London (he has since opened a further Portuguese and Goan restaurant called Assado in Waterloo). Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen is on the mezzanine level of the airport hotel, and I think the designers have done a pretty good job with the room. There is an open kitchen with a kitchen table, some distressed wood furniture and even a large wooden elephant in the centre of the room; true to the nature of such things, no one wanted to discuss it.
Mr Todiwala has a knack of writing appealing menus, and this is no exception: there are all kinds of unusual and interesting dishes, with intriguing background details that draw the customer in. It is not often that ostrich bhuna appears on a curry house menu, and there are unusual dishes from Goa as well as Parsee dishes and a range of more familiar items.
The wine list had just over two dozen offerings, ranging in price from £22.50 to £99.50 with a median price of £32.50. There were no vintages listed, a lazy thing in a wine list, and mark-ups were all over the place. Aripala Chardonnay was £23.50 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £7, Leo Hillinger Small Hill White was an absurd £49 for a wine that retails at around £8, and P. Louis Martin Rose NV was a more reasonable £71.50 for a wine that costs about £50 in a shop. Beer was a chunky £4.50 for a half-pint glass of Kingfisher or Cobra.
Popadoms were fried and nicely crisp, served with some unusual chutneys including beetroot. Pooris (£6.50) had a filling of onion, chickpeas, potato with spiced yoghurt with tamarind and date chutney, enlivened with mustard seeds. These were very good indeed: light in texture with a nicely spiced filling (14/20). Beef tikka (£12.50) is rarely seen in a UK Indian restaurant, but entirely authentic in a Goan one like this. Here the fillet steak from Buccleuch Estate was cubed and marinated with peppercorns, red chilli, mustard, ginger and garam masala before being cooked in the tandoor. The beef was tender and enjoyable (13/20).
Pork vindaloo (£17.50) is a dish I have eaten in Goa, and it can be delicious, the original local version having bold use of vinegar and garlic. The pork in this dish, supplied from the Chilterns, was cooked all right but was a touch chewy in places. Disappointingly, the spices and vinegar were dialled back so much that the effect was just bland (10/20). I hardly touched this, but the waiter made no inquiry as to why this might be. Much better was whole sea bass (£17.95) marinated with yoghurt, saffron, cardamom, cashew nuts and almonds, orange and lime before being chargrilled. The fish was cooked through nicely and the spices of the marinade lifted the flavour of the fish (13/20).
Aloo gobi muttar (£6.50) was a stir-fried dish of potato, cauliflower and peas, cooked with fenugreek, cumin, red chilli and mustard seeds, along with garlic, ginger, coriander and cardamom. This all sounded lovely but the reality of what arrived was woefully overcooked vegetables with little spicing (9/20). Dhal (£6.45) was very good however, the lentils retaining some texture and having a smoky hint to the sauce, flavoured with garlic, cumin and red chilli (13/20). Roti and naan were both very pleasant (13/20).
For dessert, the pistachio kulfi (£6.50) is not made on site but is at least made for the restaurant rather than being from a generic catering supplier. It had decent flavour though it was served a touch too cold, and it did not need a pointless strawberry garnish (12/20). Unfortunately Goan coconut pancakes (£7.50) were leathery and had a very dry filling of toasted cashew nuts, sultanas, cardamom and nutmeg; there was some ice cream on the side but the dish lacked balance (9/20).
Service was affable enough, but although we had barely touched three dishes in the meal, and had pointed out the issues with them at the time, the bill turned up in full, and it took two iterations to get a couple of them removed. Even with the adjustment the bill was £58 a head with beer and water to drink, which is an awful lot of money. It is considerably more than a typical bill at the evidently superior Madhus, also recently opened at a Heathrow airport hotel (Sheraton). I found this a rather frustrating meal. The menu reads beautifully, and some dishes were very good indeed, but in amongst these were some rather careless mistakes, all at a price point that makes such errors hard to ignore.