Zaika originally opened in 1999 in Chelsea, relocated to Kensington in 2002 and held a Michelin star from 2001 to 2004 when Vineet Bhatia was head chef. This and Tamarind were the first ever Indian restaurants to gain Michelin stars. In November 2012, in a twist of fate, Tamarind Collection took over the restaurant, bringing these two pioneering restaurants together. However, they rather bizarrely thought that Italian food was the way to go on the site. They hired a talented but peripatetic consultant chef, and the experiment did not last. Common sense won out and in November 2014 they re-launched Zaika as an Indian restaurant. It has as executive chef Sanjay Gour, who although born in Mumbai has actually worked with other cuisines recently, such as at the restaurants Verre in Dubai, and at Maze and Murano in London. The head chef is Dayashanker Sharma, formerly of Imli and who has worked with Tamarind Collection for many years.
The wine list had slightly fewer than 100 labels, ranging in price from £20 to £270, with a median price of £48. Mark-ups averaged a fraction under three times retail, which is tolerable by the standards of London. Example bottles included Mount Brown Riesling 2012 at £32 for a wine that you can find for £11 in the high street, Mercurey Premier Cru Clos des Barraults 2010 Domaine Michel Juillot at £62 compared to a shop price of £23, and Nuits St Georges Vielles Vignes 2010 Domaine Daniel Rion & Fils at £99 for a label that retails at £31. Mineral water was a hefty £4.50.
The high-ceilinged dining room has wood panelling and framed prints along the top of the walls. Papdi chat (£6) was nicely presented, the wheat crisps, tamarind chutney and chickpeas topped with yoghurt and some rather incongruous blueberries. The tamarind was pleasantly balanced, the chickpeas tender (13/20). This was much better than a starter of seared scallops (£14.50) coated with a crust of curry leaf, chilli and coriander, with smoked red pepper chutney. The spices were muted but above all the scallops had no inherent sweetness; although correctly cooked they tasted of virtually nothing, suggesting poor sourcing. A greater kick of spice would have been welcome in order to inject some flavour into the dish. I am particularly fond of scallops, and it some time since I have eaten ones as lacklustre as this (10/20).
The main courses were more consistent. Methi chicken (£16.50) had pleasant texture and a respectable level of fenugreek in the sauce, with a nice touch of ginger (12/20). A trio of tiger prawns (£19/50) was tossed with tomato, shallots and crushed black pepper, the prawns of reasonable quality and being correctly cooked (12/20). Aloo gobi (£7.50) retained some texture in the cauliflower and potato, and although the spices were rather restrained this was a good dish, as it is so common in aloo gobi for the vegetables to be served soggy (13/20). A yellow dhal (£7) was also pleasant, avoiding being too watery, though I can only guess as to the gross margin on this simple dish of lentils (12/20). Breads were good, paratha, naan and, a new one to me, truffle flavoured naan – these were hot and fresh, and the truffled one an interesting idea (13/20). A bowl of plain rice was £3.50.
Our waiter (Shiv) was excellent, friendly and attentive. With three beers to drink between us, no pre-dinner drinks and no dessert, the bill still came to £62 a head. This is an awful lot of money for the level of food here e.g. at these prices could they not at least have managed some good quality diver-caught scallops rather than what appeared tonight? The surroundings here are pleasant and the service was slick, but if you ordered wine, dessert and coffee it would be easy to run up a bill here of upwards of £80 a head. This seems to me out of proportion to the quality of what arrived on our plates.