Kahani restaurant review: Should we expect Indian food to be inexpensive?
Ibrahim Salha finds the proof is in the eating and this isn’t your regular butter chicken. And it’s not just about the curries and meat – even desserts make use of the tandoor
Can a butter chicken ever be worth £20? That’s the question I keep asking myself before, during and after eating the version served at Kahani, a new restaurant from ex-Tamarind, Michelin-starred chef Peter Joseph.
The Chelsea location alone should tell you that it’s certainly not going to be cheap, but the proof is in the eating and this isn’t your regular butter chicken.
In all honesty I haven’t ever met a murgh makhani I didn’t like, from microwave ready meals to my local takeaway, but this is clearly a step above.
The chicken sits in the silkiest, creamiest sauce which you’ll swear is so delicious it makes 20 pounds sterling seem like a relative bargain.
“And you can’t have butter chicken without rice,” they say. Probably. I’m not sure who “they” are in this instance but it should be a common phrase, especially when you’ve tasted the rice here.
It would be all too easy to wax lyrical about the rice, some of the finest I can remember eating, but all you really need to know is it’s an exceptional accompaniment to an exceptional butter chicken.
In fact, the rice is so good that my suggestion would be to launch a rice tasting menu. Think about it: different rice courses with an accompanying curry or raita. They can have that one for free.
That might give you the impression that this is an Indian restaurant that centres around curry. In fact, it only has three or four on the menu, which prides itself mainly on the grill: meat, seafood, vegetables and game are available.
They’re either cooked on a robata grill or in a tandoor, and the attention to detail is clearly evident in most things we tried. Best of these was the tandoori broccoli, sweetened with honey and smoky from the grilling, it avoids being watery and mushy.
Sensing it’s not just about meat here, we also dive in and order the grilled avocado, which unfortunately turns out to be less good. The accompanying olives and grilled onions were a nice touch but the masala flavour was lost among the punchier ingredients.
The game on the menu is also worth trying – we particularly enjoy the guinea fowl tikka. Guinea fowl can often be a bit too dry but the tandoor works wonders here: you end up with meat which is somewhere between chicken breast and thigh meat in texture.
The spices (namely cinnamon, star anise and fennel) cut out any real gaminess but the star of the show is the smoked tomato sauce. Luckily a roti is provided to catch every last bit. Or perhaps “luckily” is the wrong word here.
Nothing is down to luck in a restaurant with aspirations like this; everything is done for a reason. Take the octopus and tandoori calamari starter, served with a refreshing pomelo chaat. It melds the hot seafood, straight off the grill, with the cold of the tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and aloo (potato) to make another standout dish.
Also good is the samosa platter, consisting of one each of chicken, potato and venison. Three samosas don’t make a platter in my greedy book, but the chicken and the potato are wonderful, not least because they’re the Punjabi version, in a gram flour dough, rather than filo. The venison is unfortunately quite dry and even being doused in chutney can barely save it.
Desserts also make good use of the tandoor – particularly the pineapple dish, which is grilled and similar to the spit-roasted pineapple dessert in Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. This version is not as good, truth told, but the grilling caramelises the pineapple and goes brilliantly well with the coconut steamed yoghurt.
The pick of the desserts though is the chilli chocolate mousse bomb, which benefits firstly from a touch of theatre: a caramel sauce is poured on top of the thin ball of chocolate and collapses to reveal the mousse.
There are also “bits” of gulab jamun hiding away in there, adding a milky and syrupy-sweet component.
Service on our visit was nervous but sweet, and perhaps a touch too casual, though that will improve with time.
For now, there is an a la carte and lunch menu, but a tasting menu and pre-theatre can’t be far off, particularly for those looking for added value.
Most grilled dishes also come in a large and small size, for those who want to try more of the menu.
Wines by the glass start at around £6 but most sit around the £10 mark. Cocktails won’t get you much change from £15.
This, of course, raises the age-old issue of assigning worth to a certain type of cuisine; why shouldn’t Indian food be expensive?
Or, rather, why do we always expect it to be inexpensive? Studies undertaken have uncovered some fascinating, deep-rooted prejudices on this topic.
People expect Indian food to be cheap, but that shouldn’t always be the case, surely not in 2018.
I often wonder what else, apart from cost, separates the good restaurants from exceptional ones, the sort that Michelin rewards – and the answer I always come back to is the sauce.
Based on the butter chicken, and smoked tomato in the guinea fowl tikka, Kahani is on its way to being seen as one of the latter in its field.
Kahani (kahanilondon.com); 1 Wilbraham Pl, Belgravia, London SW1X 9AE; 020 7730 7634; open noon-10.30pm daily