Thursday, 20 February 2014
From the ridiculous to the sublime. After the intense suffering caused by an evening in Surrey Quays at Frankie & Benny's, I felt entitled to some kind of compensation. So when an invitation to try the revamped Trishna landed in my inbox, any fleeting worries about blogger ethics were quietly batted aside - I don't care if you think I'm irreversibly compromising my integrity, I deserve this.
So, all the usual caveats apply to a press invite meal - the service was probably a bit more attentive, we had the best table in the house, and I can't ignore the possibility (however unlikely) that the kitchen paid a bit of extra attention to plating and pacing. All that said, though, there are certain things you just can't fake, no matter how hard you try, and I am convinced that the astonishing series of dishes produced at Trishna would have been just as impressive on any other evening, for any other lucky customer.
The fireworks started from the very first moment - you know you're onto something special when even the pappadum/chutney snacks make your head spin. All were impressive in different ways; there was one studded with dried shrimp, and a mango with I think nigella seeds, but the bright green coriander and chilli was just extraordinary, fresh and exotic and utterly addictive.
This is fried baby squid (described by our waiter in Spanish - chiperones - which I thought was a nice touch) in a kind of tamarind-based batter, with fresh samphire. The textures were great, the batter being crisp, without a trace of grease, and the spicing never overwhelmed the seafood.
Have you ever heard of any food stuff with as much potential as "lobster samosa"? It didn't disappoint - packed full of bouncy lobster meat, in a delicate pastry crust, on top of a gently-spiced chutney.
A miniature soft-shelled crab, in a light batter, was posed in such a way that looked like it could have scuttled back off to the beach any moment. It came with a quenelle of what I can only describe as crab bacalao, a rich, fluffy paté that packed an incredible flavour that punched well above its ethereal lightness.
And from here on, things went from excellent to world-class thanks to a series of the best seafood and fish dishes I've ever had the pleasure of eating. First, a vast scallop, its meaty goodness enhanced by a bright green layer of some kind of basil marinade. It was perched on a bed of a very clever chickpea mixture, some fried to a crunch and some soft and spiced, creating some really interesting textures.
Trishna is, quite rightly, famous for its way with seafood but there is one in particular - this Hariyali bream - which has become their signature dish. Another shocking green sauce (coriander and chilli) neatly encased a remarkably dense, meaty flesh, perfectly cooked and with a delicate trace of the tandoor coals. The kind of food you never want to end - this was quite honestly unbeatable stuff.
Salmon tikka was, impossibly, even more impressive. The spicing, just like the dishes that came before it, was expertly judged, but the way they'd managed to get a lovely smoky char on the outside and yet keep the flesh inside flaky, pink perfection was something to behold. Most restaurants I know couldn't manage this kind of timing armed with a sous-vide machine and a blowtorch; that the chef had done this in a tandoor was simply incredible. We were in awe.
I could go on. An aromatic biryani, a bowl of charred and chillified okra, a wonderfully complex chicken drumstick coconut curry, a clever beetroot salad with curry leaf. All lovely, it goes without saying, but it's clear that it is the fish dishes, which most other Indian restaurants in town do so half-heartedly even if they attempt them at all, of which Trishna should be most proud. It can't be easy, matching Indian spices and chilli heat with the fresh, delicate flavours of seafood without compromising either; Trishna, like the best of those accomplished in any particular field, make the near-impossible seem like child's play, and together with sparkling service, a gold standard wine list (we tried some very interesting Balkans by the glass) and an airy, attractive room of mirrors and dark wood panelling, well, you have all the ingredients of a faultless night out.
And given that I couldn't really fault anything about Trishna, it's going to have to get top marks. Yes, I was invited and yes, feel free to dismiss all of the above as so much PR smoke and artfully-distressed mirrors. But you'd be making a huge mistake; I'll say again, an operation like this you just can't fake - there is heart here, and intelligence, and real, honest-to-goodness, gobsmacking talent from everyone involved with the place. Trishna is the real deal.
I was invited to review Trishna