Monday, 28 October 2019

Kahani, Chelsea

The cliché, repeated often enough that it's usually accepted as fact, is that the more well off a suburb of London is, the less likely you are to find anything good there to eat. Hampstead, Holland Park, St John's Wood, these are lovely areas to visit (I particularly recommend a walking tour of the Beatles locations in St John's Wood as I did a couple of weekends back), but once you start feeling the pangs of hunger you're better off jumping on a bus and eating somewhere else.

Chelsea used to be firmly in the "too posh for dinner" category (notwithstanding the existence of Medlar, which is, and always was, brilliant) but interestingly, and quite happily as far as I'm concerned as I live only a short bus ride away, the area around Sloane Square seems to have become a bit of a center for high-end Indian food. Kutir took over from the old Vijay Bhatia site (itself rather highly regarded back in the day, so I'm told), and is worth a trip to the area alone, especially given its incredibly reasonal (for Chelsea) prices and special game menus. And a short walk the other side of Sloane Square is Kahani, where I enjoyed an absolutely wonderful series of dishes last week.

I nearly described Kahani as "new" in that last paragraph, but apparently it's been open since 2018. I guess that's the point of these invites, to reintroduce the public - or at least a dedicated handful of overeager restaurants spods like me - to somewhere that for whatever reason has slipped off the radar. Or even to remind people that it is worth travelling to Chelsea for dinner after all. And in the case of Kahani, it really, really is.

There's been a worrying trend in some high-end Indian subcontinent restaurants to steer away from the traditional pre-order snack of poppadums and chutneys, and to consder them somehow a bit lowbrow. There's a part of me sympathises - if you are charging £100 instead of £20 for their dinner, you want to end up with as little about the expensive experience that's in common with the budget option as possible, otherwise people are going to wonder where the money's gone. But the thing is, authenticity and sophistication be damned, I love poppadums and chutneys and consider any meal that doesn't start with them a wasted opportunity. Plus, if Jamavar can do a classy version, with interesting chutneys and cute little cone-shaped poppadums and fried plantain chips, there's no excuse for anyone else not to make the effort. These were perfectly nice, though the chutneys all tasted rather similar, and I missed a coriander and chilli version.

Cocktails were great fun - just the right side of eccentric to be interesting, and well-constructed enough to taste worth the money being asked. The "Chacotic" was particularly good, a barrel-aged negroni spiked with woodsmoke, which filled the air with intoxicating autumn aromas.

Spiced chickpeas were colourful, involved plenty of interesting textures, and was impossible not to enjoy. The match of chickpea with tamarind has plenty of precedent in Indian food - I will never forget the late, lamented Kastoori in Tooting's pani puri, which were always a must-order - but sometimes the classic combos are classic for a reason.

"Black chicken" was, well, certainly as described, darkened with a thick coating of roasted spices and absorbing so much light my photo has them looking like lumps of charcoal. Fortunately though, that's where the similarity ends, as they were beautifully tender and boasting deliriously complex spicing.

One of the signs a restaurant knows what it's doing when it comes to seafood is that no matter how large or unweildly the animal in question, the kitchen will always have it turn out soft and moist to the very last inch. These smoked malabar prawns were great big chunky things but the meat fell satisfyingly out of the shell in one piece, and the spice mix made the most of the flesh without overwhelming or fighting it. Very nicely done.

Guinea fowl tikka were similarly sensitively cooked, with a good texture (not always a given with guinea fowl, whose leanness can foil even in the best kitchens) and addictive cream-tomato sauce.

And last of the grilled items, lamb chops - more complex spicing, and top-quality meat touched with a gentle crust but which inside was pink and meltingly tender. All of the these dishes had been so good we'd had no trouble in hoovering them all up but I think by the time the last of the lamb chops had gone to the great tandoor in the sky, our capacity to carry on was being somewhat challenged.

Sensing our valiant struggles, Kahani did what every Indian restaurant worth its salt would do to a reviewer, and decided to bring all of the rest of the menu at once. So, here's a giant slow-cooked lamb shank about the size of my head, which had a fantastic firm texture and came soaked in a sauce that would have been worth the journey all by itself. I think I managed about a teaspoon's worth of it.

Also, chicken "Makhani", yet more beautifully cooked cubes of chicken in a tomato-cream sauce, so good that the fact I was utterly unable to fit more than a single forkful in my mouth was a matter of profound despair.

Jeera aloo, a marvellous soft spiced potato side that was fragrant and comforting and precisely spiced, was another reason to curse my inadequate appetite.

Bread was nice, too, of course, fluffy and buttery and light. I don't think I managed any of this, just stared at it wistfully until it was time to clear up and leave.

I should point out that excellent front of house at Kahani, enthusiastic and attentive and determined to kill us as they were, tried very hard to persuade us to have a dessert. Each. We declined, as apologetically as we could through the pain and promised to come back and try them at some point soon, perhaps with the English rugby team in tow, or at the very least a hungry dog.

Anyway, you'll be pleased to know none of that food went to waste. Kahani happily provide takeout bags, and that incredible lamb shank, the chicken makhani, the potatoes and the bread made a supremely enjoyable buffet lunch the next day. Indian food usually reheats superbly, high-end Indian food doubly so, and Kahani's is no exception. So if you do over-order, a very real possibility given a menu that reads this well even if you're not being treated, or if the front of house sweet-talk you into ordering an entire roast sheep on top of the hardly modest selection you'd hitherto come up with, remember that they may not necessarily, despite first appearances, be trying to kill you. They may just want to make sure you have enough in for lunch the next day.

That's Kahani, then - an excellent addition to the Sloaney neighbourhood, and another high-end Indian restaurant very much worth visiting. Even if Chelsea never quite becomes a destination dining area, there's increasingly enough to recommend it as a diversion, and perhaps that'll do for now. After all, even Shoreditch had to start somewhere.


I was invited to Kahani and didn't see a bill.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There are plenty of nice (albeit hidden) restaurants in Hampstead mate.