Chokhi Dhani (Indian Fine Dining) – Battersea, London
Having been the first to report on the European debut of the Halal-friendly, fine dining Indian restaurant, Chokhi Dhani, earlier in April, we had the opportunity very recently of visiting them in Battersea.
Head chef, Vishnu Natarajan, confirmed with us at the time, that not only was the menu pork-free, with “chicken, lamb and rabbit” being Halal, but that the non-Halal venison and ostrich was prepped and cooked separately to ensure zero risk of cross-contamination.
This makes Chokhi Dhani unique for being, as far as we know, the only restaurant in London to offer Halal rabbit.
We were, thus, excited to pay them a visit, particularly after learning that the talents of Mohammed Naseem Qureshi, latterly of Bombay Bustle and the now closed Lotus, had been employed as seniour sous chef, as well as both Rakesh Sharma (Chutney Mary, Mint Leaf) as pastry chef, and Rajasthani cuisine expert Bhagwan Singh of award-winning Cinnamon Culture.
And that initial excitment was only heightened by the presence of a huge, almost life-size statue of a bronze elephant greeting us at the entrance, which, we were told, “was a logistical nightmare to import”.
It’s obvious, therefore, that little expense and effort has been spared in establishing and adorning this two-storey restaurant.
While the ground floor acts as a casual lounge for 70, with the restaurant’s Street Food menu being the main focus, the serious business of serving dinner to 75 diners occurs upstairs. This floor also has an intimate private room for a dozen. With an impressive heavy carved door, this can be hired for around a grand (a bargain when one considers the price of similar VIP rooms at other higher-end restaurants within the vicinity).
But, for those preferring some fresh air, there’s tables outside for 36 to enjoy the view of the Thames.
In fact, with large, airy windows, be sure to request a table at the far end of the restaurant – a full view of the Thames will be quite something during the coming summer months.
Otherwise, the intricacy of the interior, which successfully mixes the modern with the traditional, has enough detail and opulence about it to hold one’s attention.
Complimenting Chokhi Dhani’s dark wooden decor, there’s the beautifully carved wooden chairs and tables – the latter designed as a cart wheel, with each compartment displaying a variety of quintessential Indian ornaments of bangles and jewellery, among other things – and decorative features that includes a fretwork-lit wall panel.
Of course, given all the above, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that a strict dress code is expected:
Chokhi Dhani London operates a smart casual dress code, jackets are optional and we do not permit any lounge or sportswear (this includes lounge slippers and flip flops). Smart shorts are suitable for lunch service but not dinner. Jeans are permitted as long as they are worn smartly with shoes and a shirt or smart elegant top.
The Gingerella just about lived up to its name, with the full hit of the lemony tang eventually giving way to the lingering ginger thereafter.
As for the aromatic Bagicha, then its sophisticated balance of sweet mellow flavours, with the chamomile tea coming through smoothly, was enough to make this our recommended choice.
The biggest shortcoming of the Berry Berry Nice was that the ratio of ice was far greater than it should have been, resulting in the evident dilution of the strength of the berry mixture.
Having said all that, here’s our ongoing gripe: how many high-end restaurants have we visited whose mocktails flatter to deceive? And while Chokhi Dhani’s weren’t that bad, there’s definite room for improvement. And this seems to be a recurring theme of said eateries; it appears as though mocktails are an after thought with not enough consideration given to their make-up, culminating in one-dimensional beverages that do not match the obvious level of thought, expertise and sophistication of the food. Drink for thought!
All about those trio of sauces really. While the latter was certainly apparent at the expense of the former in the Mango & Apricot, the Avacado had a pleasant subtleness to it, and the watery Himalayan Tomato a herby aftertaste.
Correct us if we’re wrong (in the comments section below), but we don’t know of any restaurant in London that serves Halal rabbit! Kudos, therefore, to Chokhi Dhani for recognising the importance of the so-called “Muslim Pound“.
Simply presented on a small Missi Roti made from yellow gram flour, was a mound of perfectly shredded rabbit meat, which was marinated in a vibrant orange sauce, and topped with a dollop of Bhaang (and no, that’s not the cannabis that intoxicates).
We also quickly figured out why the wedge of lime and the spoonful of cucumber yoghurt were presented alongside, given the wallop of heat from the marinade. Alas, the chilli was such that a full squeeze of the lime along with the yoghurt wasn’t enough to stop us from collectively reaching for the water glass.
And while the texture of the rabbit was a touch on the chewy side, we also collectively agreed that it bordered a tad on the dry side too.
Nevertheless, given its rarity as a Halal dish, we’d still recommend it given its price tag.
Despite all the characteristic flavours and textures of a well executed chaat, i.e. the sweetness of the tamarind, sourness of the mint, heat of the masala, fruitiness of the pomegranate seeds, and softness of the chickpeas, being accounted for in this Kadak Momo version, we found the intricately created basket to be overly crunchy, although not in the pleasant sense of the word, but in the dry-cum-stale sense. Otherwise, it had every box ticked.
What made this cauliflower and broccoli dish such a cracking little one was the ingenuity of it all.
The broccoli had an almost minty-spicy taste to it, which was so well balanced, that it allowed for the hint of smokiness delivered by the tandoor to come through in the background.
There were then two types of cauliflower: one marinated in a strong-spicy masala sauce, which certainly needed the dollop of fromage frais topped with a few pomegranate seeds to dampen its heat; and the other battered in a thick, lightly seasoned and crumbly samosa-like coating.
More interestingly, there was a tiny pink cauliflower that was strongly pickled and acted as a kind of palate cleanser. If that were its intended use, then it was certainly a clever one.
A great veggie starter and one to get the taste buds primed for the mains.
The highlight was, without question, the Poussin! No amount of adjectives can sum up the cooking of this youngster.
In effective, as close to melt-in-your-mouth poultry as you’re ever likely to be served; and marinated in a soothingly spicy masala rub that perfectly complimented its delicate nature. Superb!
And though its older cousin similarly held its own in terms of cooking, its marination, while gentle, delivered a touch more heat, and went fantastically well with the smooth and beautifully made coriander and garlic dip.
RECOMMENDED ALL THE WAY!
NOTE: These are available for the dinner period only.
The above thali is a combination of the vegetarian Maharani Thali, £22.00, and the meat-based Maharaja Thali, £25.00.
And the following breakdown of the eight bowls, portion of fish, rice, pair of naans, pickles and chutney, starts with the Safeed Mass at 9 o’clock, and carries on clockwise, which also happens to be the sequence in which this thali was designed to be eaten.
This Safeed Maas was far too mild to impress much. What’s more, the meat was quite chewy too.
Despite the pungent nature of the spicy broth and the well cooked chicken in this Jodhpuri Murgh, the yellow split gram certainly had a bite.
A decent dish without being anything memorable.
In between the curries was this Shorba, or millet soup, which, to us at least, was peculiar in that its buttery subtleness didn’t inspire anything.
The gram flour dumpling balls in this gently spiced yoghurt-based Gatta Curry were good. But once again, far too mild to leave any lasting impressions.
A strange dish that had a stringy consistency along with well cooked beans. Again, all too subtle!
This Panchmeli Dal, or five lentil mixture, was insipid and extremely poor!
Not only did this Batti look unappealing, but didn’t taste any better either.
Perhaps the most unpleasant thing about this dish, was the unmistakable taste of the ghee that had completely saturated this bizarely textured and overly firm bread. As to how healthy, or unhealthy as the case ought to be, this was, then your guess is as good as ours.
A strange dish; and perhaps one that’s an acquired taste (we hope).
Thankfully, this Churma was at least edible. It was ultra-crunchy, almost like a brittle, except far finer in texture; almost sugar like in fact, with a sprinkle of pistachio on top.
This portion of Sarson Machi was easily the best dish of the thali.
The mustard and yoghurt marination had a mellow tanginess to it that perfectly complimented this soft-textured, delicate, glisteningly attractive, and absolutely delicious Sea Trout.
In spite of the “green cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, [and] saffron” flavouring, this small portion of Basmati rice was, at best, lightly seasoned.
These pair of rotis weren’t anything special to warrant more than being described as decent.
The thali also came with a pungently flavoured garlic and red chilli chutney called Lasoni, as well as pickled chillies with mustard for added spice and heat where required.
The moist fish steak had a crumbly texture, and was based in a sauce that delivered a good amount of heat, with a zesty aftertaste.
It was accompanied by a single crispy slice of lotus root chips, some broccoli, and a bowl of more of that delicious curry sauce.
Chokhi Dhani has the cooking of fish down to a tee, that’s for certain.
We found the relative sweetness of the distinctly orange sauce in this Oudhi Murgh Makhan a nice contrast to what could otherwise have been another typically spiced tandoori-flavoured dish.
Instead, the soothing creaminess of this rich gently spiced tomato sauce, coupled with the superbly cooked chicken done two ways, really impressed. A solid dish!
SIDES & BREAD
The balance of the spice and seasoning in this lentil bowl was exquisite.
A perfect texture; a perfect creamy consistency; and mellow heat – this has to be up there with one of the best restaurant-cooked lentil dishes we’ve ever had.
While the baby potatoes were as soft and delicately cooked as you’d like, the fenugreek leaves were superbly balanced in terms of sweet and sour.
Having this with the Wild Mustard Smoky Raita helped to counter the strength of the fenugreek leaves, thus, adding another dimension to things.
A creamy raita that had the distinct taste of the mustard coming through well, along with the addition of a few pomegranate seeds for sweetness.
Well cooked rice, albeit reheated, with the fragrance of the saffron coming through nicely.
Crispy, well buttered, garlic naans that were extremely fresh and, therefore, extremely satisfying.
Oh yes; we thoroughly enjoyed this well executed rosemary cheese naan, with the former distinct, and the latter working well as a filler.
This Rose Crème Brûlée was both a visual and a gastronomic treat. In terms of flavour combination, it was easily the most complex of the trio of desserts enjoyed on the evening.
A tiny dab of the accompanying orange khubani, or apricot, jam managed to enhance rather than overpower what was a delicately flavoured rose crème brûlée. With the rose providing the base aroma, it was only a matter of experiencing the acute shifts in flavour and texture with each given element. From the crispy-cum-soft-centred sweet merigues, and the crunchy honey comb, to the various palate-cleansing fruits of strawberry, raspberry, blueberry and a piece of fig – each one brought something different to keep things interesting.
This is the dessert to try for sure!
But, for those seeking after some refined traditional Indian sweets, then the Desi Mithai is the one to get. This comprises an assortment of classic Indian sweets that include dainty gulab jamans and kulfi.
Whilst the ginger and honey kulfi was wonderfully balanced, a touch of the mango gel succeeded in adding a sweet and sour edge to it.
And despite the assortment of gulab jamun were decently executed, we felt as though they could have been both a little softer in texture and slightly more saturated in sugar syrup. Nevertheless, we’d wager its sweetness to be just right, even for those who lack a sweet tooth.
As said, one for those who are aching after traditionality; otherwise, this is a good dish without being anything innovatively inspired.
Whenever you have a Chocolate Sphere brought out, chances are it’ll be the showstopping dessert.
This was no ordinary sphere, however, for inside the white chocolate casing was the most gorgeously scrumptious pistachio cake, which you won’t often see encased in such a novel way. Not only was it soft, spongy and moist, but juxtaposed with the combination of the white and milk chocolate along with a sweet popcorn or a nugget of the millet brittle for textural contrast, made this a very satisfying finale.
And to finish any fine evening meal, what could be better than flavoured teas originating from various parts of India?
In this case: Punjab, Goa and Gujarat teas – each having a distinct aroma and thus holding its own.
- YES/ NO
- CHILD SEATING
- DISABLED FACILITIES
The Indian cuisine is refined, the atmosphere warm, the surroundings opulent, and the service impeccable.
Whether you're after a quick snack courtesy of their thoughtfully conceived and executed Street Food menu, or something more substantial, there's enough here to impress almost all diners and taste buds.
And, of course, how many restaurants do you know of that have gone out of their way to source Halal rabbit?
Chokhi Dhani is in the middle of also creating a portable menu for home delivery, so keep a look out for that.
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