EXCLUSIVE: Kahani (Indian Fine Dining) – Chelsea, London
But, learning that said restaurant also caters for Halal, while maintaining strict preparatory and cooking standards to ensure zero cross-contamination, should induce cartwheels of excitement.
And so we bring you an exclusive review of Kahani in London’s upmarket Chelsea – a contemporary approach to cookery whose chef is focusing on Tamil Nadu, the southernmost state of India.
With the restaurant’s core dining philosophy revolving around grilled meats, fish and vegetables from the robata grill, Kahani is located opposite the iconic Cadogan Hall on Wilbraham Place.
The large and spacious, 90-cover venue is situated in the basement and can be accessed in two ways: down the stairs at the main entrance, or via a lift nextdoor in Cheval Phoenix House.
With chique and stylish, modern decor, Kahani offers an intimate private dining room it calls ‘The Peacock Room’, which overlooks the restaurant and accommodates up to 10 guests – ideal for parties or business meetings.
Although the restaurant serves alcohol, its bar is conveniently separated away behind a wall from the main dining room.
The restaurant is available for exclusive hire, with Chef Peter able to devise a specially curated menu to suit the exact requirements of any and all guests.
Given the assortment of ingredients, you’d expect these beverages to be sophisticated concoctions of harmony and precision. Presentation-wise, that’s exactly what our initial reaction was. However…
The most intensely flavoured of the half-dozen non-alcoholic selections was easily the Spicy Honey Moon whose heat and spice will knock your tonsils right down your gullet. It was ferocious! The idea behind this approach, we were told, is that it’s supposed to help build up an appetite. Perhaps; but when it’s this hot, you’d be better off crossing out the other four alleged ingredients therein.
As for the beautifully presented Green Sapphire, then this was a mature outing where nibbling on the dried pineapple disc, along with the light sourness of its fresh counterpart and the squeeze of a lemon, helped counter the heat of the ginger syrup, which lingers pleasantly at the back of the throat.
The Basil Straight & Narrow was, indeed, fairly narrow, straightforward and one-dimensional, with the watermelon coming through ultra discreetly. This would serve more as a palate cleanser more than anything else.
Now, before you write in complaining: yes, there is, what’s known as, Seedlip gin used in some of these, but rest assured this is merely “distilled non-alcoholic spirit”.
The elaborate ingredients in both the Teetotal T’Apple and the Zesty Grove ultimately flatter to deceive, with the former’s apple barely noticeable, and the tepid latter’s grapfruit materialising mildly before… nothing!
In the end, the Jing-Jungle, with its attractively frothy egg white head, was the best of the lot by default, given the extent of the competition, with the cider vinegar dominating initially before immediately dissipating to make way for the gentleness of the apple and the aroma of the thyme.
When you have a samosa platter which takes you on a journey from the Punjab to Maharashtra’s Kolhapur, before heading down towards Chettinad in Tamil Nadu, how could you ignore that?
There was no faulting the crumbly-cum-buttery texture of the Punjabi and Kolhapuri pastry, with the former’s potato filling being subtly spiced and going well with the tamarind sauce, while the latter’s chicken interior being moist and tender, and quite flavourous.
Yet, while the Chettinad version had a thinner and crispier exterior, its venison filling, although having that familiarly rich meatiness and some mild heat too, bordered on the dry side.
Having that all that, however, while this trio was satisfying enough, it didn’t smack of fine dining, despite complimenting each other and being an enjoyable journey of India.
This soft shell crab was spiced using Mangalorean spices from the Indian state of Karnataka. Garnished with a simple salad of diced cucumbers, tomatoes and red onions, and accompanied by a gently spiced tomato chutney, which didn’t add much, this dish split the crowd.
Hence, although two Lions appreciated the crispy-crunchy and gently spiced, herby batter that encased the crab, the third Lion thought it too overpowering against the delicate nature of the crab, and concluded the plate to be “not very appetising”.
Served relatively cold, much to the chagrin of one Lion who observantly pointed out the absence of this important fact on the menu, this kept our attention enough to have us inquisitively nibbling away till the end.
In all, we enjoyed its vibrant freshness, the superb cooking of the octopus, which was gorgeously chewy and tender, the lovely hint of spice that marinated the calamari, and the interplay between the soft diced potatoes and the crunch of the onions.
That same Lion still insisted that this would have been far better served warm!
Once in a while, a dish will be presented that leaves you aghast and collectively stunned. The joys of food reviewing; and the answer to why we continue to do this.
This is arguably the best chops we’ve had this year, and possibly one of the best we’ve ever had under Feed the Lion.
Honestly; tell us those distinct parallel muscles fibres conspicuously visible on that cross section doesn’t look a picture.
This was perfectly pink, utterly soft, tender and juicy, and as close to melt-in-the-mouth as you’re going to get with a lamb chop.
Add to that the wonderfully judged, yoghurt-based marination, and this could be a contender for our end of year awards.
What a fabulous sirloin kebab this was, and one that was as near faultless as any kebab is ever going to be.
The balance of spices in this mixture was wonderfully judged, with the lingering heat just strong enough to allow for the smoky aroma, courtesy of the tandoor, to define both its taste and its texture. Not only was the chargrill achieved on the outside just right, but the kebab offered a delightfully tender chewiness which made each and every bite worth savouring.
In light of two of the three dishes making up this impressive section, and given their large lobster tank (sadly empty on the day of this review), we have a feeling that their lobster special would have been just as good, if not better!
The precision with which this dish was executed was so precise, that not only were we presented with that distinct degree of tender-chewiness only achievable with prawns blast-cooked to perfection at high temperatures, but forced one Lion to conclude that these were the best he’d ever had!
When you have such addictively thick and meaty prawns, brushed in a subtly spiced marination and presented with a quartet of fruity pearl drops that only enhanced the dish, our only wish was to continue masticating towards ecstasy.
Arguably the dish of the review!
We have had some unbelievable poussins in our time, with the most recent immediately springing to mind at Chokhi Dhani. What defined that was its absolute tenderness, a key feature of any poussin precisely cooked in a tandoor.
This pair, while marinated in two lightly spiced marinades, with the yellow one being far gentler than its orange counterpart, wasn’t quite as good, with the latter turning out slightly drier than the former. Hence, while the smokiness was there, they both lacked that moistness we were expecting.
A dish that’s essentially broccoli based can stand on simplicity itself, but requires dexterity of thought and attention for it to deliver on flavour while remaining the centre of attention.
This did exactly that! The delicate interplay between the combination of sweet honey and the lightly spiced marination of the broccoli against the slight bitter edge of the nigella seeds was wonderfully achieved. Add to that slightly charred areas of the vegetable, enhanced by the crispiness of the wheat crisps, and we were utterly sold by this. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
As their signature in this section, it had to be tried. Kahani’s version was well executed, with the chicken breasts being beautifully cooked, and the spices mellow enough to allow for the smooth, creamy and mild tangy tomato taste to come through sufficiently.
But, as with all butter chickens, we expect it to be less about the tomatoes and more about the dish’s unadulterated buttery richness to envelope the buccal cavity and not let go. As such, this, while being pleasant enough, was more a tomato chicken than a butter one.
We had some biryanis in our time, but by the end of Kahani’s, we were unanimous in it having set a new benchmark.
A sublime level of cooking which managed to accomplish three fundamental aspects of what makes a good biryani: 1) freshness – one that doesn’t taste fresh isn’t much of one; 2) spices – ought to be uncompromising, plentiful, but nicely balanced; 3) clarity – of flavours along with distinct, well cooked and separated rice, without things being oily.
The balance of spices in the tender masala-lamb mixture, nestled neath a layer of fragrant rice to allow one to stir it in as desired, had a depth of flavour that all three of us found, in spite of our differing palates, to be expertly judged.
In fact, what made this entire biryani even more interesting was the pair of accompanying bowls of yoghurt raita and a “chilli ka salan”, respectively, where the former might be used to dampen the soothing heat generated by the “exotic spices”, and the latter, with its warm sweet chilliness, to strengthen it.
To be honest, however, unless you can’t take your heat, you won’t really need either, such is the judgement of the chef in the balance achieved.
If you’re going to come to Kahani for one dish and one dish alone, especially if you’re after a good biryani, then this… is… it!
We wouldn’t expect a fine dining restaurant not to present inhouse sauces, except that in this case, these were exceptionally good.
Here we have three types of non-oily, crispy crackers: plain, papdum, and seeded, along with: 1) a pineapple sauce with nigella seeds that’s textured, mild and aromatic, 2) a rich and spicy tomato sauce whose heat and smokiness builds nicely, 3) and a gorgeous tamarind sauce that’s sweet, strong and satisfying.
A very well made potato side that’s subtly spiced, with a touch of sourness to it. But for £7.00, that’s pretty darn steep.
It hasn’t risen as much as we’d have liked with any tandoori naan, but it’s thin and crispy, with the garlic being apparent.
Again nicely done, but would have liked this more tandoored than it came out.
As you can see from the above, the sheen on that tempered chocolate bomb casing alone was enough to raise our pulses.
And so it transpired. Once the ball collapsed under the heat of the shiny silky caramel sauce, our excitement was only heightened with the uncovering of the smooth mousse within alongside the few precious bits of wonderfully saturated gulab jamun.
Had together with the contrasting strong strawberry ice cream and the spiced strawberry slices, and not only was a flavour-equilibrium achieved, but also a level of unbridled pleasure.
The rest of the plate, while offering a beautifully smooth and flavourous cardamom ice cream, had bubblegum-coloured cubes, a couple of raspberries, and some crumble that didn’t bring very much to the rest of the plate.
Truth be told, we’d have enjoyed a large version of that cheesecake ball.
All three of us have had kulfis in our combined age of 113 years that range from the good to the not-so-good. This was beyond good!
And what made these trio so was not so much the flavours or texture – the former being subtle and the latter being smooth – but that distinct, rich taste and aroma of cream skimmed off the top of heated milk.
A really satisfying end to the review, and arguably one of the best kulfis we’ve had!
- YES/ NO
- CHILD SEATING
- DISABLED FACILITIES
- FREE WI-FI
If we did have a quibble, then it would be with some of the prices of the dishes. We appreciate the fact that Kahani is aiming for fine dining while being situated in posh Chelsea, but £7.00 for a bowl of spiced potatoes?!
And there were a few issues stopping this from being rated this year's first 5/5 restaurant: firstly, the mocktails, which simply weren't up to scratch; secondly, technicalities regarding some of the dishes and sides; and thirdly, the service wasn't as attentive as one would expect from a budding high end restaurant.
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