Kahani review: fine Indian dining in Chelsea
There’s flavour and flair aplenty on a modern menu rich with seasonal British produce
Indian food has been on a journey. Not the one that brought it here in the first place (which in some cases was quite short: baltis and tikka masalas emerged from the West Midlands rather than West Bengal), but a more recent - and more conceptual - journey. It’s going up in the world.
Yes, there have been restaurants serving ambitious, authentic Indian food to British diners since Veeraswamy’s set up shop in Central London almost a century ago, but they were always in the minority. Curries tended to occupy a lowlier rung on the culinary ladder, as consolatory foil-wrapped takeaways or post-pub soakers-up of beer.
That may be why there are only two of them on the menu at Kahani, a decidedly upper-rung Indian restaurant a few minutes’ walk from Sloane Square. And the evening begins not with pints of lager, but cocktails mixed as we settled ourselves on light blue velvet bar stools.
A lychee and rose martini proudly fly the Indian flag, but my negroni owed more to Shoreditch than the subcontinent. Served with a puff of smoke trapped under a slice of dried orange and a sprig of mint, it had to be drunk, tentatively, through a long spout curving up from the base of the glass. All very theatrical, but not without purpose: the sweet applewood smoke curled up through the garnish, adding another dimension to the bittersweet drink.
Having despatched it a little too easily, I hopped off the high stool while I still could and we took our table, a good one, right next to a brick-backed fireplace (top_. Somewhat incongruous amid the modern gloss and glamour, the outsized hearth nevertheless adds character to what could have been a rather cavernous dining room. More blue velvet, on sleek, low-backed chairs, softens the hard-edged sheen. So too does the wallpaper, which sports line drawings of elephants and peacocks.
The kitchen, too, combines the comfortable and contemporary, plucking familiar elements from European and Indian menus and presenting them in refreshing combinations. Guinea fowl tikka is a case in point, as are sirloin kebabs marinated in truffle oil and cumin. The most surprising triumph, however, is the tandoori broccoli (below), a densely flavoured delight that would win over even the most committed carnivore.
Not that meat-eaters are hard done by. They have Gressingham duck breasts to feast upon, or Somerset lamb chops spiked with Kashmiri chillies, or venison either in samosas or served with truffles on naan. At the other end of the spectrum, vegans have a whole menu to themselves. Flexitarians can mix and match: the menu encourages the sharing of small plates, but the more territorial diner can opt for a traditionally defined starter and main course for one.
It would even be possible, as some of the promotional material has suggested, to eat healthily at Kahani, but that would mean foregoing the butter chicken, and you really shouldn’t forego the butter chicken. Nor the naan bread stuffed with melting gruyere, another glory of Eurasion integration, nor the raspberry and cardamom cheesecake with pistachio or salted caramel kulfi.
No, this is not the place for an evening of self-denial, but what good restaurant would want to be that? It’s a place for indulgence, for celebrating a birthday, anniversary or promotion. Or, if none of those can be arranged, then a place to celebrate the elevation of fine Indian food to its rightful place in the pantheon of culinary London.
Kahani, London SW1, kahanirestaurants.com