Vineet Bhatia London review: a magnificent symphony
Set aside your preconceptions of Indian food with an inspired tasting menu that breaks all the rules
From the moment you step into Vineet Bhatia London, you know there will be nothing ordinary about your meal.
I should have realised a few minutes before, when I turned off the King's Road on to Lincoln Street and found no evidence of the restaurant I was seeking. No plate glass windows, no painted hoardings – just an unbroken terrace of stucco and sash windows.
Having made sure I was in the right place, I approached No 10 and rang the unmarked bell on the solid front door. It was opened, to my relief, by someone who seemed to be expecting me. I followed him into the hallway of the Victorian townhouse and turned right into what ought to have been the sitting room and which remains, despite the presence of five dining tables, distinctly residential. The menu, however, is anything but.
The man behind this ambitious venture, Vineet Bhatia, has form. Having tired of the strictly traditional philosophy of the Oberoi hotel in Mumbai, where he was chef de cuisine until 1993, he decamped to London and made his acquaintance with the "curious Anglo-Indian spicy stews" sold in Taj Mahals and Stars of India across the UK.
He took over his own Star of India – the one in the Brompton Road, South Kensington – and set about putting it right. Out went the gloopy tikka masala and in came real Indian food, prepared with the kind of inventiveness that would have raised eyebrows at the Oberoi.
Other restaurants followed, then Michelin stars, and now Vineet Bhatia London, which is perhaps what he was aiming for all along: a place of his own, with a tasting menu that draws liberally from his own biography.
Indian flavours predominate, but there are nods too to British and French traditions. The preparation is also eclectic, drawing from elements of molecular gastronomy as well as a simpler, heartier approach that caters to the rising appetite for high-quality street food.
The menu sets out to break as many conventions as possible: raan uttapam, one of four small starters, consists of a rice pancake more usually eaten for breakfast in southern India, bearing lamb in a warmly spiced sauce, most definitely a dish for an evening meal. It follows generous cubes of haddock, coated in squid-ink batter and deep fried, which I had taken as a nod to the great British chippie. In fact, it's based on a recipe from Amritsar, in the far north of India – proof that fish and chips is too good an idea to be invented only once.
An even better idea, however, is the prawn chaat (above), which arrives wreathed in smoke and bearing the whiff of cordite and bonfire night. The prawns are sweet and plump and delicious. As is the pork chop, which looks further east for its inspiration, borrowing fried rice noodles and a soy and honey glaze from the Chinese palette.
The dish most familiar from British takeaways is the korma, even if duck breast would be pushing it on most high streets (perhaps not Chelsea's). The least conventional is foie gras with beet macaroon. Having recently learnt elsewhere that banana ice cream does not go well with liver pate, I picked at the macaroon with some trepidation, but I was in safe hands here. The beetroot-infused biscuit is earthy and savoury, with just a hint of sweetness to complement the richness of the pate.
Wines are available by the glass or bottle, but this is an occasion to opt for the paired wine flight. A truly international tour, it takes in a creamy Hindleap Blanc de Blancs from Sussex and a bright Bulgarian tribute to white Chateauneuf-du-Pape, as well as wines from Argentina, Hungary, Spain and France.
It's all a magnificent symphony. Even the one off-note of the evening resulted from a moment of misplaced harmony. When our waitress and a waiter at the neighbouring table brought out the same dish at the same time, they began to recite its origin story within a few seconds of each other, and soon they had settled into unison. Our waitress laughed, paused, and set off again a few seconds later, more slowly this time, still smiling.
We smiled too, and kept smiling all the way to the end of the meal, which came in a flurry of chai fudge, saffron jellies and chocolate petits fours. As I stepped back out through the front door and waved farewell, I worked out what Vineet Bhatia has accomplished here: it's the world's most sophisticated supper club.
[ital] Vineet Bhatia London is at 10 Lincoln Street, London SW3; vineetbhatia.london