Foie Gras is one the last things you would expect to find on an Indian restaurant menu, but at Chokhi Dhani the eclectic and extravagant rub shoulders with the everyday – to, at times, stunning effect.
Located in the once off-limits Nine Elms area of Battersea, south London, the restaurant is just a stone’s throw away from the new US embassy, and one of a number of new openings making up London’s burgeoning ‘diplomatic quarter’ dining scene.
The first London outpost of five-star Rajansthani restaurant and hotel chain, Chokhi Dhani combines Michelin-star pedigree and the traditions of Indian street food with a touch of high-end French cooking.
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A ground floor bar area, replete with a 15ft bronze elephant, serves cocktails and small street food plates, making way for a fine-dining restaurant upstairs.
A welcome cocktail comprising Bulleit Bourbon, fresh basil, grapefruit, masala tea, topped with prosecco (Tulsi Spritz) seems perfectly in keeping with the surroundings, where the owners have opted for opulence over understatement at every turn.
Tapping in to the Dishoom-boom for Indian street food with a twist, head chef Vishnu Natarajan, who most recently cut his teeth at Soho’s Carom, attempts a contemporary take on traditional Rajasthani cooking, which offers up some surprising and, on the whole, successful culinary combinations.
Starters of vegetarian dumplings served with chickpea in a crispy grated-potato basket (kadak momo chaat) and prawn kempu bexule are superb whilst also being suitably light although the highly recommended Khargosh, pulled slow cooked rabbit with Bhaang (a legal form of edible cannabis) served on a missi roti was a rare misstep in an otherwise hugely assured menu.
Unlike many British Indian restaurants, Natarajan has opted for a less-is-more approach – perhaps saving all the sensory overload for the decor – while still managing to pack a huge punch with his slimmed-down menu.
On offer are classic tandoor and signature dishes such as aromatic chicken murgh joshila, jumbo tiger prawns served in the shell and bamboo seafood pilau served in banana leaves with spiced chutneys but it is the foie gras tandoor that will, inevitably, get people talking.
Some may balk at the sheer extravagance of combining the rich flavours of Indian cuisine with the heavy luxury of foie gras and pumpkin (a world-first we are told) but here it works to near-perfection and is almost worth the trip to Battersea by itself.
Perhaps sensing our apprehension, our waiter suggests the vegetarian maharani thali or meat maharaja thali feast which, while comprising over 12 dishes, serves as a perfect complement to the foie gras.
Some of the best offerings are reserved for desert, with a menu that delivers a fresh take on the usual staid staples.
Classic Indian sweets of gulab jamun and frozen ginger and honey kulfi served with mango gel and mango and cardoman panna cotta are given a much-needed refresh and are joined by a rose crème brulee served in a honey-comb with balsamic, rose petal relish and meringue.
All were excellent, but for carrying on the French-inspiration and providing a delicious counterweight to some of the heavier mains, the crème brulee just edges it.
As is so often the case with Indian food, it is easy to go overboard when ordering, especially when there is this much to recommend, and as you would expect from the plates on offer it is not cheap.
Dishes range from £8 for a starter to £22 for the must-try foie gras tandoor plate, with the 12-dish vegetarian or meat thalis, ideal for sharing, going for £25.
But as part of its soft opening until 11 April, the restaurant is offering up to 50% off food – so get a reservation if you can – if only to experience the foie gras dish and deserts.
Talking to Natarajan afterwards it is clear he is keen to develop and refine the menu, but if opening night is anything to go by – he has an excellent base from which to work.
2 Riverlight Quays, Nine Elms Road, Battersea, south London; chokhidhani.co.uk
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