You, cosmopolitan reader of Luxuriate, are bound to be have noticed that we do love an up-market Indian restaurant!
Kanishka in the heart of Mayfair is Atul Kochhar’s latest restaurant and It’s no ordinary Indian menu (if such a thing exists in the holy sanctum of Kochhar’s kitchens) with major influences drawn from the country’s ‘seven sisters’ states of the northeast.
This region of India has a distinct food culture and the approach to cooking is one of elevated simplicity, relying less on oil and spice than other parts of the country and focusing on the expert combination of quality ingredients. Surrounded by China, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, and connected to the rest of India by a thin corridor along the Mahananda River, the region draws influence from its neighbours, distinguishing it from the northern Indian cuisine that is better known on the British High Street.
Despite that, we start with a selection of poppadums and a thick chilli jam, an unctuous blood-red syrupy delight that coagulates upon the crisp discs made from a variety of flours.
Next, three scallops arrive on a mound of parsnip puree. A combination that takes you on a journey from sweet parsnip, to a smoked chilli spice, salved and enhanced by the sea-like salinity of the puree and spotted with pockets of infinitesimally diced pineapple and mango.
This concept of the journey – or perhaps crescendo – is a theme of the menu, with Kanishka excelling in the spice by stealth approach – a feature, perhaps of this region’s tendency to prefer a single spice over a blend. Our other starter, the grilled pigeon is a patty of tender breast meat and plays with an insouciance of sweet delicate game, but is corralled by earthy shimeji mushroom and beetroot ketchup.
Before the mains arrive, we pause for breath and to order a bottle of the Dolcetto D’Alba, a dry, tannic red wine from Piedmont. The 2017 release brings a dash of prune and dark chocolate, but is overall a light red wine with a hint of spice, making it an ideal companion for the developing chillies of Kanishka’s menu. Look out also for a list of Indian inspired cocktails.
To continue the journey, the Malai Kori – thick slabs of sunburnt monkfish lounge upon a lilo of grill-crossed aubergine, delightfully adrift in a sea of creamy coconut curry; and “Dad’s” Murg Makhani – the tandoor cooked chicken tikka that is then simmered in San Marzano and fenugreek gravy. The slow build returns here and rounded pieces of tender chicken lurk amongst a deep dish of sauce with a rich, smoky flavour. For mere seconds I was minded to describe the accompanying signature black dal as Marmite-like in its flavour, but my guest, a Marmite hater, was enthralled, so we must settle for calling it an iron-rich and umami lentil soup with a pique of truffle oil.
Dessert was a brilliant quivering brick of peanut butter pave for one – accompanied by brittle salted caramel chikki, caramelised banana and 24-carat gold leaf (it’s Mayfair after all) and a dark chocolate sphere filled with mousse, passion fruit and salted caramel that splits slowly and invitingly on the table.
One may speculate about why the design team from the exquisite Tamarind didn’t make the half-mile pilgrimage to Kanishka, or perhaps the crushed coral velvet banquettes are on their way. Décor aside, with Atul at the helm and head chef Sameer Taneja crossing New Bond Street with him, one cannot ignore the fact that this is a team to maintain faith in the quality of high-end Indian food being served in W1.
To discover more and book, visit: kanishkarestaurant.co.uk
By Alex Mennie
Food images by Jodi Hinds Photography. Interior image by Johnny Stephens.