WLC’s resident gourmand, Lucy Shaw, heads to high-end Indian Kahani in Sloane Square for gargantuan smoked Malabar prawns and an elegant Indian Chardonnay.
The concept: Indian food is enjoying its moment in the sun in London as the trend for Indian tapas gathers pace. The capital’s Indian offering has splintered into three prongs. At one end are stalwarts like Tamarind in Mayfair – the first Indian restaurant in Europe to wine a Michelin star – and grande dame Veeraswamy, which has welcomed everyone from Ghandi to Charlie Chaplin.
At the opposite end are cool, kooky small plates sites like Kricket, known and loved for its KFC (Keralan fried chicken), Gunpowder in Spitalfields, which isn’t shy of explosive flavours, and Chef’s Table star Asma Khan’s Darjeeling Express.
Filling the hole in the middle are venues that blend the best of both worlds, offering Michelin quality dishes in a relaxed environment. Indian Accent and Gymkhana in Mayfair pull off this double act with flair, and newcomer Kahani in Slone Square looks set to replicate this winning formula.
The décor: Located in the basement of a red brick townhouse next to Cadogan Hall, Kahani has taken over what was once Le Circle, and more recently Canvas, which launched to much fanfare then slipped off the radar.
Meaning ‘story’ in Hindi, Kahani is the debut solo venture of head chef Peter Joseph, who worked at Tamarind for over a decade, helping guide it to its Michelin star, having been made head chef in 2012.
While basement restaurants can often feel dark, dingy and depressing, Kahani’s stylist has cleverly made the most of the space, brightening it with white walls prettified with intricate mosaics in relief.
Staff wear racing green waistcoats, while the booths, banquettes and chairs are a sophisticated shade of petrol blue. Both the wine cellar and the kitchen are open for all to see. We were sat next to the cellar, leaving us free to drool over the liquid treasures within arms reach.
The food: Working with British seasonal ingredients, Joseph takes inspiration from his childhood in Tamil Nadu in Southern India, giving traditional dishes a contemporary twist. Prices are reasonable for its postcode, with starters ranging from £8-12 and mains around the £20 mark.
Hoping to encourage camaraderie and conversation, all of the dishes are designed to be shared. Some of the most interesting things we tried came early on in the meal. The soft shell crab arrives whole, its perfectly preserved form encased in a crispy coat of armour. Served with generous dollops of gentle Mangalorian spices, it’s a show stopper of a dish designed for Instagram.
A pair of Bengali beet cakes encased in a Rice Krispies-like poppadum crust were wonderfully earthy and sweet. Less successful were the soggy savoury donuts drenched in cold yoghurt and tangy tamarind.
Signature dishes: The highlight of the night were the gargantuan smoked Malabar prawns luxuriating in an aromatic turmeric, coconut and curry leaf sauce. I’ve never seen, let alone eaten such enormous prawns.
The flavour was incredible – juicy, tender and humming with subtle spices, they were joyous, the natural sweetness of the prawns heightened by the smoky flavours from the robata grill and the creaminess of the coconut. Rarely have I eaten a dish so intensely flavoured executed with such elegance.
Rather brazenly, Kahani only offers three curries: paneer masala, butter chicken and fish curry. We opted for the failsafe butter chicken, which didn’t disappoint. A brilliant burnt orange hue, the meat was super silky and the sauce intensely creamy, with a subtle maple syrup sweetness from the fenugreek.
Helping to mop up the sauce was a fragrant biryani, triangles of glossy garlic naan and crunchy poppadum dipped in a sublime pineapple chutney.
The drinks: The small and carefully crafted wine list is presided over by Italian sommelier Ennio Pucciarelli, who was rather retrained with his measures but treated me to a taste of some of the treasures from his cellar, including a stunning Margaret River Chenin Blanc called CBDB made by Shelley Cullen (sister of Vanya) and Nic Peterkin. Crafted with minimal intervention from old vines in Willyabrup, the golden-hued wine offered enticing aromas of peach, honeysuckle and almond.
The white highlight of the by the glass offering was flamboyant Frenchman Jean-Charles Boisset’s Indian venture J’Noon. A blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Sauvignon Blanc from India’s Akluj district in Maharashtra, the wine has bags of character, blending crisp green apple, sweet white pear and zingy lemongrass aromas enveloped in creamy toasty oak.
Who to know: Wine and beverage manager Ennio Pucciarelli will take you on a guided tour of the cellar if you ask him nicely.
Don’t leave without: Swinging by the bar for a cocktail. The list is divided into three sections, inspired by the three gunas (threads) present in all things: sattva (balance), rajas (passion) and tamas (darkness). My Tequila-laced Harmonious cocktail from the sattva section blended blanco Tequila with sage, lime juice, apple liqueur and pear purée in a punchy, refreshing ensemble.
Last word: Kahani is a welcome addition to London’s buzzing Indian restaurant scene and will no doubt become a regular haunt for Sloane Rangers. It faces competition from the likes of Indian Accent, Tamarind and Trishna, but Peter Joseph’s experience at the cutting edge of Indian fine dining ensures guests are in safe hands.
Kahani, 1 Wilbraham Place, London SW1X 9AE; Tel: +44 (0)20 7730 7634