Carom at Meza, the most eclectic mix in Soho
For more than a decade, 100 Wardour Street has been associated with the glamour and glitz of London dining, epitomised with Terence Conran’s Mezzo. Since Mezzo, the site has undergone several makeovers, with the most recent being Carom, a modern Indian restaurant located on the ground floor of this site. The lounge bar Meza has now been incorporated into Carom with Cuban bar and restaurant Floridita remaining on the lower ground of the same building, providing an eclectic and slightly confusing mix.
The kitchen at Carom is overseen by head chef Balaji Balachander, previously sous chef at the Michelin-starred Benares. Although a native of Chennai, Balachander has created a menu which is pan-Indian in flavour. Carom shares the same concept as many other restaurants in the capital of sharing a number of “small plates” amongst diners. The small-plate food offering might appeal to those popping into the lounge bar for a drink to also indulge in a light bite.
Many of the dishes in the “Favourites” and “Tandoor” section of the menu would be suitable for sharing/grazing, as well as forming part of a more substantial meal. Bhelpuri, a popular Indian snack, was a lovely, savoury dish of puffed rice and vegetables combined with a tangy tamarind sauce and crunchy pomegranate seeds. Deep fried squid with spring onion and chilli coriander dip was tender and flavoursome but let down by being soggy. From the tandoor, Chicken Malai Tikka had the perfect combination of smokiness and chilli heat whilst remaining moist and tender. In contrast, grilled lamb cutlets with sprouted lentil salad disappointed by being bland and overcooked.
The menu at Carom is flexible to accommodate for a more “a la carte” style of dining, with the option of picking one of the dishes above as a starter before choosing something from the “Curry” and “Sides” section as a main course. Unfortunately, the choices here are less than inspiring; Butter Chicken was competent but nothing special whilst Salmon Hariyali (tandoor cooked salmon with mint, coriander and lime leaf) was oddly slimy and unappetising. Breads, so often a staple of Indian cuisine, were poorly executed. The only highlight from this part of the meal came from the green beans and water chestnut “poriyal” – a unique combination of ingredients, which are not usually found in Indian cooking producing a refreshing and tasty dish.
Desserts attempt to combine British classics such as Bread and Butter Pudding with an Indian twist in terms of flavours and spices (fennel and ginger). On paper, they promised a lot but failed to deliver so I would recommend sticking with the tried and tested kulfis (Indian ice cream, available in mango or pistachio).
Carom has the potential to recapture the heady days of Mezzo but has a long way to go yet. The lounge bar continues to serve innovative drinks (Maharaja Fizz, Buddhatini) and attract the Soho crowd; the food offering, whilst showing fleeting glimpses of brilliance, needs improvement and consistency of quality.
As of Tuesday 20 March 2012, Carom will be serving lunch, Monday to Friday midday to 3pm. The lunch menu will offer wraps, Carom lunch boxes and “curries of the day” which are available for both eat in and take away.