Flora Indica in Chelsea
For the many Londoners unable to escape to sunnier climes this summer, a step in the right direction on the Brompton Road in West London will lead to an adventure of its own, as they find themselves in Flora Indica. This new British restaurant and bar boasts an Indian twist, and is inspired by the 1855 publication of the same name, which saw botanist Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker document the flora of India. Today, the restaurant seeks to establish itself as a top destination for fusion Indian cooking that celebrates botanicals on each plate and in each refreshment.
The beautiful split-level space provides an immersive experience for customers who could be forgiven for thinking they’ve exited the 21st century. Every detail of the décor, down to the beautiful embroidery on each table napkin, has been carefully considered. No expense has been spared to create a beautiful dining room: chairs are made of Scottish heritage tweed and butter-soft leather from Italy, alongside American marble tabletops and Hungarian wooden flooring. Memorabilia decks every wall, from steam-powered machinery to pipe work, floral designs and spice jars. The result is an area that embodies authenticity with heavy, yet also understated historical touches from a colonial era.
Our journey at Flora Indica begins with the selection of botanical Shrubs. Made with fruit and spices, such as cardamom and rosemary, these old-fashioned squashes are mixed to our liking with herbs and tonic water, creating a pleasantly sweet and refreshing drink to quench our thirst. Alongside these, we enjoy fresh bread with whipped butter peppered with masala, setting the tone for an evening of flavour and spice.
To start, we choose the tempting 63oC Duck Egg, served on a nest of upmarket Bombay mix made from savoury spiced potato crisp batons, onion seeds and pine nuts. The egg itself, cooked sous-vide, is rich and creamy and contrasts with a smoky mayonnaise of burnt onion. Seeming a little off-kilter at first, a couple of mouthfuls quickly highlight the textural marriage of each element in the dish. The plating of Clay Oven-Grilled Octopus Tentacles shows off artistry in an array of colourful heritage carrots served over a slick of jet-black octopus ink. Pickling techniques also shine, with sharpness and crunch adding excitement, which is somewhat needed as the octopus, although tender, lies at the blander end of the flavour spectrum.
Looking to steer away from the common stereotype of Indian food in Britain, which is often rammed full of fiery chillies, the only dish on the menu that packs any real heat is the Clay Oven-Grilled Chicken entree. It is marinated in yoghurt for 24 hours and supremely tender, with added flavour from a chaat made with carrots, corn and mango that coats every mouthful of chicken. Texture is derived from corn kernels that garnish the plate like jewels, adding a plump bite, while hidden pieces of mango offer sweetness to help dissipate some of the fire of the chaat. The rice crisp adds a welcome crispy element to the dish, while serving as a handy tool to mop up the remaining chaat from the plate.
16h Sous-Vide Pork Belly makes up the second main of the evening. Served with a spiced apple puree, tender-stem broccoli and a potato rösti, the plate sings with mirroring geometry and clean lines. Made with the same ingredients as the Bombay mix starter, this time around the rösti is soft and comforting. The diner is spoilt for choice with two complementary purees adding freshness and fragrance, made possible with the infusion of house blend tea and edible flowers such as violet and orchid. The pork itself is as expected, given its cooking technique: moist and gelatinous in the right measure, served with a jus of star anise, cinnamon and stock made from lamb bone marrow.
To finish, we choose the Cardamom-Spiced Chocolate Mousse and the Smoked Fig, the latter of which is a tonka bean custard dotted with fresh blueberry halves and sweet figs that are firm outside and jammy within. Thin slices of fried lotus flower root, coated in sugar and cinnamon, offer an unusual sweet potato-like flavour to the plate. Overall, the dish is delicate and enjoyable, if a little too sweet and in need of a counterbalancing ingredient.
Flora Indica delivers an exciting, involving journey across time and place through thoughtful décor, high-quality cooking techniques and menu choices. With two bars, including a dedicated gin bar, and plenty of cocktails to choose from, there is little doubt that this new restaurant has the potential to become a firm favourite in the area and beyond.★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
Photos: Matthew Pull
To book a table at Flora Indica, 242 Old Brompton Road London SW5 0DE, call 0207 370 4450 or visit here.