Vineet Bhatia returns to London with Chelsea fine-dining Indian restaurant
At times, Vineet Bhatia London feels less like a restaurant and more like the lair of a slightly crazed gastronomic inventor. It ticks all the fine-dining boxes – white linen, impeccably attentive staff, beautiful location, exotic plating – yet there’s more to it than that, much more. The secret lies in the eponymous chef himself, whose passion and skill made him the first Indian chef to earn a Michelin star in 2001. There’s a twinkle in his eye and a grin on his face as he ducks out of the kitchen and into the intimate dining room. You get the distinct sense that he innovates not just because he wants to serve the best possible dishes, but because he genuinely adores the process of creation. It shows in a tasting menu that’s bordering on encyclopedic in length, comprised of 20 separate elements served over 16 courses.
We start with a selection of six amuse bouches, the highlight of which is an Aloo Yoghurt Chaat, which comes with a pipette full of yoghurt already placed inside. It seems like a novelty, but there’s sound logic behind it: adding the yoghurt right before consumption allows diners to experience the contrast between the perfect crisp of the potato and the creamy yoghurt.
Smoked Salmon is served beneath a tiny glass dome, a misty veil of smoke dancing across its surface. It’s revealed with a flourish, and the aromatic whisper has our tastebuds tingling before we’ve even taken a bite. Again, it’s spiced to perfection. Mushroom Momo, served on a half-broken plate, is the absolute highlight of the evening. The momo itself is light and rich, the mushrooms elevated by a hint of truffle. It’s their accompaniment, a tomato ice cream, that really makes the dish great though. The simple contrast between hot and cold is one that’s remarkably hard to pull off, but here it works perfectly, the initial heat of the momo fading into cool waves of rich tomato ice cream. Malai Chicken is served with a delicate white tomato korma and a tomato crisp, forming an intense blast of umami that’s remarkably moreish, as well as visually stunning. A slick of saag provides some minerality to cut through the whole thing but is thankfully scarce enough not to dominate. It’s perfectly paired with a 2012 Dominant, whose cleanness really brings out the buttery notes in the korma.
Grilled Lobster is stunningly tender and served with and a squid ink air. It’s a great dish, but we’re not entirely convinced by the accompanying dhokla, which absorbs the air rapidly and becomes a little too wet. A Kapi Lamb Chop is matched with a coffee sauce, and the robustness of the two balances out nicely, each firmly able to hold their own.
Himalayan Salt Kulfi is perhaps the most striking thing we eat all evening: a long block of pink salt topped with a caramel kulfi and blacked quinoa. The latter ingredient raises some eyebrows but it provides an almost popcorn-like crunch to proceedings that keeps the dish varied, as do the crisps of sesame on top. Chocomosa is one of Bhatia’s classic dishes: a sweet samosa that’s filled with an intense chocolate paste. It’s served with a shot of pistachio milk and a chocolate covered golgappa, with the shot being poured into the hollowed shell. Just as earlier with the chaat, it’s a perfect pairing of crisp exterior and luxurious liquid that form an light but indulgent contrast.
A selection of petit four and hot drinks finish the meal, the highlight of which are the beautifully floral ginger and rose jub-jub, and little cubes of buttery chai ganache. They emphasise something that has been apparent throughout the evening: Bhatia’s talent for subtlety. Whether it’s spice, garnish or any other form of flavour, it’s always applied with a cautious hand, careful never to fall into the taste-bud blasting brutality that often plagues other interpretations of Indian cuisine.
With such a remarkable legacy behind him, Vineet Bhatia was always going to go down in the history books. This latest tasting menu though, packed with ingenuity, charm and an almost tangible excitement, is a surefire sign that’s it far too soon to be writing his entry just yet.
Photos: Earl Smith and Matt Inwood
To book a table at Vineet Bhatia London, 10 Lincoln St London SW3 2TS, call 020 7225 1881or visit here.