Kanishka in Mayfair: Daring yet delicate dishes that dismantle our preconceptions of Indian cuisine
The Indian culinary tradition has greatly enriched London’s fine-dining scene since the beginning of the millennium. Its innovation owes a lot to Atul Kochhar, the very first Indian chef in the world to earn a Michelin star. His latest venture Kanishka, founded in collaboration with Tina English, has recently opened in Mayfair, on Maddox Street. This glamorous area of central London is not new to Kochhar, who won his first star nearby at Tamarind and then secured the coveted accolade for his own restaurant Benares – not far away in the district – in 2002.
Behind the new project, there is once again a strong desire to bring the authentic flavours of the country to the table, with unconventional takes that aspire to meet European tastes. With Kanishka, Kochhar aims to offer a unique journey through the food traditions from the so-called seven sisters of India, the furthermost Northeast states: Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. The area is quite an extreme part of the country, bordering the Tibetan region of China, and the dishes exquisitely reflect the mixed food culture, not only in the use of a larger variety of ingredients but also in the cooking techniques, which entail steaming, boiling, grilling and curing – more often than not combined in a single plate.
The dining space extends over two floors. Blue, green and aquamarine tones are predominant, conferring a calm atmosphere which is complemented by vegetation hanging down from the ceiling, growing in the corners and elegantly decorating the walls.
Our dinner begins with a selection of starters. These are a great introduction to one of the key ingredients across all the recipes: chilli. The fruit, which is already a staple of Indian cuisine, can be found in this region in one of its hottest varieties.
The Kolkata Puchkas are a delicious opening treat. The crunchy wheat bubbles contain a succulent core of sprouted mung beans and potatoes, to be finished with spicy sour beetroot water at the leisure of the diner. The Kurkure Soft Shell Crab is a triumph of strong character. The chilli is a bit overwhelming, but once you get over the very hot initial bites, the apple and peanut jhal muri mix well in the mouth, together with the fresh and tasty seafood, to which sweeter notes are added through the passionfruit chutney. The Lamb Sapta is another daring example which delivers extremely palatable results. The dish is inspired by the Lhasa region, affected by the unyielding temperatures of the Himalayas. Accompanied by chilli stir fry and grilled bok choi, the meat releases warm sensations.
The Bhalla Papdi Chaat belongs to a rather different register. After the strong notes of the previous plates, these lentil dumplings prove a refreshing interlude and a truly perfect combination of flavours. Topped with crispy bread chaat, the hints of mint chutney and frozen yoghurt deliver an original, intricate blend.
To accompany our food, we select a couple of cocktails from the drinks menu, which also offers an enviable selection of wines and whiskies. The Floral is the perfect concoction for bubble lovers, without being too fizzy: the elderflower is delicately mixed with the orange blossom for a reinvigorating and mildly sweet taste. The Kanishka Highball is a stronger blend which comprises the house whisky and roast ginger and lemon dry vermouth – a better pairing for the hot dishes.
The best dish arrives with the mains. The Banana Leaf Steamed Seabass offers a top quality fish, finely marinated with sorrel chutney. Every tender mouthful allows the diner to relish the full flavour of the meat, subtly enhanced by the shrimp kachumber.
The Sagolir Manxo is a moreish goat curry. The chops are immersed in a thick sauce, seasoned with cumin and black pepper. With the help of some garlic naan, the plat becomes a hugely enjoyable treat.
To finish our tasting of the very extremes of the broad spectrum of Kanishka’s cuisine, we order Peanut Butter Chikki Parfait and Mixed Berry Ras Rasgulla for dessert. The buttery component of the first dish is pleasingly united with salted caramel chikki, for a velvet pave with a dash of caramelised banana. The rasgulla resembles a sweet soup with small lumps of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and candied paneer spheres. The delicate tastes of every element met in the fennel liquid, without being completely blended or absorbed.
Kanishka is set to recast the conventional idea of the heavy food coming from India. Offering up some daring combinations, Atul Kochhar excels once again in delivering superb dishes.
★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
Photos: Maria Barrios
To book a table at Kanishka, 17-19 Maddox Street London W1S 2QH, call 020 3978 0978 or visit their website here.