Kanishka by Atul Kochar


We tend to think we know Indian food and all it has to offer (let’s face it, many of us have just about grown up with it) and as the nation’s favourite dish is chicken tikka masala that might be understandable. There is, however, a lot more to Indian cuisine – or should that be cuisines – than you might think.

The reason for the plural here is that the various regions of India each have their own very distinctive dishes and flavours and Kanishka in Mayfair is just the place to discover them. Renowned Indian chef, Atul Kochhar has just launched his new menu there with a regional focus and recipes from Punjab to Kerala, Kolkatta to Delhi and just about everywhere in between. He also brings into the mix some of the best produce the UK has to offer with dishes that bear witness to his flair and originality. You won’t find in your usual Indian restaurant a bonda comprising a Cromer crab fritter with grilled corn, apple salad, kimchi and chilli-tamarind chutney. Or how about Tamil podi masala with pan-seared hand-dived Orkney scallop?

This is quite a menu and – taking the path of least resistance and greatest culinary delights – I went for Kanishka’s new tasting menu as an introduction to an array of rather unique dishes. This turned out (if I say so myself) to be an inspired choice, especially when complemented by the accompanying flight of wines which started with a fine glass of Champagne and included a quite heavenly mango wine (who knew?) that was served with the crab.

Even before all this, there was an amuse bouche of two tiny boules, one sweet, one spicy that melted on the tongue. It was a foretaste of what was to come both in terms of delight and also portions. I have been defeated by tasting menus before. Here – with the exception of the main course and you can, as I did, skip the bread and the rice – the quantities were perfectly manageable.

The first course was Dahl Puri a delicate crisp wheat bubble sweetened with yoghurt and tamarind that, as the waiter advised, you should pop whole into your mouth (or it could get messy). After this, there are choices to be made. First on the list, though, there was no hesitation and both the Major and I went for that Crab Bonda, a quite delicious medley of sweetness and sharpness, served with that gorgeous mango wine.

At this point, the Major and I diverged. He chose the Rosemary Sheekh Kebab – the menu promised a British accent here and he was delighted with the minty yoghurt dressing. The wine for this was a New Zealand Pinot noir while I had a Pouilly-Fume that perfectly complemented my Monkfish Tikka with its sweet coconut sauce and crispy kale.

The main courses were Meen Mappas (pan-fried sea bass in a rich tomato sauce) for the Major and, for me, Baghar-ae-Baigan (aubergine filled with vegetable mince) all served with crispy cauliflower, black daal, bread and rice. I had, to be honest, to slow down a bit on the side dishes here because there was one final course to come and we shared Pistachio Kulfi and Chai Crème Brulee.

I was seriously impressed. This is proper cooking, with real ingenuity and flair and the presentation, too, is superb. As an introduction to a very different style of Indian cooking, you can’t go wrong with the tasting menu and, just in case it sounds like a challenge, there is a lighter lunchtime version, too. Kanishka is quite a discovery in every sense.

Kanishka, 17-19 Maddox Street, Mayfair, London, W1S 2QH. For more information, including details of Sunday Supper Club and the Weekend Brunch, and for bookings, please visit www.kanishkarestaurant.co.uk.

For the month of January, Kanishka have launched a limited-edition Vegan Tasting Menu. Created by Head Chef Ashok Kumar, the tasting menu includes seven courses that showcase the best of plant-based Indian cuisine. Highlights include Chef’s choice of canapés; Dahi Puri (vegan yoghurt, potato and chickpea with tamarind), stuffed baby peppers with coconut and kale, and a delicious Valrhona Vegan chocolate brownie with muscovado ice-cream. The Vegan Tasting Menu is priced at £95 per person, with an optional wine pairing for £69.