As regular Arbuturian readers will know, there is little that I enjoy more than a visit to a top-class Indian restaurant. Some of my recent visits have, admittedly, veered towards the disappointing, but at their best, the delights and opportunities offered by this kind of cuisine ranks amongst London’s finest.
Yet occasionally I find myself feeling slightly overwhelmed by places that are almost in love with their own cleverness. What I want, sometimes, is not frippery and pretension; instead, I want to go somewhere in central London that does good, interesting and traditional food, at fair prices, and does it very well indeed.
Enter Paro, a new arrival in Covent Garden that will not only be ideally placed for theatreland (it’s next door to the Lyceum, perpetual home of The Lion King) but will attract custom from far and wide once word gets out about its high quality. Its chef Niaz Caan- a mere stripling of 23, although you wouldn’t know it from the confident sophistication of his cooking – hails from Brick Lane’s City Spice, and his love of all things Calcuttan is on full display in this well-appointed and stylish spot, which has immediately established itself as one of the most interesting places to go to in Covent Garden.
In some regards, its innovative and gutsy cooking isn’t a million miles away from the endangered India Club at the Strand Hotel nearby, although this is accomplished with infinitely more flair. After a welcome gin and tonic – using excellent A Mari Indian gin – we enjoy starters of unusual sophistication, including the Reshmi kebab, which is carefully spiced lamb mince served up in an egg coating, and a very fine, very moreish cottage cheese roll.
This is accompanied by a very fine bottle of Riesling, which cuts through the spice marvellously. We become giddy and over-order main courses, which include excellent, Tayyabs-level lamb chops; a fine seabass Malai; a garlic naan of ouf dreams; and my companion’s choice, a superb Dum-Dum chicken. The Riesling flows, as does the conversation. We are very happy here.
Puddings are, as usual, something of an afterthought, although we order and enjoy the Gulab Jamun, served with an Irish coffee. (My only minuscule note of criticism is that the menu might usefully include a few cocktails; oh, how I would have loved an Old Fashioned or espresso martini, but alas.) Then it’s time to leave, and we take our departure with enormous reluctance, even as we note the arrival of a gaggle of photogenic young types – perhaps coming in from the play next door? Anyway, make plans to head to Paro soon. I promise you won’t regret it.
Paro, Lyceum Theatre, 21 Wellington Street, London WC2E 7DN. For more information, including details of the pre-theatre offering, and for bookings, please visit www.paroindian.com.