If there’s one thing I’ve found from my experience of eating at Indian restaurants is that no matter the cost or quality of the dishes, the décor is usually dull and dated. So uninspiring, sometimes, it makes me wonder why I bothered at all – which, when you’re eating out in part to escape the monotony of home for the evening, is always a little disappointing.
Potli has put more than a little thought into its looks, managing to create something warm and interesting without being try-hard, and not a gold tassel in sight. Instead, vivid photographs of spices and wise-looking Indian folk brighten up an otherwise white palette; stained glass and wooden lanterns hang from above, casting a great light effect on to the walls; and emerald green, red and sand cushions sit plump against cosy corner booths. If there was a ‘best decorated Indian restaurant’ accolade, they’d scoop it. Not even the toilets have been neglected here, with their covetable Burlington slate cisterns and double-handled wok sinks.
Nose-teasing scents – the sort they should pump out onto the street, Greggs-style, to attract people in – wafted around. We perused the menu while tucking into the moreish crackers and condiments selection, and supping on a cocktail: a clean spicy chilli ginger martini pour moi, and the signature Potli for Adam, who described his cardamom, basil, lemoncello and Hendrick’s gin concoction as “like that massage I had in the Maldives”.
Potli’s tagline, ‘an Indian market kitchen’, gives the pre-visit impression of no-frills, simple fare, the sort of questionable pavement snack one might pick up whilst wandering the streets of Calcutta, not the clean fresh aesthetic morsels served in abundance here.
Old friends and business partners, executive chef Jay Ghosh and manager Uttam Tripathy, who have years of industry experience behind them, have focused on delivering dishes their grandmothers and mothers made at home, as well as highlighting how spices, ingredients and methods differ from region to region. The result is an exciting, and frankly bargainous, selection which strays from the norm, split into six market areas: Chowpatty beach, Mumbai; Chandni Chowk, Delhi; Chowrenghee Lane, Calcutta; Aminabad in Old Lucknow; Fountain Chowk, Ludhiana, Punjab; and Charminar Market in Hyderabad – each one recognised for being the best at street food, tikka masala, roadside snacks, Tandoor dishes, biriyani and breads, respectively.
Do trust the house speciality references on the menu as they justify their title. The Pather ke Gosht starter: soft medallions of double marinated lamb, cooked on granite stone to give a deliciously smoky taste, was sublime; whilst the Prawn Jhal Diye, meaty Indian Ocean king prawns individually wrapped in banana leaves, was griddled to juicy, charred perfection.
There are no shortcuts here; everything, down to the masalas and chutneys, is made in house, something sadly not all restaurants can say. And traditions are upheld, such as with the vindaloo, served here with pork, the way the Goans – who invented the dish – do. Though don’t order it expecting a sweat-inducing experience; expect, instead, pork so tender you could eat it toothless, with a slow creeping spice, subtle fruity sweetness and earthy flakes of root ginger, resulting in a complex deliciousness which would quite rightly be insulted that the other sort is parading around under its name. The Lamb Green Masala is also a must-try, ticking all flavour boxes with welcome hints of fragrant mint, coriander, chillies, fenugreek and pomegranate seeds.
The desserts, unlike the non-descript moulded ice-cream offerings usually listed, actually sounded pretty good, and indeed they were, the saffron and pistachio Shrikhand especially. Though, unless you want to end up feeling so full you think you might pass out, I’d skip that and go for a cup of Potli’s spicy masala chai, the kind of sweet, comforting warmth that reaches out and hugs you before sending you off in to the cold dark evening – a prominent Potli theme from starter to finish.
Potli, 319-321 King Street, London W6 9NH. Tel. 020 8741 4328. Website.