Stylish Indian in Notting Hill – Chakra:
Home to some of the best vintage clothes shops in London, to the vibrant annual carnival and to chic boutiques and galleries, Notting Hill is not somewhere I particularly associate with Indian food. So, it is perhaps fitting that walking into Chakra you could be in any one of the contemporary boutiques or restaurants in the area. A sea of cream upholstery, beautiful flowers and pretty chandeliers complement the dark wood tables and floor. It feels like the sort of place you’d meet up with your fashionable friends for lunch or spend a romantic evening. And, the fact that it has a fabulous contemporary Indian menu too is just an added bonus.
Once again I was joined by Manjiri, an Indian food blogging friend, for lunch. I love getting the inside track on the food I’m being served by taking along someone who really understands the cuisine and it definitely helps me try things I might otherwise not have considered.
We started with some rather lush cocktails which arrived with tiny light popadoms and a little jar of chutney. Then an amuse bouche in the form of Ramja Galouti – a red kidney bean kebab served with green coriander and mint chutney and saffron yoghurt. I could easily become a vegetarian if this kind of food was available every day – it had a wonderful texture and was perfectly spiced to just tease us into ordering far too much for the rest of the lunch!
Starting enthusiastically we ordered three dishes. There are some intriguing options, including Curry Patta Burrata – a fusion dish I find hard to imagine. I was feeling a little cowardly, so my choice of Amritsar Kali Mirch was perhaps one of the most conservative dishes on the menu, but one I was drawn to by the description of ‘English Chicken’. ‘Delicately marinated with crushed black pepper, garlic and coriander cooked the Amritsar way’. My understanding is that Amritsar cuisine is typified by rich, Indian banqueting dishes. This dish didn’t disappoint, though it was light and fresh, not what I’d expected at all.
The chicken came with a minty, coriander chutney and was moist and tender without having any hint of butter or oil – not an easy feat with these tiny morsel of chicken breast
Meanwhile, Manjiri had insisted we tried the Ajwaini Machli and the Garlic Scallops
Ajwaini Machli is a kind of fish dish cooked in spiced batter. I can still hear Manjiri saying ‘So good’ over and over again as she took another piece of the fish (tilapia was used here) and dipped it into the green coriander and mint chutney and yoghurt. The batter was very light, fragrant with garlic & carom seeds, ginger and coriander and the fish perfectly cooked
Scallops were wonderfully plump, served with a simple marinade of roasted carom and garlic chilli oil and a side dish of spiced yoghurt. The sort of dish it would be all too easy to spoil, but served to perfection here
For our main courses we picked a couple of showcase dishes – Black Cod for me and Venison Galouti for Manjiri.
My initial reaction to the Black Cod was that it looked a little overcooked, but that turned out to be just the effect of the marinate of cracked pepper, yoghurt and lime which meant that even though the fish was roasted in the tandoor it remained moist and flaky.
Manjiri clearly loved her Venison Galouti – I don’t have a picture, which suggests it was eaten at lightening speed!
And, we asked for a selection of side dishes. That resulted in another ‘more that we can possibly eat’ moment, though I have no regrets. A particular favourite for me was the Chakra Channa
Spiced roasted chickpeas that I could happily have eaten as a main course.
And, I loved the Masala Asparagus, though on paper I was not convinced. What looked as if it could be a bechamel sauce turned out to be white sesame paste, which with the roasted cumin added just a little spice to perfectly roasted asparagus that was tender but still had just a little bite.
Potatoes were nicely cooked, spiced with mustard seed, ginger and chilli
And the pilau was nutty and buttery
There was more, we had a taste of a rich Jalandhar chicken – a Punjab classic that is perhaps the closest authentic dish to Chicken tikka masala. Chakra Daal was again delicious and something I could have eaten happily as a main dish. Manjiri was happy with it too, a great accolade since it’s a staple dish in many Indian households and one that I’ve often heard criticised in restaurants.
The little palate cleanser of sorbet was almost uneccessary because all the food was light and perfectly flavoured so that although I felt full, I didn’t have that numbed mouth sensation you sometimes get from eating a lot of spicy dishes.
I’m not normally a fan of kulfi – it tends to be a little too sweet for me, but this mango kulfi was nicely piquant and beautifully creamy.
Manjiri meanwhile was a little disappointed by the mishti doi, which she thought was closer to a Shrikhand. Having only ever tried the latter, I can’t really comment other than to say it tasted very nice but did resemble the version of shrikhand I learnt to cook from Anjum Anand
Now, I was invited to review Chakra before I was told about this year’s Curry for Change. But I was delighted to discover that they are taking part in the event. Find your Feet was started in 1960 by Carol Martin to support Eastern European refugees. Since then, the organisation has evolved into one that supports long term rural development projects. Curry for Change is a part of that inititiative.
Curry for Change will help to change the lives of families living in rural Africa and Asia by helping them to grow enough food so that they do not need to go hungry, by giving them a voice to allow them to speak out against injustice, and to enable them to earn enough money so that they can find their feet. And, for the whole month of June, some of London’s top Indian restaurants will be supporting Curry for Change through a variety of promotions. More on that later, but at Chakra during June you will have the opportunity to add a discretionary donation of £1 to your bill. And, that donation will be matched pound for pound by Natco Foods, the UK’s leading producer of herbs, spices and pulses. A great way to make more of a difference.
Find out more about the Curry for Change campaign by visiting www.curryforchange.org.uk.
Or, just book a table at Chakra during June
157-159 Notting Hill Gate
London W11 3LF