Zaika Kensington – Vegetarian Food with Indian Spice:
The old banking hall which houses Zaika is an imposing building. Despite having been restored less than two years ago, inside it feels as if you’ve stepped back into the days of the Raj. The dining room is lush with plants, traditional Indian art is complemented by wood panelling and ornate plasterwork, seating is on comfy leather chairs or banquettes. There’s a well stocked bar serving some amazing cocktails and, even when it is busy, high ceilings and careful table layout stop the place feeling crowded. I’d been to Zaika before, but this time I was invited to try the Vegetarian Tasting Menu – a special for National Vegetarian Week – one which I was assured can be provided on request at any time.
As a die-hard carnivore, I can find it hard to know what to recommend to vegetarian friends. Especially when it’s an issue of finding a tasting menu that works for both veggies and meat eaters. Indian food is always a good place to start because in many parts of India the traditional diet is vegetarian or largely vegetarian. Awadhi cuisine, on which the Zaika menu is based, comes from Northern India in Lucknow. Paneer is an important ingredient, along with mutton and the food is flavoured with rich spices including saffron and cardamon. The vegetarian tasting menu prepared for National Vegetarian Week included thirteen dishes with some of Zaika’s best loved like the truffle naan and dal makhni alongside dishes of paneer and vegetables.
Starters of Papdi Chaat, Tandoor cooked spiced crusted broccoli and Aloo Tikki were paired with Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. A good introduction to what was to follow, I particularly enjoyed the broccoli which had just enough bite and was spiced so carefully that the flavour of the vegetable itself wasn’t overwhelmed.
Then, a veritable banquet appeared. It was almost impossible to take photos with the table heaving under the weight of delicious food, but this dish of Palak Paneer, with an onion and tomato masala, cumin and garlic tempered spinach puree was something that would satisfy the cravings of any meat eater
A challenge for me is was to find a particular favourite but I do love Dal Makhni and could happily just eat Dal with truffle naan all evening.
Of course there were more wine pairings – Cannonball Chardonnay from Sonoma County California with the Paneer and Humberto Canale Estate Malbec from Argentian with the Aloo Gobi (and in my case with copious quantities of Dal). We had a beautiful dish of saffron pilau rice and truffled naan and a second dish of Paneer, together with mixed sprouts and potato skeweres served with mint and a dry ginger chutney. And, by the time we’d finished, neither of us thought dessert would be an option.
Who could resist this perfect plate of Kulfi though? especially when served up with a Tokaji late harvest dessert wine.
A perfect end to the meal.
So, if you are looking for somewhere to dine in style with a vegetarian friend, I’d recommend the tasting menu at Zaika. You’ll need to make a special request and order in advance, but the staff advised me that they could happily accommodate this kind of dining even if it’s NOT National Vegetarian Week.
1 Kensington High Street
W8 5NP, London