Stepping out in Notting Hill:
It’s funny how us Londoners tend to stick to our own patch of town which is familiar and we only venture further north or south if one of our friends dares to suggest that we “try somewhere new”! That’s why I enjoy doing these reviews because it does take me out of my comfort zone. Last night that meant going 3 stops on the tube from where I work and ending up in Notting Hill. My only previous encounter with the area was watching Hugh Grant woo Julian Roberts there in the early 00’s. No, a floppy haired stranger didn’t pour orange juice over me before sweeping me off my feet but instead I did get to catch up with an old friend in the glitzy surroundings of Chakra.
Chakra is an upmarket Indian restaurant. You walk through the front door into extremely glamorous surroundings, comprising of white banquettes and glistening chandeliers. Towards the back the décor turns a little more sombre, with a chocolate brown and glass theme. At 7pm the restaurant had a reasonable trade but there were tables available at either end of the restaurant. We decided we were more sparkly chandelier girls and were offered a nice table in the centre of the restaurant. But by 9pm the place was positively heaving with the trendy locals, many of whom were as glamorous as their surroundings.
Chakra is a far cry from your local Tandoori restaurant and prices do reflect the more upmarket cuisine, which I understand has taken inspiration from the subcontinent’s royal kitchens. However, you certainly get what you pay for and we were delighted with our meal. To start I had the Tandoori Paneer. I first fell in love with dish while on holiday in Rajasthan but have been disappointed with the versions I have had in the UK, which tend to be tasteless. Last night I remembered why I love the dish so much. The creaminess of the cheese, marinated in the masala spices and then roasted in the tandoor is food heaven for me. My friend opted for the samosa which came coated in a Tamarind chutney. I don’t think she was expecting quite so much of the multi coloured topping but she was delighted with the dish which had just the right balance of flavours. Our slight concern was that given the sizable quantity of the starters (which we had both devoured) we may have peaked too soon! However, the main courses were perfectly balanced by the richness of the dish being offset by the smaller sized portions. I opted for the Mangalorean prawn curry and my friend had the lamb curry. We also had sides of the raita and vegetable biryani, the latter normally served as a main dish rather than a side. None of what we had was too heavy and left us feeling pleasantly satisfied without the need to loosen our belts. The presentation reflected the fine dining theme and each of the dishes were tasty without being over powering.
Once the dishes were cleared away it was time for a little bit of theatre. Two small white bundles were placed on a plate and the waiter poured water over them to make them expand before our eyes. Although we gasped like children at a birthday party, truth be told we were not entirely sure what they were, until closer inspection revealed that we were not supposed to eat them but wipe our hands with them! A palette cleanser of fruity sorbet (we thought we detected mango and elderflower) was then brought on two white spoons. It was all extremely slick. I then managed to persuade my friend that a proper review could not be conducted without sampling something from the dessert menu. So we shared a portion of Gulab Jamun (traditional Indian sweet dumplings with vanilla ice cream). Again, this was just the right balance of rich sweetness without being overpowering. For those who are not such a fan of traditional Indian desserts, there are also some English favourites on the menu such as chocolate fudge brownie or lemon cheesecake. There is also a very decent wine list (albeit on the pricey side) and this includes some decent dessert wines.
I am a great lover of Indian food and of fine dining. I believe bringing the two together works well when you feel you are still getting value for money. Many of the higher end Indian restaurants tend to fall within the Mayfair area, where you are paying as much for the location as you are for what you eat. I would say that Chakra gives you much better value for money, in that you are getting something special and different in return for paying that little bit more. I will certainly be travelling those 3 extra stops on the tube the next time I fancy a high end curry.
020 3589 3948
157-159 Notting Hill Gate, London, W11 3LF