Last Updated on December 6, 2021
Fine Indian Dining from Atul Kochhar at Mathura
The menu of recently opened Mathura has a map of India on the cover. Just south of Delhi, the Northern Indian city that gives Atul Kochhar’s latest venture its name is the birthplace of Krishna and one of the most sacred cities of Hinduism. It’s also a city with a broad historical significance, one that played a leading role in the Kushan and Magadha dynasties thanks to a strategic location on the western banks of the Yamuna River. The restaurant aims to ‘make memories of India and its close by countries…through their cuisine. And so, the Indian menu is extended, including Nepalese, Persian and Afghan influences in dishes like the Nepalese Newari Baldel Choila and Persian Koresh e Bademjoon.
Set in an old fire station near St James’s, the elegant velvet seating contrasts with the stripped back vintage fittings left from the venue’s previous life as a fire station. There’s even a fireman’s pole still in situ just by the bar. It feels cosy on a cold winter’s night despite the white metro tiles on the walls – perhaps partly because of the exceptionally warm service. It’s buzzing when we arrive and you get the feeling that Mathura is already a local fixture. But, it’s more than that, this is an Indian restaurant where you can feast in style – oh for a group of friends to take over the Kushan Dynasty room and enjoy the thirteen-course tasting menu with wine pairings (though the regular tasting menu has nine courses and is similarly indulgent). Picking from the a la carte gives us the chance to moderate our meal and walk rather than stagger home. But only just!
The menu is packed with luxurious options – there’s venison, quail and Iberico pork belly on offer in various dishes. And, even a dish of Yorkshire Wagyu fillet with 24-carat gold, herbs, kidney beans and kufte rize (Persian meatballs). There are plenty of vegetarian and vegan options. Although the only listed vegan main is Koresh e Bademjoon (roasted aubergine and tomato stew with sour grapes, potatoes and yellow peas) there are plenty of options from the sides, starters and accompaniments that would make a great vegetarian feast. I love the sound of the Hindukush Nadru Tikki – a lotus stem and walnut Tikki with lotus seed, lotus crips and lotus puree.
Starting with a glass of champagne and an amuse bouche of stylised tamarind, yoghurt, chopped onion, tomato and mint, we browsed the menu.
I spotted an unusual sounding starter, Samudri Seep Sahi – seared scallops, sea urchin, coconut, parsnip and caviar and knew it had to be tried. It was delicious, the light and creamy sea urchin was a revelation while the perfectly seared scallop was topped with a dollop of salty caviar and flakes of toasted coconut, sitting on a light parsnip puree.
My companion picked Atul’s Murgh Tikka Pie with a shell of light, flaky pastry encasing the spicy, smoky minced chicken with cranberry sauce and raw mango on the side.
A bottle of Gewurztraminer Cave de Cleebourg, 2018 from Alsace, France was the pairing recommendation for our meal of fish and chicken and this delicately spiced wine with lychee and lemongrass notes was a great option. One I wouldn’t have picked myself due to a lack of knowledge about the wines of Alsace, but one which really worked with the spicing in our dishes.
For her main course, my companion ordered Pan-fried turbot machar jhal with banana stem and Indian gooseberry. The fish was firm and flaky and came sitting on a bed of chopped banana stem and Indian gooseberry with a generous portion of spiced fish curry sauce on the side.
Meanwhile, my buttered poached lobster was served on a bed of tempered green beans and more with a sprinkling of coconut sambal and with the lobster claw shelled and served carefully crumbed. Lobster is delicious when cooked well, melting yet firm and never rubbery. And here it was just that.
Our rather strange selection of side dishes came from needing to try the Mathura signature Dal Bukhara (Afghani 36 hour slow-cooked black lentil and kidney beans) which really was a little overwhelming for the main courses we’d picked. But who cares, I could have simply eaten the Dal by itself, with a bit of Naan or a portion of steamed rice and, I’d do it all again. It’s a testament to our excitement about the menu that we wanted to go off-piste and try all sorts of things. And, I certainly want to return, perhaps for the set lunch menu, where you can enjoy two courses for £24.50 or three for £29.50 if only so I can try the Kufte Rize. Chef Shishir Sinha came across to our table and at our request, tried his best to explain the influences behind the menu. If the history lesson was a little on the complex side for us, his passion and enthusiasm certainly were not!
Of course, desserts were not necessary but we were somehow tempted into trying the Passion Fruit Love Cake, a Persian cake with halwa, sorbet and a glass tuille.