That town you live in that isn’t London? It’s rubbish. London is just better, OK? Better at almost everything: food, theatre, art; you name it. You could never leave the capital and be safe in the knowledge you’re not missing out.
One area London does fall short, though, is Indian food. I’ve lived in both Manchester and Glasgow, and I can still remember the disappointment after my first trip to Brick Lane. Flavourless meat. Insipid sauce. I have since discovered better alternatives – Tayyabs and Cafe Spice Namaste, both near Whitechapel – but none live up to Manchester’s The Sangam or Glasgow’s Ashoka West End.
Chakra, the new Notting Hill Gate venture from Andy Varma, is the latest restaurant trying to redress the balance.
It gives nary a nod to the trend for simple, rustic minimalism – on entering you are greeted by swathes of ivory, white and mahogany. Chandeliers swing over padded, ice cream coloured walls. If you sit facing the padded walls you can pretend you’re eating at a well appointed insane asylum.
The gigantic menu (27 options before you even think about sides or salads) is dotted with phrases like “interaction of physical, emotional and mental” and “invigorating the positive energy”. It’s all very informal, with sharing encouraged and dishes arriving as they are ready (a system inspired, the menu rather grandiosely informs you, by the Royal Kitchens in the City of Nawabs).
The food is pricey but without being too pricey to put off a West End crowd, and good without ever approaching great. The scallops – a whopping £16.50 – caved under the weight of a small mountain of garlic. I’m not sure about balancing your spiritual energies but they would definitely keep vampires away. The Amritsar Kali Mirch – chicken in a creamy garlic sauce – was far better.
My guest swooned over the palak paneer (I thought the sauce was too sweet. We rarely agree). A slightly sorry looking roasted quail yielded some tasty meat but the canoe-shaped plate it arrived on made it almost impossible to extricate.
And therein lies the problem – at Chakra, the substance is usually there but the style gets in the way. There are too many asymmetrical plates and off-key design flourishes. It walks into the top end of London’s Indian restaurants but for the very best, you’ll still need to venture outside the M25.
First published in City A.M.