19 January 2015
We had planned to be staying in Marlow and a chance viewing of a television food programme informed us that Atul Kochhar was opening a new arm of his expanding empire there. As we had very much enjoyed Benares and the unfortunately now defunct Vatika, it seemed silly to pass up the chance of testing the quality of this latest venture. The tasting menu looked like a good deal, and the suggested wine flight offered very good value. Although the tables were definitely on the small side and the dining room was typically hotel one size fits all, it was nicely lit and the ambience surprisingly on just the right level, the general mood being aided by the properly professional service. We were encouraged right from the start by a simple canapé of perfect mini poppadums, so light and moreish that we found it difficult not to polish off the whole generous serving with the excellent dips of mango, apple and tomato chutneys. The amuse-bouche sounded intriguingly straightforward, cottage cheese kebab with mint chutney, but its visual appeal and mouth-watering delicacy made it an ideal overture to the following dishes, the first of which was also really less than a starter but still worthy of that status - "textures of potato" involving sweet, King Edward and blue varieties with a sweet yoghurt foam, spicy potato strings, pomegranate seeds and a particularly delicious tamarind chutney, and again it was a feast for the eyes. The second starter demonstrated just how a balance can be achieved between the delicate and the spicy, with lovely scallop amazingly holding its own against textures of parsnip (purée, pickles and crisp) in which there was no holding back with the almost bitter spice. The final 'starter' reinforced our pleasure with the manner in which the combinations of ingredients and the sequence of dishes had been conceived; a duo of tender and flavour-full chicken, one infused with saffron, the other infused with mint, and served with a smoked purée, spicy tomato and saffron foam made for an intentionally cunning contrast with the previous dish. Then, a classic apple sorbet (Bramley rather than the advertised Granny Smith) palate cleanser set us up for the main course. Our doubts about the size of the table were proved right when the plethora of plates comprising brilliant tandoor rack of lamb with Chettinad spices, absolutely perfect naan bread, juicy vegetable polenta, top-class pilau rice, amazing slow-cooked black lentilswith fenugreek and tomato, really good rogan josh, all backed up with stir fried beetroot, mustard, red onion and coconut. This was absolutely outstanding by any reckoning. The richness of the lamb dish was continued into the first dessert in which hot chocolate sauce was poured onto a chocolate mousse until the latter caved in and mixed wonderfully with a strong-tasting passion fruit complement. The balanced acidity and notes of almond and apricot of the Tokaji served with the mousse matched it superbly and cut through the richness of the chocolate in exemplary fashion. To top it all off, our palates were brought back to normality through the wiles of strawberry liquor and lemon liquor creams with plain cream crowning them so as to bring out all three tastes simultaneously and cleanse our palates for the fresh mint tea we finished with. This meal was not only a veritable riot of colours and spicy palate-provoking flavours, embellished with a variety of telling textures and all executed with the technical expertise of a master, but also incredibly good value. We look forward to having the pleasure of another wonderful meal in Marlow, although not quite where we had expected it to be.