Kanishka marks Atul Kochhar’s return to the London restaurant scene after the chef left Benares under a Twitter cloud. Kochhar was the first-ever Indian chef to win a Michelin star, when he worked at Tamarind in the early noughties, an accolade he repeated at Benares. But while Kanishka’s focus on the little-known food of the Seven Sister States, which border China, Tibet and Burma in the far north-east of India, may sound equally esoteric, the cooking here is much more approachable than we’re used to from Kochhar.
Some of what we ate impressed very much. Venison tartare (standing in for the region’s staple meat of yak) made for a vibrantly chilli-accented starter, while goat curry to follow, redolent of smoke and pepper, would make a fine meal with a bowl of the deeply flavoured black dal and a basket of fresh roti, perhaps with a side order of the startlingly pungent onion salad to cut through the richness.
But another starter of lamb and chilli stir fry with grilled bok choy, though fine in itself, seemed too simple for the prices (starters are around £15), while chicken tikka simmered in tomato and fenugreek gravy was nice enough but nothing out of the ordinary.
Then again, perhaps we shouldn’t have stuck with the familiar: ordering lentil dumplings with tamarind chutney or a guinea fowl noodle soup had us reaching once more for the superlatives and these more far-flung dishes may be a better way to get the most out of the menu here.
The restaurant is split over two floors; upstairs has bright turquoise wall panels which positively sparkle in the daylight and take on an exotic hue at night, while marble-topped tables add an element of requisite luxury. Downstairs, which was initially something of a work in progress, has now assumed its own character, with a garden terrace injecting light during the day and a bar helping to give the floor pizzazz if taken for an event or private dining occasion. A set lunch menu weighs in at a very reasonable £24/29 for 2/3 courses.