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 ok in itself, seemed too simple for the steep 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 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 (with a white border that weirdly looks as if it's tacked on with drawing pins), marble-topped tables and natural light; downstairs feels a bit like an overspill area that would be better suited for large groups; neither felt quite suited to the homely cooking (and nor does the pop soundtrack), though it’s a smart setting for a business lunch (2/3 courses for £24/29) and vibey enough for the evening.