Atul Kochhar was the first-ever Indian chef to win a Michelin star, when he worked at Tamarind in the early noughties, a trick he then repeated at Benares. Kanishka marks his return to the London scene, and here he is focusing on the little-known food of the Seven Sister States, which border China, Tibet and Burma in the far north-east of India, which means an expanded range of dishes like lentil dumplings with tamarind chutney and guinea fowl noodle soup. This may all sound pretty esoteric, but the cooking here is both delicious and much more approachable than what we’re used to from Kochhar.
Venison tartare (standing in for the region’s staple meat of yak) made for a vibrantly chilli-accented starter, while goat curry, redolent of smoke and pepper, would make a fine meal in itself with a bowl of the deeply flavoured black dal, strikingly pungent onion salad – cutting through all that richness – and naan bread so moreish that, even when completely full, you want seconds.
Eating here does not come cheap: a starter of lamb and chilli stir-fry with grilled bok choy seemed simple for the prices (starters are around £15), as too chicken tikka simmered in tomato and fenugreek gravy (at £24), but both are exceptional in their execution, the latter demonstrating tandoor cooking at its best.
Nonetheless there is value to be found, too. A set lunch or early dinner menu weighs in at a reasonable £28/32 for 2/3 courses, while a six-course tasting menu with matched wines delivers a full-throttle experience for just £125. We loved a rich and beautifully marinated piece of monkfish with a coconut curry paired with a peachy, medium acidity Tornatore from Sicily, and a lean and unctuous venison accompanied by crushed aubergine, balanced off with a sweet-fruited Californian zinfandel. On the same menu a scallop with three-ways cauliflower is given added zip by a young and fresh Stellenbosch Chardonnay while Atul’s bold and humorous chicken tikka pie served with a glass of Rheinhessen was a lesson in melding richness (the pie), sweetness (the pastry) and sharpness (some berries) with a wine that displayed all these characteristics. Magic!
The restaurant which, despite its size, has a discreet intimacy is split over two floors. Upstairs has bright turquoise wall panels and mirrors which sparkle in the daylight and shimmer exotically at night, while marble-topped tables (daytime) and white napery (night) add an element of requisite luxury. Downstairs has a different ‘garden’ character – less formal, more bistro-like and in-yer-face, and good for groups or private parties, which benefit from a bespoke bar.
Charming, well-informed service provides further polish.