London might be considered the epicentre of Indian fine dining in the UK, but Opheem, the first and only Michelin-starred Indian restaurant outside of the capital, is in a lane of its own entirely. This progressive masterpiece is the work of celebrated chef and household name Aktar Islam, who takes inspiration from his Bangladeshi heritage to create a personal, story-led menu dictated by the British seasons.
Proceedings begin with a series of high-octane snacks served in its debonair lounge area. Flawlessly-balanced bites, including a crisp apple macaron with creamy duck liver parfait, beef tartare and sweet dates, provide a flavour of what’s to come, and showcase Aktar’s profound ability to pair unlikely flavours.
The 10-course tasting menu is the best way to experience Opheem to full effect, which blends flavours that are at once familiar and unexpected. A fat, meltingly soft Orkney scallop finds a partner in tangy cubes of apple and an unworldly, Indian-inspired take on XO sauce, which is textured, rich and caramel-like. Elsewhere, one of the restaurant’s most talked-about dishes, achaari pink fir potato with tamarind, offers an inspired take on the street food Aloo Tuk. Here, a cacophony of sweet, smoky, salty and spicy notes is designed to offer the diner something new with every mouthful, achieving a level of complexity that manages to never overwhelm. It’s wonderful. Further brilliance emerges with every course, from flaky cod served in a vibrant raw mango and coconut sauce, to a rich lentil pakora paired alongside soft tandoori carrot and sour-sweet tomato.
These dishes are deeply personal, but so too is the way in which they are served. The dining room features an open kitchen which allows guests to clearly see the team tinker away at their stations. The chef in charge of each dish also delivers it to your table, offering the creator a chance to showcase their work, while establishing a deeper connection between the chef and the diner.
Opheem harnesses the essence of everything that’s great about Indian food – comfort, spice, richness, warmth – and elevates it to an unprecedented degree of creativity and precision.