by Nick Harman - Sunday March 5, 2017 4:03 pm
67 Shaftesbury Avenue Piccadilly, London, W1D 6EX www.hankies.cafe
But I get the reason; it’s all about the Roomali Rotis, thin flatbreads made to order and which come hot and steaming to the table to enclose the various dishes. Roomal or Rumal is in fact the word for handkerchief in many North Indian languages.
Soft and supple they’re traditionally cooked on an upside down wok placed over a hot flame, but here the restaurant has an actual rumal tawa, a steel dome, that the freshly hand spun breads are placed on to cook.
It’s a small place, as hinted at by the cafe bit, and actually a part of the Piccadilly Hotel, and you can eat at the counter or at the back.
We sat at the back but it was not perhaps the best place as the ICE (In Cafe Entertainment) speakers were sitting over our head blasting out a surreal selection of chill-out house and Asian versions of Western pop hits.
The Delhi style menu is compact and not madly or badly priced, all dishes are for sharing and so that’s what we did. In fact we ordered with the abandon of two people who’d not eaten for days and soon the table was filling up and overflowing. As we devoured the rotis, more arrived perfectly cooked, delivered by tongs and ready and willing to wrap some more.
Bhindi Bhel came first,okra, onion, pomegranate, rice puffs, chilli tomato chutney. Very ‘poppy’ in texture thanks to the rice krispies, and with a luscious sweet/sour kick that was refreshing. Best eaten we found alternating with bites of the hankie
This was swiftly followed by Dahi Puri - okra, onion, pomegranate, rice puffs, chilli tomato chutney drizzled in yoghurt and tamarind dressing. Each had to be eaten in one bite, but pleasant as that was; the overall flavour was a bit too sweet for us. No doubt that’s just how it’s supposed to be, but it didn’t entirely hit our sweet spot.
The Egg & Crab Gotala eggs 'masala', spicy crab was fresh and light but the masala was not powerfully flavoured, I feel we should perhaps have eaten that earlier before our taste buds got gee’d up by the Achar pickles; chicken jaggery, mixed spices, curry leaves and mushrooms, mustard seeds and pickle paste.
Very good, these were, we could have eaten them just on their own with the breads. We moved on to the grills, but not the lamb chops. I hear they’re great but I get my fix of lamb chops every week at my local Lahor.
So instead we had Chive and Garlic Grilled prawns, which were excellent, carbon charred in places just as I like them and soft and garlicky inside. A squeeze of lemon brought out their flavour well and the yoghurt to dunk them in was helpful too.
Sticking with seafood a pan-fried bream was crusty and dark with spices and served head on hole. Cracking the spice carapace revealed snowy white flesh subtly flavoured. We partnered this up with Black Dal, not a new Charlie Booker heavy-handed satire but my favourite dal - thick, creamy and delicious and perfect on the hankies.
By now we were visibly slowing down but still somehow found room for Kidney N' Keema a beguiling mix of lamb mince, kidney, tomato and coriander sauce. The kidneys were large chunks, which I like as you need to bite into a kidney to get its full flavour. We levered this into our slackening mouths with a combination of fork and folded roti then collapsed,
Well not quite, I recovered enough to eat an Aam Gur Ki Kher - mango, rice, caramel, cardamom. The caramel had been blasted to a melt, which made the glass dangerous to touch, but I was forewarned by the waiter and so avoided getting the burn. A very smooth dish with the cardamom giving that mysterious extra dimension it always does with desserts.
The prices are reasonable, the dishes unreasonably tasty. Many people will pass by thinking it will be a Shaftesbury shafting like so many restaurants in the road, but that would be a mistake. If this place were nestled further back in Soho it would have queues outside, so go now before word spreads.