61 Upper Berkeley Street, W1H 7PP London hankies.restaurant
Some people might find the name off-putting, but the food more than makes up for any reservations. So, make a reservation.
Yes, the name Hankies Restaurant does worry me slightly; you can’t help but have a slight mental stumble when you first read it. You’d have to be a pretty snotty reviewer to make a big thing of it though. Boom, tish!
It’s named, as you must surely know by now, for the super thin roomali roti breads that are the speciality here. Almost translucent, their true function is to mop up sauces, surround meats, act as napkins and generally be used as all-purpose eating utensils.
Made constantly and fresh by a chef who can be seen throwing and twirling the rotis to make them as thin as possible, they’re cooked in seconds on the red-hot domed tawa, which looks like a wok that's been upended in a collision.
I’d already liked chef Anirudh Arora ‘s food at Hankie’s Cafe in Soho, again based in a large hotel but a simple cheerful affair. The new Hankies Restaurant at The Montcalm Hotel keeps the same basic principles of the food, but makes it a much more luxurious experience.
The room is grand, but not oppressive, there’s a sense of money not flash cash. Tables are decently spaced for conversation and the seats are soft. Perhaps it’s just me, but I get fed up with restaurants where the seats feel like park benches on my posterior and next-door diners have to pretend I can't hear what they're saying.
Mirrors on the walls allow those of us looking in to get as good a view of the restaurant’s goings-on as the diners looking out. I like that, as I always end up sitting faced wall-wards, being the gentleman that I am.
We’re advised to kick off with spinach roomali filled with spiced feta, roasted tomato and a homemade garlic herb oil. These duly arrive, along with some plain roomalis, three chutneys and a naan bread covered in melted cheddar and topped with that not so well known Indian ingredient, sliced truffles,
The spinach roomalis are very good, spinach always goes well with feta as so many Middle Eastern dishes have proved. The saltiness is effective with the tomato as well, the tom’s sweetness is teased out by the roasting. I didn’t pick up much garlic, however.
We try a spoonful of the three chutneys - mushroom, chicken and tomato and ‘Tomato ‘n’ sultana’ (sic) and decide that we like the tomato ‘and’ sultana best, the chicken resembles a miniature main course really and not a chutney at all.
The roomalis are chewy, which I assume is correct, it’s certainly not a problem for me and the cheesey naan bread ‘interesting’.
I can’t believe they could economically cover the bread with as much truffle as they do if it was ‘real’ truffle, it must surely be some kind of farmed version.
Still, the main thing that it is not horrible truffle oil. It’s not Indian either, not with those ingredients, but being a purist is puerile.
‘Small bites’ is not as big in fashion now as it was, ‘tapas style’ being its other trendy name. Still though, with this kind of food it’s good to get as much variety as you can and Crispy ‘Gold’ Cod, fried in turmeric and amritsari spices and served with a sour mango dip was easily and enthusiastically shared.
Amiratsi spices, usually garlic, ginger, cumin and chaat masala, work very well with cod. I love the sour and spicy tang of chaat masala, I often sprinkle it on salads as well as my chips, and so could have done with a bit more of its signature flavour here. The sour mango dip did make up for it however and moistened each morsel nicely.
We went a bundle on the Bhindi Bhel, although the crispy okra seemed cremated rather than crispy, but mixed with rice puffs, sweet chutney, onions and fresh coriander it was still a winner.
What did strike us by now was the lack of ‘hankies’ - it seems to me that if they’re your restaurant's USP you should keep them coming to the table non-stop and not wait to be asked. I wanted to put my bhindi bel onto a roti and wrap it up to eat, but had to instead pick it up with a fork which was less satisfying.
Can anyone beat Lahore’s lamb chops, by the way? My local Lahore closed down and I’ve been in a state of chop-mourning ever since. So cheap, so good, so why did it shut its doors? Greedy landlords, I suspect and certainly not a lack of greedy customers.
The lamb chops at Hankies are marinated in Kashmiri chillies, paprika and mustard oil and it shows, vibrant flavours from quality meat cooked just right. Better than Lahore? As good as I thought, and for me that’s as good as it gets.
Unusual dish of the evening award went to stir fried masala crab meat and potatoes, baked in an egg custard. This was gorgeous, a kind of Indian tortilla rammed with sweet crab and tender potatoes and wobbly-soft.
The chili was very hot though, I don’t mind hot chili but the fresh chili pieces were rather large so suddenly getting one whole in the mouth caused some moments of forehead moistness and tunnel vision. They just need to chop the chillies a bit smaller to make the dish more user-friendly.
Dessert was a bit different too, not the usual kulfi etc. Meetha ‘Caviar’, basically diced apricot partnered with a warm breath of cardamom ‘n’ rabri (sic) cheesecake, and a rather tough to bite through fruit cake sliced and toasted into ‘melba’. Top marks for that.
So, in conclusion, the food at Hankies is very reasonably priced for the invention, flavours and quality on display, and especially when displayed in such a pleasantly grandiose setting. I hope it gets the custom it deserves to thrive because I want to go back when I can and try some more dishes.
And I have to say this obviously, Hankies is a place definitely not to be sneezed at.
(Drops mic, leaves building).
Bokeh-licious photos lifted shamlessly from Hankies' website