17 – 19 Maddox Street. Mayfair, London, W1S 2QH kanishkarestaurant.co.uk
My abiding memory of Benares, the ground-breaking, fine-dining, Indian restaurant in Berkeley Square, is of Chef Atul Kocchar’s lamb cutlets.
Eye wateringly expensive, even for that location, they were also tear-inducingly wonderful.
I didn’t go to Benares very often though, usually only when someone else was paying, but I always loved every bite.
Now Chef Atul has cast off ties with Benares, after something like seventeen years, and a few Michelin stars, and has set up shop not too far away in Maddox Street.
And Kanishka is a cracking new restaurant by any standards.The decor is a bit unusual it has to be said, it looks a bit hasty, an attempt to conceal the old wine bar decor cheaply and quickly. It’s not at all unpleasant, but it has definite VPL.
The head waiter tells us it’s all being done over much better shortly so that’s good, although frankly you could serve me this fine food in any setting, even a transport cafe, and I’d not complain.
Nope, I’ve never heard of them either.
So, this will be fun.
Tradition dictates that you can’t go to a’curry house’ and not start with poppadoms. Here of course they come not in a pile to be smashed, but as a variety of types all small and stacked neatly.
One looks rather like a foam ceiling tile, the kind that used be castigated on consumer TV programmes for melting during house fires and dripping burning plastic onto escaping people.
My father coated half of our house in them and, as he smoked over forty fags a day, it’s a wonder we all survived.
These taste a lot better than ceiling tiles of course, especially with a mildly spicy chutney plopped on top.Kanishka has a thankfully short a la carte menu, although you can choose a tasting menu and a set menu, as well as a vegetarian and vegan menu. Something for everyone.
Personally I tend to eat mostly veg and fish at home, saving my meat eating for restaurants. Today I head straight for the item cheerfully labelled’Atul’s Chicken Tikka Pie’.
This is not part of the Sister States concept, but a dish he has made a kind of signature and which has made the journey over from Benares.
Chicken Tikka masala in puff pastry with a cumin scented berry compote, it is too good for me to miss.
It arrives looking golden and gorgeous, sparkling with sesame seeds and the delicate pastry, more puff than short, falls apart to allow aromatic steam to gush out.
The chicken has been diced fine, which is fine by me. These small pieces don’t overwhelm the pastry and the spices are judged perfectly against that sharp, piquant, compote. I eat slowly in small bites to try and make it last forever.
Over on P’s side she’s gone full on scallop, Naga Scallops with smoked chilli and parsnip puree.Now, as we all know, the Naga chilli is weapon-grade stuff, no longer the official hottest chili in the world, but a close runner-up and never to be taken lightly.
The thing about the naga though is that it has a delicious fruity flavour under the fire. Here it has been carefully prepared to bring that sweetness out, but allow that fire to wander nonchalantly around like a hardened criminal walking the prison yard. Dangerous but calm.
Perfectly seared, the super-fresh scallops love the sauce, while the parsnip puree picks up the shellfish sweetness and runs with it. The parsnip crisps add some textural edge.
Hardened criminals ourselves when it comes to wine, always committing an offence by drinking red when white is traditionally called for, we love the recommended bottle of Kopp Spatburgunder.
From the Ortenaukreis district of South West Germany it’s actually a Pinot Noir, powerfully tannic, which is perfect for the food, especially for what I have next.
Sikkimese Duck Roast- Roasted Gressingham duck breast, crushed smoked tomatoes and, baby root vegetables.What a dish this is, I have rarely (pun intended) had a duck breast cooked so perfectly.
Nicely pink and well rested, it gives way so easily to the knife I could have used a spoon.The roasting has left a smokiness picked up the spicy smoked tomatoes, which I spread on each forkful like a super-chutney.
Small roasted carrots give me at least one of my five a day. Probably the only one.
Keeping to her largely meat-free diet, P has decided on the seafood curry. Again, this is prime stuff, the sauce laid under the seafood so the fish and shellfish can soar above it on wings of spice.
There’s a razor clam, some more scallops, some tandoori oven seared sea bass. Being out of the sauce means the fish flavours are allowed to shine and it’s up to you how much of the subtle, flavour-filled, sauce you garnish your forkful with.
With it we have rice, which is most peculiar because it’s not standard red rice. It looks just like pink rice krispies, all puffed up grains, and it really works. The grains absorbing the sauces very slightly to add interest to what is usually the least interesting part of a meal.
We have a mixed basket of bread, but I find these not particularly good, a little too greasy.
Well fed, but not suffering from the usual post’Indian’ malaise of feeling like a beached whale, I have a Peanut Butter Chikki Parfait Silky which is a peanut butter pave, salted caramel chikki, caramelised banana and 24 carat gold leaf.
I always eye gold leaf with suspicion, we all know the sudden, savage pain of eating silver paper. The old Kit Kats used to always provide that.
Of course, the gold doesn’t do the same thing, it’s decoration and rather nice too.
As is the rest of the plate, even for a non dessert person like me. Although I feel the semi-ripe strawberry could have been left off.
P’s Rose Bhapa Doi – a steamed rose scented yogurt served with watermelon granita and honeycomb is everything she wanted – light, fragrant and refreshing.
Refreshing too was the whole experience. Food delicately and cleverly spiced in ways that make you pause and reflect on just how far Indian cuisine has come in the UK.
Very much recommended.