What do you call a group of TV chefs? A Stew of Chefs? A Gaggle of Chefs? A Stirfry? Well whatever you call it, Nick is surprised to find such a group eating lunch when he walks into Pahli Hill.
This is obviously a good sign though, chefs do tend to know the best places to eat after all. They’re especially good at recommending places off the radar, inexpensive and open late into the night.
Pahli Hill is not in a particularly trendy spot. Mortimer Street and its surrounding area has always been a bit of a backwater with many of its ‘shops’ only for the fashion trade, and there are not many cool businesses about.
The big hospital, where years ago I used to pretend to be a medical student to get a subsidised lunch, has gone and with it much of the foot traffic. That said the area has a certain louche charm to it and gets called Fitzrovia, but I am not sure it really is.
Double fronted Pahli Hill is a lot better inside than the road had prepared me for. Very chic, colourful and stylish with an open kitchen. Needless to say this is not a ‘curry house’. In fact the wait staff, while not being English, are not Asian either, perhaps French?
Head chef Avinash Shashidhara is from Bangalore though, and he once cooked at the River Cafe, often known in the day as the BBC Canteen, so full was it of BBC execs on exes every lunchtime. And In March 2023, Avi appeared on BBC2’s Great British Menu becoming a finalist and winning the starter course at the final banquet.
We’ve come specifically for the £32 set lunch (Tuesday to Friday) so must regretfully turn away from the very tempting main menu, but the lunch menu is no compromise even though it’s short.
For a start, and starters, there is the Dorset crab sukka. This is really rather stunning, a paste of brown and white crab meat, richly spiced, it comes with a Mangalore bun, made with banana, which really does look eerily like a crab shell. Inside the bread is hollow, perfect for filling with the crab concoction. We share this, or rather we fight amicably over it.
Easier to divide are the Hara Kebabs. Two green saucers made from spinach, peas and potato lightly spiced with chilli. A dob of mint puree on top, and a good helping of tamarind chutney, make these irresistible.
This is clever cooking, homestyle elevated and full of surprises such as the onglet with wilted spinach. Onglet is the only steak I’ll ever order, if there’s a choice. A singular cut ( there’s only one per cow) it’s slightly gamey and must be cooked rare. Here it’s been chargrill-singed and sliced and flavoured with onion black pepper and sat in a rich sauce. Remarkably good, but a bit of rice or some nan would have been welcome though.
As it is, K cheerfully steals chunks of my Paper Dosa, a super thin dosa, or pancake, rolled up like a carpet and so large it straddles my plate and the table. Dosas are made from a batter of raw rice, urad dal, rice flour and water which is ground into a smooth paste and cooked on a large metal plate called a Tawa.
Done well they are light, crispy and slightly chewy and this is done perfectly. With it comes a range of things to scoop up. Drumstick sambar, turmeric potato, coconut, and a spicy tomato and lentil chutney. It’s certainly vegetarian, and I would also think vegan.
It’s a nice slow eat; tearing off bits of dosa and then spooning on various sides is a leisurely process that suits me well even while fending off the dosa raider across the table. They really should have served him some rice with that steak, he’s still hungry.
Maybe a rice pudding will do the trick, it’s a coconut one with ‘rhubarb’ and a pistachio praline, apparently, but it arrives with what are clearly strawberries. Well it is their season, not rhubarb’s. It’s not a bad rice pudding, I mean what can you say?
Carrot Halwa and ice cream is better. I like a good Halwa, it’s so rich and sweet whether made traditionally with full fat milk or with condensed milk.
Coffee is included, which I think is a nice touch.
As we leave, the table of chefs and producers is still going strong, plates of food everywhere. They’re certainly enjoying themselves and so did we.
If you want to get a flavour of what Pahli Hill can do, this great value set lunch is the way to do it. You’ll definitely want to come back for more.
Check out the new Chef’s Counter at Pahli Hill
79-81, Mortimer Street, London, England, W1W 7SJ