Kanishka, London W1: restaurant review
Try scallops in a Keralan coconut curry, Tibetan lobster and noodle broth, and smoky butter chicken at Atul Kochhar’s Indian fine-dining venture in Mayfair
Looking for restaurants in Mayfair? Read our review of fine-dining Indian Kanishka, and check out more suggestions for eating in Mayfair here.
Kanishka in a nutshell
The first Indian chef in the world to receive a Michelin star, Atul Kochhar reminds us why he’s been so decorated in his 30-year career, with his glamorous two-floor Mayfair restaurant centering on lesser-known, more remote regions of his homeland and neighbouring countries.
Indian-born, British-based Atul Kochhar is best known for his groundbreaking cooking at Tamarind and Benares in London. Now a household name, regularly appearing on television (Saturday Kitchen, MasterChef and Great British Menu), seasoned restaurateur and acclaimed cookery book author, this latest opening is set to follow his signature style of marrying Indian flavours with the best of British produce. At Kanishka, though, for the first time he’s focussing on the Seven Sister States, to the east of the continent, as well as nods to the influence Nepal, China and Bangladesh have had on the cuisines here. Sameer Taneja, former executive chef at Benares and head chef of Talli Joe, has been trusted with the pass.
What's the vibe?
The restaurant lives in the heart of Mayfair and so a certain style of decor – over the top, not necessarily reflective of the culinary agenda – is par for the course in these parts. Upstairs there’s a trippy monochrome floor that will have you second guessing each step, an azure and chrome bar, and twinkly ceilings, while downstairs is a muted colour palette of pink and mint with a fake ‘living’ ceiling. The playlist a bit more ravey than is probably necessary. But you don’t come here for the music or a lesson in interior design – it’s the food that does the talking.
What's the food like at Kanishka?
Let chef guide you with the set or tasting menus, or explore via the à la carte. Tibetan lobster thukpa is hard to resist. A supremely light start, this classic north-eastern soup appears with a tangle of fresh egg noodles, thumb-sized pieces of tender lobster meat, al dente spring veg (asparagus, broad beans, carrots and pea shoots) and a fragranced, fruity and fiery broth. And who needs poppadoms when you have the sensory masterpiece that is bhalla papdi chaat. Lentil dumplings, crispy bread chaat, sweet and sour raisin, ginger and tamarind chutney, vibrant mint chutney, cool frozen yogurt and fresh, sharp pomegranate seeds are an explosion of colour, flavour, texture and even temperature.
This might be a refined dining experience but portions are far from dainty – expect to leave full. In our case, this is thanks to seafood Alleppey curry, which sees a gentle bathing of sweet, soft shellfish, kissed by heat – portly scallops, tenderised squid and butterflied prawns – in a sauce exquisitely balanced with coconut, curry leaves and mustard seeds. Mutter paneer marries a tomato sauce, hot with ginger, with bursting, barely cooked, fresh peas and huge hunks of bouncy cheese. ‘Dad’s’ murg makhani (otherwise known as butter chicken) is mild and comforting but no less complex with its rich San Marzano tomato sauce and backnote of smoke from the tandoor, producing the most tender meat. Black dal, cumin basmati rice and roti are all perfectly pleasant but not the stars of the show.
And the drinks?
The bar menu has been created by Nick Smith, Kanishka’s ‘whisky guru’ and house mixologist, and aims to be just as much a journey through spices and senses as the food – think old fashioneds made with tandoor-roasted banana, maple, cinnamon, orange and pecan bitters, or mezcal served alongside a chilled, lightly spiced tomato broth. There are more than 50 whiskies to try, including some from India, and a large selection of wines by the glass (eight red, eight white) jumping across the Old and New World. Or you can let the sommelier guide you through the list or with a wine flight.
Don’t save room for desserts. Peanut butter parfait, for example, sounds good but it’s neither smooth nor creamy on our visit, and while caramelised banana and praline lifts it, random bitter salad leaves prove the chef’s talents are better found in the savoury.
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Kanishka, 17-19 Maddox Street, Mayfair, London W1S 2QH
Words by Laura Rowe