Rebecca Anne Milford continues on her mission to track down the best places to eat and drink in London. Here she discovers an Indian restaurant serving innovative and exciting cuisine, where an expert chef has drawn his inspiration from the whole country.
In three words: Unique, Inspiring, Vibrant
There may be those that think they know Indian restaurants inside out – that there is no real sense of excitement to perusing the dishes, since their order will be on their lips before they even open the menu. Well, think again – those that want to explore a fascinating new side of Indian cuisine can do no better than head to Lotus, a new fine-dining experience in Charing Cross.
Heading up the kitchen is chef Bhaskar Banerjee, who’s list of impressive experience is rather staggering. He’s honed his skills for luxury hotel chains such as the Taj Group, as well as fine dining restaurant brands such as Bukhara, Dumpukth and Dakshin. Oh, and he’s cooked for Bollywood stars and international political leaders too, so you’re in safe hands.
When it comes to food, the idea for his menu is relatively simple – although the actual dishes masterfully merge complex flavours and various ingredients. Bhaskar wants to bring dishes that draw on all of India to the tables of the West End – and offer some plates that you will find no-where else in London. The result is a fascinating and thrilling selection that sings with flavour and authenticity.
Location: A very easy location on Charing Cross road, not 5 minutes from the station and a skip from Trafalgar Square and top tourist sites like the National Portrait Gallery.
The Occasion: Come to enjoy Indian food that will blow all preconceptions out of the water. It’s fine dining, but without the pomp and ceremony. Portions are still decent, but look lovely. Anyone who has experienced the varied cuisine of India will love it here, playing I-spy with the menu to spot the roots of each dish.
Decor: Sleek and chic, with very little unnecessary adornment. Walls are a gunmetal grey, with banquettes and seats being a more calming stone colour. The glow of orange lights adds warmth, while the coloured glasses and bottles on the bar shimmer pleasantly. It allows the food to stand out wonderfully, and when the pristine white tablecloths are filled with an array of dishes they look even more vibrant and tantalising.
Atmosphere: Cool and calm – the staff are very competent and give feeling they are here to completely ensure your time is the most restful and enjoyable as possible. Simply relax and give yourself up to a gastronomic adventure.
Menu Concept: Looking at the menu is like perusing a culinary map of India – it is a vibrant accumulation of the many states and areas, merged with creative aplomb. The concept is a Fine Dining gourmet experience, while also ensuring guests leave with a sense of well-being.
What We Ate and Drank:
The dishes can be matched to wine, recommended by the marvellous sommelier Debbie Henriques, so we were more than happy to acquiesce and take her advice on complementing tipples.
And so began our gastronomic tour of India – we started with some fizzy prosecco and dove into our starter nibble of Corn Chaat Golgappa. I’d never experienced this before – a little pouch containing corn, accompanied by mint and coriander water. Fill the edible gourd, bite in one go, and voila – a little bomb of flavour explodes in the mouth.
English ingredients such as game are dotted throughout the menu, and so we decided to try Pigeon Masala Dosa with Coconut Chutney. This was a delicately spiced pile of tender meat underneath a conical pancake – it wasn’t too rich and made for a lovely starter. We also had the Rabbit Kheema with Green Pepper corns and Missi Roti, accompanied by a fruity, slightly spicy Spanish Izadi Rioja Reserva; it was wonderful with the game and slight heat of pepper.
Duck Seekh kebabs were delicious when dipped into zingy citrus orange sauce, with an accompaniment of Navarra Garnacha that lent its earthy spice and bright red berries to the dish.
For main course we were drawn towards the Lobster tails and Queenie in a Ginger, Curry leaf and Coconut Curry. This korma-like dish was magnificent – coconut milk made the terracotta-coloured sauce soft and silky, and lumps of succulent lobster tail and nuggets of sweet, juicy scallops were abundant. We scraped the dishes clean, every now and then stopping to add more 14 hour cooked dahl to our plate, and mopping up the final morsels with freshly cooked ciapiattis.
You wouldn’t think we could fit in desserts, but they were ideal – luxurious and yet not heavy. A silky and vivid mango Shrikhand (strained yogurt), served with indulgent coconut cream, was perfect, and I tried Angoori Rasmalai for the first time – another example of the authenticity offered. It came with vermicelli strands of falooda in rose syrup, and was the perfect end to a truly unique dinner.
Overall: Lotus is like no Indian I have tried before. The flower is the national symbol of India, and is often used as a symbol of divine beauty and purity. And there is also the idea that the roots go far, far down, back to the native land of India. Chef Banerjee has taken this love for his culture and merged together various parts of his country. The menu shows many examples of this, such as the dish featuring a lentil wrap from North India, and a scrambled eggs breakfast wrap from the Punjab region – both are combined to create a wholly original starter. Speaking to him about the creation of the dishes, his enthusiasm is obvious, and translates itself into the exciting food that is delivered onto the plate. And when this much passion is put into a menu, it can’t fail to be a culinary success.