In three words: Exquisite, Flavoursome, Unique
The Lowdown: The name Zaika translates as ‘sophisticated flavours’, and upon stepping into this jewel of a restaurant, ideally situated on Kensington High Street, then you can tell you’re in for a somewhat impressive meal. The whole place radiates with a quiet, calm confidence. Once you have settled into your seat and are pursuing the menu – perhaps glancing with controlled excitement at the mouth-watering meals of other diners – then the intricacies becomes more apparent. Zaika has a bit of a history – it was first opened over 15 years ago, back in 1999, and is one of the few Indian restaurants to proudly boast not one, but two AA rosettes. Then in late 2012 it joined the renowned and exclusive Tamarind Collection – a group of four highly praised restaurants operating in LA and London. It speaks volumes that it is now nudging shoulders with such revered eateries, and head chef Shoeb Haider has produced a menu guaranteed to astound and impress.
Location: With the enviable address of Number 1, Kensington High Street, then Zaika is in prime position to attract Londoners looking for a spectacular dining occasion.
The Occasion: It’s definitely a special experience eating at Zaika – as soon as you step over the threshold, you’re lost in a world of hospitality, old school charm and dishes created with the utmost care. Visit with anyone you want to impress – or who thinks Indian cuisine stops at a Korma and a Peshwari Naan. Oh how they’ll be eating their words (and their lightly spiced Dal Makhni.)
Decor: We like to think of it as Colonial Chic pulled off with aplomb – from the glowing, almost amber-hued wooden panelling to the old-fashioned prints of maharajas and elephants decorating the walls in their gilt frames. The seats are upholstered in stone-coloured leather, and splashes of green arrive courtesy of the perky fronds of ferns. It was, in short, completely beautiful.
Atmosphere: Elegant, refined, and utterly competent – there is a feeling that, once within the cool walls of Zaika, you are in expert hands and should give yourself up to the culinary adventure before you. This is very refreshing, in our opinion. The waiters look wonderful in their traditional attire, and are friendly, knowledgable souls to boot.
Culinary Concept: Indian food that is heavily influenced by the Mughal and Nawabi culinary traditions, and are an indulgent mix of flavours and spices.
What we tried: Another reason Zaika ticks every box going is that, with its special Zaika Khazana Menu menu, it appeases the glutton in me. With this carefully chosen selection then the need to agonise over what to order (and risk scowling food envy for my partners food) is removed. We began with a trio of gorgeous starters, served as if they were art on a plate. The Channa chaat was a delicious mound of lightly spiced chick peas, smothered in cooling yogurt and given a wonderful sweet kick from chutney – it was just the right texture, and a great balance between moist and crumbly. The Malai Tikka caws tender hicken marinated with cream cheese and tasted superb, while being a little slice of indulgence. Finally, the Mixed sprout tikki was everything you could want from an Indian starter – a hearty but not heavy sprout and potato cake with tantalising apricot-coriander filling and a dry ginger chutney. To say it had our tastebuds begging for more would be an understatement.
Next came the tandoori part of the meal – a dynamite red Tiger Prawn marinated with pureed red-pepper and spices was so plump and succulent it was if it had swum onto our plates, and positively burst with flavour. Then came the Sheek Kabab – prime ground lamb with delicate hints of garlic and mint, it eradicated any past memories of dodgy snacks purchased from vendors in the early hours. After a brief pause, the main event arrived. Served in dainty silver dishes, we were given a selection that included chicken tikka, Laal Maas lamb, slow-cooked black lentils and baby aubergine, along with a pile of fluffy rice resplendent with cloves. The aubergine were a particularly pleasant surprise, their outsides nicely charred to give an extra caramelised, burnt flavour that worked perfectly with the other dishes. Both curries had thick unctuous sauces, and large hunks of boneless meat in both.
The lamb was the richer of the two – a warming dish that sang with whole spices, yogurt and red chilli paste, and was ideal when combined with the indulgent luxury of lightly toasted, truffle naan. I didn’t think I could eat any more after this. I’d been enjoying the main course so much that my brain had temporarily ceased communication with my stomach, so when I did finish it suddenly occurred to me how full I was. But then the Chocolate Bounty Bar arrived – a coconut bounty bar with nougat, apricot and caramelia rice crisps. Served with sweeps of fruity coulis, it was the ideal, indulgent and delicious end to a fabulous meal.
Best of the Booze: It would be a shame to come to Zaika and not let the bartender whip you up one of his specialities – especially with the options on offer. We had a rather delicious concoction that arrived with a fan of fresh cucumber and made the most of gin and elderflower. The margarita was served in a way I’ve not seen before – rather than a salt-crusted glass, there seemed to be the golden halo of solidified sugar on the rim. And yet, when we sipped the sunshine-hued drink, there was still that gratifying savoury tang of salt, but not with the mouthful of overpowering granules. Very impressive. Another recommend cocktail is The Godfather – a great twist on an Amaretto sour.
Overall: Zaika promises to create a gourmet spread ‘fit for Kings’ – and it pulls this out of the bag with ease. Coming here will reignite your love for all things curry – and if you never fell out of love with it, then prepare to become more enamoured. It will open your mind to so many things – that Indian food can be presented in beautiful, dainty ways; that the flavours can be delicate and compatible, not simply the hottest or most creamy. It is a fabulous menu absolutely bursting with tastes, colour and scent – and yet what a testament to the chef that nothing seems to overpower anything else, and that each morsel can be appreciated in its own right. For Indian fine dining and an experience fit for royalty, then Zaika is a must-visit.
Zaika of Kensington