Chutney Mary must be my local curry house. Well, it’s not so much across the street, but it’s within a convenient walk along the King’s Road, where it has remained since its opening 20 years ago. Happy birthday to you.
Arriving early I asked for a cocktail and was recommended the mango and lime Martini, being told that it’s their most popular cocktail. It arrived in standard cone-shaped glass with a lime on the side that I squeezed into the neon-glow of thick mango and white rum. It was good; a sharp beginning turns into a sweet rum veneer. My friend opted for a Lychee Martini, which was not served with lychee on a cocktail stick as I’d expected (visit Christopher’s Martini Bar in Covent Garden for their Lychee Martini). Reports were that it was smooth and sweet, the lychee softening the Martini. All cocktails are priced £7.50.
We sat in the new conservatory area of the restaurant where a ficus tree spouts from the middle of the room and through the glass out towards the stars. The restaurant has an unassuming entrance but once inside is vast, if a little disjointed with stairs and seating areas split into platforms and around corners. It’s beautifully decorated after a recent refurbishment, adding four murals with 40,000 glittering Swarovski crystals.
We opted for the Tasting Menu (£70) where dishes are matched with a suitable wine. First up was a scallop malabar (not poppadoms) with a coconut and ginger sauce. The single, plump scallop was a little underdone and I found the ginger over-powered the coconut, but nevertheless the dish was light and zippy and consumed briskly. This was paired with an Iona Sauvignon Blanc that fell somewhat flat for my tastes and felt a little over-tropical and complicated alongside some already perplexed flavours.
Duck Galouti followed and was a small pâté of duck meat mixed with caramelized onion, cinnamon and saffron. It had been seared on both sides and served alongside sweet blueberry chutney. The cinnamon hit the taste buds with a sudden kick, like a pinprick on the senses. The taste of warm, seared duck with onion was pleasant but perhaps there was too much cinnamon as it was the lasting flavour from the dish and took precedence over the duck.
Chicken Malai Tikka had the same blueberry chutney. I can only assume the kitchen over-ordered on the chutney and tins line the walls, eager to be employed. The chicken appeared dry in texture, perhaps from sweltering kitchen lights or left on the counter too long? The tikka seasoning was therefore not as fresh and pungent as it needed to be. The chutney was good although I can’t decide if it suited duck or chicken better. The accompanying Flat Rosé from the Barossa Valley reviews itself and I thought it didn’t suit the dish: its airy tones of strawberry were too delicate against the deep, sweet chutney.
The Tandoori Prawns arrived with a Tandoori Sea Bass, which we had ordered separately and away from the Tasting Menu. I caught it on the Starters and just had to have it. The sea bass is marinated in lime and placed deep into a clay tandoori oven where it is part-baked (with temperatures that can approach 480ºC). The heat from the oven is generated from the charcoal and thus exposes the fish to extremely hot air and a radiant heat. The result is a thermogenic explosion of flavours. The meaty flesh fell softly and the skin tasted peppery. The prawns were large and dressed with a plum and red currant sauce that kept the standards up.
Finally, we reach the main course before we’re prematurely full, and dishes that resemble what we’ve come to describe in this country as ‘traditional Indian grub’. Of course, this is not the case – Chicken Tikka Masla was in fact an invention by the Brits: order it in India and you’ll receive a quizzical look before being taken out back and beaten with sticks and wet cloth. Absurd as this sounds, Glasgow MP Mohammed Sarwar (not distinguishably Glaswegian) suggested it should be given EU Protected Geographical Status as a Scottish food. Jeez, it doesn’t taste of deep-fried haggis or pulverized tatties, so how on earth can we call it Scottish?
We’re presented with some recognisable dishes such as Lamb Korma and Green Chicken Curry, and there’s a Bhindi Dopyaza next to a coastal prawn dish too. Each is given its own ‘Chutney Mary’ branded silver serving bowl and line up in a half-crest at the peak of your plate. It’s first-rate presentation. Surprisingly, I didn’t enjoy the cardboard Lamb Tikka: its sterile almost aniseed taste left a lurking bitterness in the mouth as if licking a spoon. Green Chicken Curry was by far the hottest and had a thick and fiery kick that made my eyes roll back into my head. Each of the chicken chunks was meaty, fiery and delicious.
We gluttonously moved on to the fuchsia prawn dish – fishy and satisfying, but it was the crunchy okra in the Bhindi Dopyaza that dazzled. All were boosted by the wine choice of Yalumba Bush Grenache which is rather similar to the popular Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It’s a heavier wine than our previous with stronger hints of blackberry and cranberry to give it an overall heavier and richer finish that joins nicely with the meats.
There’s certainly nothing drab or ordinary about these Chutney Mary dishes. Each is constructed with precision to fully elevate each ingredient. Emphasis is on the distinct spices and flavourings, as one might expect, and the Gourmet Tasting Menu is a carefully selected list to give you a small sampling of the restaurant’s best dishes.
What’s interesting is that Indian cuisine contains such variety, with elements from the furthest of regions, yet in this country we tend to stick with only a very small choice. Chutney Mary expands on what we think we know, adding twists to some recognisable dishes (desserts for instance offer Baked Alaska with a citrus centre and meringue with a touch of pepper, and crme brulee spiced gently with garam masala).
A brief word with head chef Siddharth Krishna and I begin to understand the direction of the menu. Krishna comes from Goa but has travelled the country, from Delhi to Mumbai and moved to England 15 years ago. He enjoys a play on flavours, fusing gourmet Indian cuisine with some street food traditions. There’s a heavy emphasis on fish and the menu changes with the seasons.
Reaching the culmination of the meal, my peach tart with butterscotch ice-cream was like a little sun on the plate. A wheel of warm peach with a jagged pastry wreath. The gingerbread and butter pudding was finished with an orange chilli sorbet and on recommendation we ordered our third dessert plate, a fresh fig kulfi that was indeed, the best dessert on the menu. Our final wine pairing was a glass of Muscat Beaumes de Venise from Rhône. It has a golden colouring and floral fragrance and is a delicate dessert wine, too sweet and stinging for me but it went down a treat on the other side of the table.