The Sloane Square Indian


These amateur photos tell several different stories. 

The first, and probably the most obvious, is that they are all of Indian dishes, a cuisine that, I have to confess, I somewhat overlook. 

However, on closer inspection they seem to lack all the constituent parts that we have come to associate with the cooking to be found in most Indian restaurants. There is no rice; there are no papadums; no raita; in fact there are no, well very few, carbohydrates at all on this menu.

The story behind this restaurant is complex, too. All the food is the creation of Vineet Bhatia, a chef who, after his initial training in Bombay, came to London and found fame. For the last 20 years he has built up a network of restaurants, 12 in all, stretching from Geneva to Mauritius, alongside his loyal, ever-smiling wife Rashima. For the last 10 years his London base has been here at 10 Lincoln Street, Chelsea, almost directly behind Peter Jones, and from this very English address they collectively ran a highly sophisticated Indian menu under the name of Rasoi Vineet Bhatia, the kitchen of Vineet Bhatia.

This name was always an issue, in my opinion, as it invariably demanded clarification, and fell short of the clarity that a restaurant name should radiate. But, happily, this issue has now been corrected as the restaurant Vineet Bhatia has emerged from the ashes of its predecessor.

Its emergence comes after a protracted year’s negotiation with the landlords, another restaurant group. When Bhatia faced the end of his lease, he made what he considered to be a generous offer to renew, which was turned down. After discussions broke down, Bhatia mentally and physically closed his restaurant and prepared to focus on his restaurants outside the UK. Then the landlords relented, appreciated the strength of an occupier with a proven track record in a restaurant that occupies the corner site of a terrace of residential buildings with all that this implies – including a kitchen in the basement – and a rent was finally agreed upon to the satisfaction of both sides.

With it came the opportunity to plan what would be Vineet and Rashima’s dream restaurant. A lot of money has been spent on the interior, now predominantly a sophisticated and fairly classical pale green, while the lavatories and reception area have also been spruced up. The restaurant manager, Kenny Kurian, looks extremely dapper in his suit; the sommelier looks almost as immaculate; and the overall feel is of being served food in an exemplary Chelsea home.

Except, there is a set menu, one that changes every month alongside a vegetarian set menu; the restaurant is open only for dinner Tuesday to Saturday; the menu comprises an awful lot of small plates; and it is robustly priced at £105 per person – £10 more than Isaac McHale’s Michelin-starred menu at The Clove Club (although this is Chelsea rather than Shoreditch). The menu is £175 with carefully-chosen wine pairings. Incidentally, the wine list is as interesting as it always has been at Bhatia’s London restaurants and includes not only wines from the most obvious locations but also fascinating choices such as a Dominant White 2012 from Castra Rubra on the Thracian Plain in southern Bulgaria. Also fascinating was an aside from Kenny that his research had uncovered a wine from mangoes, made somewhere outside Pune in western India, that had impressed him but he had yet to track down a UK importer.

Our menu began with six snacks, several based on Indian street food. Among these was a delicious aubergine kut, aubergine on top of a thin slice of puff pastry; a steamed rice cake topped with crab chutney with cumin mustard; a dish described as ‘ bhaji butter’, Bhatia’s take on this common form of street food popular in Andhra Pradash and the closest we came to carbohydrate all evening. Each had a common theme: the spicing was spot on, definitely toward the hot notes but never too hot.

There then followed two fish dishes and a mushroom momo, the Indian version of a Chinese dim sum, stuffed with diced mushrooms. These encompassed the old and the new. The first, one of Bhatia’s longest-established dishes, involves a piece of hot smoked salmon, the second a piece of grilled lobster tail served with coconut milk and squid ink. Both were presented on stylishly chunky crockery, the result of a long-term collaboration between the Bhatias and a potter based in north London.

Two meat dishes then appeared. The first described as ‘malai chicken’ was Bhatia’s take on butter chicken, with the chicken breast encased in a white sauce that had begun life as tomato water before being enriched with butter and cream. Our final savoury dish was a kapi lamb chop, a single chop topped with coffee blended with a rogan josh sauce, a combination that proved an excellent finale as the meat absorbed the thick sauce.

There followed what many believe to be the essence of Indian cooking, an aspect of the menu that seems to give Bhatia and his team as much pleasure as the savoury dishes: I am referring, unashamedly, to Indian desserts and sweets.

This barrage, a word I use reasonably and accurately, opened with a dish described as the ‘coconut calm’ shown here, a lovely concoction of coconut milk and green cardamom served in a dish resembling half a coconut. This was cool and my note described it as ‘ a great taste of India’. There then followed a hot chocolate samosa served alongside a glass of apple blossom before an absolutely moreish salted caramel kulfi with fennel seeds topped with slightly superfluous roasted black quinoa.

Our petits fours consisted of several chocolates as well as a jubub, pâté de fruit cube, made from rose water and ginger, that were served wedged into a bowl with different openings on all sides. This had been made by the potter, who had first been highly disappointed with the result and it was only when Bhatia saw it that he stopped them being scrapped and has subsequently put them to very effective use.

Bhatia’s restaurant appeals on many fronts: the cooking, the wines it offers, the style of service, and, perhaps best of all for anyone like me with a sweet tooth, the desserts.

Vineet Bhatia 10 Lincoln Street, London SW3 2TS; tel +44 (0)20 7225 1881