I have been to expansive Sikh restaurants in Southall and frenetic Pakistani grills in Whitechapel. I once had a very good jalfrezi in Dublin. I have even been to the original Moti Mahal in Delhi where they serve punchy tandoori chicken to the hypnotic sobbing of a live Qawwali singer. However, I’ve never eaten Indian ‘fine dining.’ So Kahani, near Sloane Square, was a surprise.
For a start they make a great deal about the sense of storytelling at Kahani. Both the menu and the waiters are enthusiastic for narrating the provenance of the food. The meal itself is a journey. Eating at Kahani makes you pause to reflect that the cuisine Subcontinent is one of the most ancient and refined in the world.
Toby Yerburgh, Steven Heffer and I went there one dark Wednesday lunch time. It’s on Wilbraham Place. Not far from Arnold Bennet’s blue plaque. You go down stairs into a dining room full of clean lines and crisp table linen. The menu was an immediate conversation point. For starters there are only two curries on the menu. There were none of the usual curry house flowery descriptions; just precise, spare notes.
It being Kensington and all, they serve cocktails. We had some. They were great. We were then set up well for the lunch. Steven is an artist of the South Coast. I like his chalk and sea paintings. However, both he and Toby are also legal men, so I always like to get them talking about Rumpole of the Bailey. I could see the weariness cross their faces as, once again I asked ‘if it is really like being a barrister.’ They perked up at the first tastings.
We had asked the waiter to pick dishes for us. The octopus and tandoori calamari and the soft shell Mangalorean crabs were surprisingly understated, delicately spiced, restrained even. Char grilled scallops were paired with star anise and a mango thuvayal. It was an intriguing introduction. The chef obviously has a light touch.
A sommelier in an Indian restaurant is a figure I never thought to see. Yet they fetched him and he proved to be both friendly and sagacious. He chose a red to suit all our main courses; a difficult job with the complexity of Indian dishes. The red had a bit of spice in its own right and was up to the job.
The three of us had a good old argument about Kipling. Then we moved on to Keats. Then east end gangsters.
I haven’t yet mentioned that you can have everything as small plates at Kahani, tapas style. In any case, when they bought out the principles dishes it was a free for all – three pairs of hands darting across the table. Malabar prawns and the chicken tikka with saffron were immediately addictive. The tang and char of both probably deserve superlatives, but excellent will suffice. Roasted aubergine and chutney paneer tikka sang with mint and mustard.
Tandoori rotis and garlic naan were crispy yet foldable. Here the chef was showing his credentials. His Maharini-Tarka Dal was a dish that induced a moment of reverence.
I am now leading you to the heights. For there were two plates that bear special attention. The ‘Kahani’ butter chicken with fenugreek was deep and alluring. The lamb chops were amazing. Now I have eaten the famed chops of Tayyabs. I have eaten the esteemed chops of the Lahore Kebab House. The lamb chops at Kahani leave the rest behind, by a grand trunk road mile. Moist, yet with a crust and a lick of smoke – I am craving them as I write this. A silence fell amongst us as we ate them. They are the epitome. No other words will do. None are needed. Oh there was also a very fine biryani.
We finished with some refined desserts. Mine was kulfi with figs.
Afterwards we around the corner to the pub and to converse and fix the lunch in reminiscence…oh those lamb chops.
Kahani 1 Wilbraham Place SW1X 9AE
Words by Steven O’Brien.