14 May 2009
Full of the Joys of Zing
Is there a better Indian restaurant in London than Indian Zing? Manoj Vasaikar is a former head chef of Veeraswamy but his impressive CV includes stints in Mumbai as well as London. And Indian Zing is the perfect setting for his culinary flair. Think the subtleties and depth of flavour of Tamarind (particularly when Atul was in the kitchen), the spicing and mouth-tingling power of Tayyabs and the smart but accessible atmosphere of Mela. Maschler reckons it's Top Five in London, Harden's reckons its "classy and personable" and The Times, Guardian and Independent have all said similar things.
It's set in the unlikely stretch of King Street that's generally Little Eastern Europe, which is turning into a bit of a food haven. Will has been on at me for ages to hit 101 Kitchen and I will. However, to get to 101 I'm going to have to walk past Indian Zing and there are still so many things I haven't tried on the menu. Mind you, with a little encouragement from the staff and Manoj, we had a damn good try last night.
Somewhat inevitably, after some excellent Pappadums and Khakara (with their own, divine, home made pickles and things) we kicked off with the Mixed Platter. This featured Vegetable Bhanavla (a baked and griddled, light and cakey version of the ubiquitous bhaji), Green Peppercorn Malai Tikka (oh so moist chicken breast marinated in peppercorns and cheese), Prawn Kharphatta (prawns, aubergine, serious spicing, with caramelised onions, tomato and pickle masala) and Lamb Salli (minced lamb packed with febugreek, mint, coriander and other spices, stuffed with homemade paneer and the sort of dish I'd trample my own family to get more of). It was, by any stretch, an auspicious start.
And it all, somehow, got better. Karwari Fish Curry packed serious heat and coconut into a satisfying whole, lemon and ginger rice was simple and subtle, the naan was moist without being buttery, the paratha was the best I think I've ever had - so many textures, such great flavour - the house salad provided healthy, fresh support while the Bindi Do Pyaza finally showed me the point of okra. Even better was the Chauli Usal (lentils and mixed beans), Dudhee Bhopla (gourd and pumpkin with lentils and mustard seeds) and the absolute stand out: Kachumpulli Pork.
Yes, you read that right. Pork. In an Indian restaurant. And frankly it was a toss up between that special or the Beef Xacuti. As one of the friendly staff explained, Manoj's cooking 'is about the food, not the religion'. The pork was borderline pulled-pork in terms of melting texture, elegantly spiced and all cut through with a hint of vinegar. Having paced myself, I've got half a portion in the fridge that's already calling my name...
To finish, the "organic multi-seeded masala bread and butter pudding" may have sounded like one of the depressingly worthy "cakes" on sale at the RFF last weekend, but was actually a pleasingly dense, well-flavoured muffin-like take on bread and butter pudding. However, we were absolutely stuffed so instead we focused on the accompanying ice-cream and, particularly, the very pretty, very tasty, edible silver wrapped mango, roasted coconut and saffron kulfi.
And to really finish, my first experience of paan: betel leaf with sun dried rose petals, honey, spices, dried fruit, fennel seeds, and more, all held together by a clove. It's a traditional palate cleanser apparently, and something of a love/hate dish - and often veers between the two. The other side of the table really didn't like it, I was slightly more convinced, although there were moments it felt like you were eating a Lush store. However, they regularly gave way to tongue-coating pleasures of honey and sweet fruits and the feeling of freshness you're left with is a delight.
Oh, and to drink we had an Indian Sauvignon Blanc, the Sula Vineyards 2008. Apparently it's Californian expertise combined with Mumbai's terroir. Whatever the heritage, it was like everything else about this meal: damn near perfect.