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Kathryn Flett reviews Kutir, London: ‘I lost myself in one of the greatest puddings I’ve ever had’

Prem Kumar

2019/08/01

On so many levels, Feb 1 was a day made for curry. It was no longer January and was also – yay! – a Friday. However, many of us had also just sold the family’s metaphorical silver to pay HMRC – and, as you may be aware, the price of metaphorical silver is currently at an all-time low.

Still, as the good news trumped the bad news, I instructed my friend Lucy to meet me in London SW3 for lunch at what I imagine it is no longer sufficiently “woke” to describe as “An Indian” – though having been “woke” for so long that I am now in danger of nodding off again, I am going to call it An Indian anyway, trusting this is more likely to make you hungry than angry.

What with it being a particularly dreich Feb Friday, I might well have had An Indian even if I had not been reviewing – almost certainly in the traditional form of a takeaway from one of my local purveyors. Instead, I booked Kutir (“hut” in Sanskrit) which is to Chelsea pretty much what Cinnamon Spice is to St Leonards-on-Sea (4.5 stars on TripAdvisor, Certificate of Excellence form the same, a five-star hygiene certificate and “The 2017 Curry House of the Year”, as voted for by readers of the Hastings and St Leonards Observer) – and not least because the latter is on Kings Rd TN37, while the former lies 73 miles away, just off (the) Kings Road SW3.

Kutir opened softly before Christmas and is run by Rohit Ghai in the kitchen and Abhishake Sangwan front of house, both previously of Jamavar and Gymkhana and therefore no strangers to a Michelin star. I’d assumed the name was an in-joke: given that the site, formerly home to the likewise starred Vineet Bhatia, is not exactly a hut, but rather an elegant town house made over in a palette of jewel colours starring some sumptuous wallpaper by Cole & Son; the whole effect calling to mind a mini Rajasthani palace. However it turns out that, according to Ghai, “Kutir is inspired by Abhi’s and my early careers in luxury heritage hotels within wildlife sanctuaries across India.”

The set lunch looked to be good value – £20 for two and £25 for three – and I would happily have ordered prawns masala, truffle and khichadi kedgeree and steamed raspberry yogurt with honeycomb and rosemary.

However, it turned out Lucy was nursing a fairly fresh root-canal and, having glanced at the à la carte, was now distracting herself with the “Expeditions” tasting menu, subdivided into “Signature” (£65 for seven dishes) “Vegetarian Signature” (£60, ditto) and “Hunter’s” (£55, five dishes), and eyeing up the wine list.

Who was I to deny her some full-blown culinary anaesthesia, especially on a Friday? The restaurant kindly helped things along with a spa-style soundtrack of ambient twiddling.

We opted for the game-inspired “Hunter’s”, bypassing the suggested £40 wine flight in favour of a couple of glasses of Domaine St Hilaire chardonnay. Service was pitched right at the point where hovery-stuffy meets casually-laid-back, i.e. pretty much exactly where most of us, whether in St Leonards-on-Sea or Chel-sea, would want service to be at lunchtime on a Friday.

I didn’t always catch the speedily delivered descriptions of each dish: so do bear with me while I make up my own. The quail-egged naan with truffle shavings was a lovely light kick-starter, and while I had to take their word for the tandoori partridge with its beetroot side actually being a partridge, it was a delight.

Same for all the meat, really: while the venison was easy to identify, the duck in the korma and the guinea fowl in the biryani were less so; however, the joy of top-notch Indian cooking is that the total flavour-equation adds up to more than the sum of its parts. Note, too, this was very much the menu choice for committed carnivores, and even they might appreciate something other than carb-heavy sides of naan, chapatis and rice: our only veg dish was a fine daal.

As Lucy downed another glass of wine and cleared up an intense-looking chocolate dessert with deep fried banana-bites, I lost myself in one of the greatest puddings I’ve ever had: a stunning-looking, refreshing and delicate falooda rabri – a creamy pud-drink made with vermicelli noodles, cream, sugar, nuts, and cardamom and presented in knickerbocker glory-style layers. It’s this blissfully Nirvana-nudging dessert that has stayed with me.

Our lunch came in at a not-to-be-sniffed-at £163, which is exactly what Lucy had paid the previous night for dinner at a north London restaurant we’d both enjoyed previously. “This was far better – and better value. I love it. Can we come back?”

Yes – for the set menu; I only spend 80 quid on lunch for the benefit of my reader. If you paid 80 quid a head at Cinnamon Spice, you’d probably end up owning it.