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Dining: Kahani; Indian cuisine in Belgravia

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New heights for Indian cuisine

Chef Peter Joseph is merging British produce and Indian tastes at Kahani, his impressive new venture in Belgravia

I have a confession to make. The night I visited Kahani I initially walked straight past the place without even noticing. In my defence it was a dark winter’s night and Sloane Street and its environs were awash with taxis and cyclists, but it took several minutes of strolling in what was ultimately the wrong direction before I had that feeling of: ‘Hang on, this doesn’t feel quite right.’

Doubling back, I discovered my destination, illuminated by a glowing green sign somehow reminiscent of the sort of thing you might see in Paris or Brussels, tucked away in an Edwardian apartment block that might have served as a setting from the pages of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or John Buchan.

The driving force behind Kahani is Peter Joseph, who spent 10 years as the head chef of London’s Michelin-starred Tamarind restaurant. He explains that his aim is to deliver ‘destination dining’, so the fact that Kahani is a few steps off the beaten track, although just a five-minute walk from Sloane Square, suits him perfectly.

His stated aim is to serve up a modern approach to Indian cuisine, where possible using seasonal British ingredients, and judging by the flavours and creativity on show the night I visited, a Michelin star may well be on the agenda some time soon.

Inside the vibe is relaxed and understated. Jazz tunes play in the background; not so loudly that they disturb the flow of conversation, but loudly enough that you cannot hear your neighbours’ every word. The décor has hints of exposed stonework and dark wood, while the far wall comprises a rather attractive wine collection (more of that later) set around what looks as if it was once one of the original building’s fireplaces.

Flowers and ferns provide a hint of natural colour and the bar, well-stocked with whiskies, gins and brandies, can also deliver an impressive list of cocktails if you’re waiting for members of your party to join.

Kahani may be a long way removed from the average curry house, but one of its charms is that it picks up brilliantly on some established themes. Kick off with poppadums with chutneys, perfect to get the taste buds going while you contemplate the menu.

I plumped for the octopus and calamari chaat, with kasoondi mustard, sweet potato and grapefruit. It was a revelation

This is split into four main sections, small plates, classics (which come in both starter and main sizes), specials and Dawat (Urdu for feast).

I plumped for the octopus and calamari chaat, with kasoondi mustard, sweet potato and grapefruit, and it was a revelation; succulent calamari, complemented by the dry citrus of the grapefruit and a hint of spice that is palpable without being throat-grabbing. Presentation is simple, yet effective and certainly not to be accused of being over-precious, although for some reason that I can’t really explain at first glance I presumed this would be a hot dish (it isn’t).

Looking around and other small plates that seemed to be going well included the soft shell crunchy crab with Mangalorean spices, kachcumber, smoked tomato and chutney, and the samosa platter, featuring Punjabi aloo, kolhapuri chicken and chettinad venison.

The Kori Gassi features chicken simmered with curry leaves, peppercorn and coconut, giving a delicious thickness to the sauce

Classics include smoked Malabar prawns, grilled stone bass with garlic and a lamb seekh kebab. I opted for a smaller portion of the latter, which was meaty, compact and served with a perky sauce made from green chilli, coriander, ginger and garam masala that is one to appeal to lovers of spicy food.

The knowledgeable and attentive sommelier suggested I combine this with a full-bodied Crozes-Hermitage capable of holding its own with such a dish.

And so to the main event. This is an Indian restaurant, after all, and Kahani has transformed the curry to a thing of beauty and sophistication. Their chicken makhani is a signature dish, buttery and unctuous, and I was tempted in that direction, and by the Kerala fish curry with halibut.

Desserts are impressive, for those who have any room left

Ultimately though I decided to go with the Kori Gassi, chicken simmered with curry leaves, peppercorn and coconut. The latter gives a delicious thickness to the sauce and helps ensure the heat is subtle rather than fiery. A glass of Argentinian merlot of a gentle, not too boozy persuasion washed it down well and the accompanying rice and okra were cooked to perfection.

I’d only signed up for the vegetable at my waiter’s recommendation. I have to confess I have perhaps encountered too many versions that have been either slimy, or stringy or both, but the chefs at Kahani take the dish and advance it to an altogether different level. I’d certainly have it again. Desserts are impressive, for those who have any room left. While I let discretion triumph over valour by opting for a trio of sweet, fruity sorbets, many of my fellow diners opted to unleash the restaurant’s signature chocolate bombe, a melting delight that was greeted by plenty of approving sounds.

Kahani is at 1 Wilbraham Place, London, SW1X 9AE
Tel: (+44) 20 7730 7634

Words: DH

This article was originally published in Halcyon magazine in 2019

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