As a food writer I spend a lot of my time eating out in central London. More often than not I’m to be found chowing down in gastro hot-spots such as Soho, Mayfair or Fitzrovia although more recently there have been more forays to the ascendant east of town, visiting previously unlikely destinations such as Dalston, Hackney Wick and Hoxton where some of the most progressive cooking is to be found. But now things seem to be stirring in some of the lesser-known West London suburbs…Restaurateur Puneet Wadhwani has recently opened Patri in Northfields (near Ealing), a place whose name means ‘train track’ and which celebrates India’s diverse and extraordinary ‘railway food’ culture. From enticing sounding platform-cooked food passed to customers through carriage windows, to the on-train service with freshly prepared meals on board, Patri focuses on dishes from Puneet’s home town station of New Delhi as well as from the iconic 8-track Marwar Junction station in the Pali district near Jodhpur. It’s the second largest city of Rajasthan and home to the Rajputana style of cooking with its focus on gamey meats made with spicy marinades and elegant royal sweets as well as being the setting for the opening of Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale ‘The Man Who Would Be King’
With Indian Railways moving over 20,000 passengers on more than 7,000 trains a day, feeding them is clearly a major gastronomic undertaking. Puneet, who is also behind Chai Naasto – purveyor of Indian streetfood in Hammersmith, Harrow and Beckenham – says that his mission is that ‘Each bite should take you back to India’ and he explains that he has brought in a top quality chef able to deliver that authentic made-from-scratch experience. So I’m very happy to have ben invited to review Patri to explore this railway cuisine.Patri’s interior is more trendy Soho than suburban Northfields with distressed brick, salvaged wood and corrugated iron being used creatively to give a ‘chic shack’ ambience. It’s a million miles away from the standard curry house experience and this sense of individuality also extends to the menus. The restaurant has invested in a Le Verre de Vin wine preservation system allowing better quality wines to be sold by the glass. With some crisp poppadums served with a ‘hot’ mint chutney we try a New Zealand white, Jealous Sisters Pinot Gris from Wairarapa. It’s full of nectarine and peach flavours and stands up to the food beautifully. There is also an interesting looking cocktail list and soft drinks including classics such as a saffron Kesari Lassi and a ‘Nimbu’ lemon soda. I try a non-alcoholic G&T made with ‘The Duchess’ non-alcoholic gin. Distilled with botanicals including orange peel, cardamom, all spice, cloves, star anise and juniper and made with natural quinine it’s less sweet than its main competitor Seedlip and the vegetal notes are a great match with the spice from the food.
The menu is divided into six sections; small ‘Streetfood’ plates function as starters, ‘Classics’ feature grills cooked on the Josper, ‘Signature’ dishes are a list of intriguing sounding curries, ‘City Specials’ and ‘Extras’ feature side dishes, soft drinks and snacks, and ‘The Train Specials’ complete the menu with meat and veggie mixed grills and thalis.And it is from the latter menu that we start our culinary Indian journey with the Old Delhi influenced Railway Mixed Grill. If you are a fan of Indian grilled meats then you should make a bee-line for this sharing dish. Tender chunks of tandoori chicken, a lightly spiced lamb seekh kebab, chicken malai tikkas and smokey paneer tikkas are marinated and then part cooked in the English clay tandoor before being finished on the angeethi brazier. Delicious!A lighter vegetarian option is the Platform Mix Grill, a vibrant plate of mouth-explosions consisting of a tangy bhel puri mix, hot little aloo (potato) samosas, cheeky chaat bombs that burst open in your mouth filled with mint water, kachori, smoky paneer tikka, the spinach-based hara bhara kebab, and the betel leaf infused paan patte chaat combo. It’s about as much fun as you’re going to have with your clothes on in Northfields!Next up arrived a quartet of dishes. From New Delhi Station came the chef’s signature dish – butter chicken on the bone known as Murgh Makhani – marinated chicken is part-cooked in the tandoor and then stewed in a sultry buttery tomato cashew nut gravy and then topped with fenugreek, honey and coriander. Perfect winter’s comfort food is the rich Black Daal Makhani – a creamy, luscious dish of black lentils slow-cooked overnight on the tandoor. A healthy option is the vegan Lasuni Chole Palak with burnt Garlic stir fried with chickpeas and spinach and spicing from fenugreek and ginger. The Shahi Laal Maas lamb curry is made with chilli and garlic and is full of heat as befits the favourite meat curry of Rajasthani royals.Our grand finale was a wonderful bowl of slow-cooked Rajasthani Safed Machi Mass monkfish cubes in a fragrant almond and cashew paste cream. This celebratory grand curry had a ‘royal’ white colour and came with a deliciously flaky butter naan. One of my dishes of the year!Cooling pistachio and mango kulfi ice-lollies were the perfect way to cool and cleanse the palate at the end of our fabulous culinary journey. If taking a train trip around India feels too ambitious at the moment the good news is that the Piccadilly Line runs out to Northfields and that Patri is just a hop and a skip from the station – and in the evenings there is even parking outside. So if you are in the mood for something exciting and new to eat it’s a great place to visit.
139 Northfields Avenue, W13 9QT
0203 981 3388