1 Kensington High Street, W8 5NP
020 7795 6533/www.zaikaofkensington.com/
I went to the original Zaika in 2001 and if I remember correctly it was at the back of a smart Chelsea shop that sold Indian antiques, perching in a couple of tiny rooms where chef Vineet Bhatia’s served up his modernist take on Indian cuisine. It gained a Michelin star, which was pretty unheard of in those days for an Indian restaurant, and then moved to Kensington. Zaika‘s only real competitor back then was a place called Tamarind which also gained a star and paradoxically it is The Tamarind group that have brought the Zaika brand back to life. About a year ago The Tamarind people stepped out of their comfort zone and opened an Italian place at number 1 Kensington High St. I was invited to the opening party which was a bit of a mess and I hated the place; the ‘Sputnik’ design lighting was far too harsh and the sound system was turned up way too loud in what was an uncomfortable room that didn’t match the aspirations of the menu.Jump cut to now as Fiona and I have been invited to review the “new Zaika” in the same space as the unlamented Italian joint…
With the addition of gentle lighting (the Sputniks have been banished to the outer edges of the galaxy thankfully) and some colonial era prints and knick-knacks, what was a bleak and barren space has been transformed into a warm, elegant and comfortable interior. It combines the clubby colonial feel of Gymkhana with the intimate grandeur of the Berners Tavern so Zaika is very on trend.
The food is an expression of the Awadhi traditions of Northern India. I don’t know what that means either but apparently ‘Awadhi is heavily influenced by the Mughal and Nawabi styles and offers preparations that are an indulgent mix of flavours and spices, creating gourmet spreads that may be described as nothing less than royal.’
So to the food and drink. For some reason cocktails in Indian restaurants are often mixed with too much sugar for me and the Zaika Margarita (£8.50) had a ‘lime caramelised sugar’ rather than a salt rim.
The Bonfire, which blended Bombay Sapphire Gin with lychee juice and spirit and chillies(£8.50), was great to look at but didn’t set my taste buds on fire.
However poppadums (£3.50) were fresh and crisp served with a duo of delicious mango and nigella seed and beetroot and fennel seed chutneys.
Jhinga Shimla-Mirch (£19.50) were grilled tiger prawns marinated with pureed red-pepper and spices. Grilled on the tandoori they were meaty and rich tasting and my glass of oaky Chardonnay stood up to the dish pretty well.
Tender chunks of monkfish (Ajwaini Macchi-£28.50) were marinated with ginger, yoghurt, ajwain and turmeric and had a deep tomato spice flavour and the recommended glass of Viognier with its apricot notes was well-matched.
A side dish of Papdi Chaat (£6)-spiced chickpeas, wheat crisps, yoghurt, mint and tamarind chutney, blueberries-was fantastic, a perfect blend of creaminess and crunch. I could eat this dish every day!
Fiona’s curry leaf, coriander and chilli crusted scallops (£14.50) were served with a smoked red-pepper chutney and were of good quality so full of flavour and very tender.I’m not one to judge but Fiona did order two main courses…
Laal Maas (£19.50), a dish of boneless lamb simmered with whole spices, yoghurt and red chilli paste, had that perfect blend of spice and heat with the meat being extra tender. The accompanying Baingan Masala (£7.50) were baby aubergine tossed with freshly ground spices that really melted in your mouth.
Gosht Dum Biryani (£21.50) was a delicious goat biryani served with Burani Raita that was worth ordering just for the theatre of its serving pot. Fiona drank a Malbec with both her mains that she enjoyed.
The truffle nan (£3.75) was warm and lightly infused with truffle. It was so good that I wanted to bury my face in it…
Pilau rice (£3.50) was authentic with really long grains and fragrant with cardamom spice. Bhindi Jaipuri (£7.50) was a great dish of sliced okra coated with lemon, paprika and gram flour that had been deep-fried and served as crisp nuggets of spicy pleasure.
The kitchen sent out a tasting plate of desserts which were consistently good; pistachio kulfi with passion fruit purée was not too sweet and the lime tart was really light and citrussy. The rum baba was full of booze but my favourite was the ‘Bounty bar’, a delicious confection of dark chocolate and coconut with caramelised nuts.
I really enjoyed my meal at the new Zaika. The reboot has a very different offer to the original, but if you are looking for a classic take on the food of the subcontinent in an evocative and stylish space then it’s a great option.