Rasoi. Spice at a price.
There is practically no time when C has refused an invitation to a meal involving curry. He doesn’t like Trishna (uncomfortable chairs, the noise, the fussiness), or Benares (the complexity, the expense) and in this, as in much else, we disagree.
Funnily enough, I didn’t mention that there might be fussiness at Rasoi, the brainchild of Vineet Bhatia, even though I suspected much food-fiddlery from the fulsome description on their website. I always start with the website – it tells you such a lot about how restaurants see themselves.
And this one contains much to irritate. Annoying slider pictures of the local neighbourhood greet you on the homepage. Look, a London bus here, a bench in Sloane Square there and of course, Peter Jones. Gosh, I’m thinking, if they have Peter Jones on the front page, they must be good.
Once you have exited the website and gone back in (because you must do that to get out of the slider show) you find a timeline of significant events, starting with the birth of the Holy One, in 1967.
Scroll down the years and you will find that in 1988 he was appointed Executive Trainee to the Oberoi hotel group. Obviously he feels that we need to know that. There’s a quote from Fay Maschler in 1993. There’s also a reference to an ill-fated association with the Cinnamon Club, which informs us that “unable to financially sustain with a new house and a young son of 7 months Vineet set up home at Vineet Bhatia Hammersmith”. Fascinated though I am at his family situation during the negotiations for the Cinnamon Club site, I am not sure why it is relevant today, other than perhaps to throw in the reference to Cinnamon Club in a “look, look, I’ve been involved with Cinnamon Club and Zaika and now this.
On we go, through the Zaika years, the Michelin stars, the setting up of Rasoi in 2004, the Geneva restaurant and finally his own brand of chocolates. I’ve never come across them.
Ten years on and it’s still there, quietly plying its trade on a sleepy little residential street in Chelsea. There’s no entrance as such. You ring the front door bell and are taken through a narrow corridor into the front room of this pretty house. Note: this is a Victorian townhouse. I expect that it was built around 1840. Or possibly earlier. Surely not a hundred years ago, as it states on the website. The front room is crammed with cushions, trinkets and brightly coloured silks. Lush and dramatic, it’s very intimate and romantic and in case you were thinking it might be a good place to have an affair, you are entirely wrong.
I really tried hard not to listen to the sales spiel of the engineer droning on to his long-suffering client on the next table. Aerospace is an untidy thing, he says, after a solid hour of engineering-speak. I am afraid that it was all too easy to imagine using the aerodynamic knife to make the conversation come to an end. Sadly, as well as lacking in atmosphere, there was no background noise to mask the sounds of other diners and that of pins, dropping.
Formal service brought some popadoms and chutney, followed by blueberry yogurt. Not particularly interesting.
We had considered the tasting menu but at £89 for nine courses, before service, we knew that we were looking at a final bill of something north of £230 with drinks. That’s a “special occasion” price not a Tuesday night after a bank holiday, when you just fancy something better than a local curry price.
Not that the à la carte was a bargain. At two courses for £54 and three courses for £66, this is not a cheap night out.
The irony not lost on me, I ordered street food chaats of samosa, dahi bhalla-bhalla ice cream and aloo-corn tikki. I made C order the toasted sesame ginger cod, spring onion khichdi, fennel pollen ice cream and cashew nut salsa.
Mine came on what appeared to be a specially designed plate. Least interesting was the sweetcorn tikki. A fairly bland potato-based patty, with a small amount of tomato chutney, this was unexciting. Much better was the samosa, drizzled with yoghurt, tamarind, and coriander with crunchy vermicelli sprinkled over. I also liked the yogurty ice-cream tamarind thing which defies description, served in a champagne glass, which I suspect is not an authentic rendition.
C’s starter, much of which found its way onto my plate, was far more sophisticated. The toasted sesame ginger cod was reminiscent of the black cod at you-know-where, but better. The spring onion khichdi, a rice dish apparently the precursor to kedgeree, was tasty and the fennel pollen ice cream was interesting against the fish. I liked this dish – a lot going on and all of it good.
We had ordered the main courses with a view to sharing, in the traditional way. We (term used loosely) chose the grilled duck breast, duck-roasted coconut-tandoori, pineapple chat, roasted cashews, caramelised onion pulao, and duck jus. I am not sure that the duck was meant to be lukewarm, but that is what it was. An enormous plate, but not an enormous amount of food, the three main items were placed far away from each other, as if touching might contaminate them. A tiny jug of jus. Jus. I am afraid that the very word annoys me. The duck breast fine but the coconut slices were dry and chewy, without actually tasting of coconut.
Better was the Goan-style braised lamb shank, coriander butter rice, carrot mash and spinach–potato coins. I wonder whether Mr Bhatia has found a special breed of micro lamb to go with the micro greens. I have never seen such a compact shank. But it tasted good, and the carrot mash and spinach was well prepared. Not the most adventurous or complex of dishes but tasty. I had not been expecting meat and two veg.
Special mention must go to the supporting acts, the naan, described as trio of breads (£7) and the creamy black lentils (£8). Both of these were excellent.
Other side dishes we could have ordered included lamb biriani at £28 or coastal prawns at £22 but we chose not to. Side dishes. I leave those prices to speak for themselves.
Had that meal been £50 a head, we would have been happy with it. At £166, for just two courses, (one glass of wine, two beers, water) it left us with a bad taste. Nothing to justify the price, no expensive ingredients, no truffle shavings, no fancy shellfish – just small amounts of everyday ingredients, cooked decently. I expect that we were paying for the many staff, the expensive Chelsea townhouse and the ongoing ambitions of Mr Bhatia. The posh Indian has been with us for some time now and given the competition from some of the younger pretenders, the quirky and original Gymkhana, or the solid Amaya, Mr Bhatia is no longer the groundbreaking chef he may once have been and has some catching up to do.