Britain’s love affair with curry is well-documented and remains unabated. Restaurateurs therefore assume that it is a fairly safe bet opening yet more high-end Indian venues in swanky parts of London. Onto the scene late last year came Kahani – Hindi for story – backed by a top chef, formerly of Tamarind fame.
The decision to name your restaurant ‘story’ is an interesting one. As your author can attest, writing anything to a level of utmost satisfaction is a challenge. Sure, stories are often by their vary nature, mutable; you can make them up on the spot, they can change over time, be retold and so on. To continue along these lines, while Kahani showed much promise in many areas, both my comrade and I felt that the overall experience provided by the venue very much remained work in progress.
Consider our first impressions. We were greeted at the door, gave our names and welcomed effusively. Kahani is in a basement and so we had to descend a flight of stairs, passing rather curiously, the bathrooms – surely this must be a design flaw – before reaching the restaurant proper. It was somewhat surprising then that we had to provide our names for a second time before being shown to our table. I did not mind, but some sort of synchronised calendar really ought to be a challenge for a restaurant with the ambitions and budget of Kahani. We were shown to a beautiful corner table from which we could marvel at the charm of the room, best described as refined opulence with an open kitchen at one end. However, the somewhat discordant service continued to jar. Our menus were almost plonked on the table and while we had to grapple with four different pieces of paper (a la carte, set, wines and other drinks), no information about a vegetarian tasting menu was provided, despite us having learned about the existence of such an option via Kahani’s website. Our wish was at least granted and we eventually progressed onto two tasting menus, omnivorous for me and vegetarian for my comrade.
We both began with what some other critics have described as one of the venue’s signature dish, a masala grilled avocado served with olives, caramelised onions and iceberg lettuce (pictured). It was tasty, but there was certainly no wow. The combination of ingredients could hardly be described as boundary-pushing; the cynic might suggest that the plate could almost be prepared at home, while my comrade was spot-on in describing the addition of iceberg lettuce as “just a bit naff” – certainly not what you would expect from a restaurant that has its sights surely set on a Michelin star. Moreover, that this dish was the most photogenic across our six-course tasting menu says a lot. Maybe Kahani would argue that the cooking should do the talking, but do not come to this venue if you want a lot of nice Instagram snaps. Elsewhere, m the smoked aubergine that accompanied my admittedly delicious piece of sea bream as looked distinctly unappealing. What Kahani lost on presentation, it did at least gain in terms of taste (both the guinea fowl tikka and a lamb chop served with Kashmiri chillies both superb), while the wine pairings across the menu were thoughtful and often inspired. This observation provides a segue back to the vexed topic of service. While our sommelier was notably charismatic and passionate about his job, indifference and gaucheness would be adjectives I could easily apply to other staff members. It is a pity. There is much that is good about Kahani (and pricing is not at all unreasonable) but being located on a back street just to the north of Sloane Square – and so not benefiting from much passing trade – the venue will need to tighten its story if it is to survive.