Chef Rohit Ghai and his sidekick Abhishake Sangwan know a thing or two about high-end Indian restaurants. Ghai’s CV includes stints at the highly-regarded Gymkhana, Jamavar and Bombay Bustle – restaurants where Sangwan also worked as operations director. Kutir is their first ‘solo’ venture: Ghai has complete control over the food whilst Sangwan oversees front of house. After a year in the making, it’s clear that these business partners are ambitious. (Interestingly, they have also just set up a side interest called KoolCha, a street food brand at Box Park in Wembley, which hopefully won’t take their eye off the Michelin prize in Chelsea).
Located in a Georgian townhouse just off King’s Road, the venue comes with an illustrious but perhaps challenging past – it was formerly occupied by Vineet Bhatia who mysteriously shut up shop a week after gaining a Michelin star in the 2018 guide (his London outfit is currently on hiatus until later this year, so my spies tell me). On the outside, this Sloane’s abode is somewhat unassuming, though on our particular visit there was an emergency generator conspicuously whirring away outside. Whether this was helping to power the kitchen or the nearby traffic light I couldn’t quite work out but fortunately the sash windows were sufficiently robust to dampen the racket.
Despite the homely ambience, both the front room and back room on the ground floor are a little cramped. It feels as if they’ve squeezed in just two or three covers beyond the optimum comfort level. Their taste in background music also leaves a little to be desired, being borrowed from either a Debenhams or an Ibis hotel reception. But at least the upholstery is comfortable and the lighting spot-on. The pastel shades also have a calming effect, punctuated occasionally by calligraphic tree branches.
With any new restaurant it’s only natural to expect teething problems in its first few weeks of business. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to experience service that was so well-oiled. Our main waiter, whose accent oscillated between Indian and French, was attentive and helpful with only the tiniest hint of obsequiousness.
There’s a welcoming air of familiarity about Kutir which is disarming and reassuring
For pre-prandials there are a number of intriguing house cocktails. These are Sangwan’s domain and he has concocted a list rooted in classics with Kutir’s own unique twist. As my colleague and I reviewed the menu I sipped on a Sangam (£12): a potent aperitif comprising gin, vodka, plum eau de vie and their own house vermouth. It was subtle and delightful. The wine list is pleasingly extensive. But, being British, it felt only right to accompany our food with that traditional curry house beverage – the humble beer. Cobra is priced at £5.50 for about the same measure as a half pint. This is SW3 after all.
We started with the obligatory poppadums and accompanying dips. Nothing earth-shattering here and we agreed that three of the four chutneys could have been dispensed with.
Then, a selection of ‘small plates’. Scrambled quail egg with truffle on naan was perhaps the least Indian dish on the menu but tasted wonderful. The truffle added just the right amount of that musky umami earthiness without overpowering the subtle spicing in the background. I was expecting the Tandoori broccoli in filo parcels to be too ‘safe’ but these turned out to be delicious. A further starter of scallops with a simple mustard dressing was cooked very well indeed, their natural sweetness complementing the spicing rather than conflicting with it.
Ghai likes to elevate classic Indian ideas with seafood and game for protein – slightly more luxurious ingredients which are, thankfully, in good hands. The biryani, made with guinea fowl, was a crucial test. For a dish that can have a tendency to be dry – and indeed so can the bird if it’s not properly cooked – this was made with great sensitivity and skill. It was moist and unctuous, and a veritable feast in itself. Meanwhile, my colleague’s duck korma with pickled swede was a warming antidote to a blustery mid-winter evening. However, it was odd to see Chicken Tikka Masala on the menu – a dish which, as we all know, isn’t Indian. There’s a welcoming air of familiarity about Kutir which is disarming and reassuring, though it could also be accused of not being bold enough.
Indeed, the desserts were a bit of a washout. I don’t normally bother with desserts in Indian restaurants as I’m usually too bloated on the beer and carb hit. In some ways I wished we had stopped our meal there. My colleague’s Bhappa Doi – basically yoghurt flavoured with raspberry – was really a Muller Corner, and a sickly sweet one at that. My Falooda – essentially a kind of Knickerbocker Glory made with gelatine cubes, strawberry and basil seeds – may have had the pleasing, distinctive fragrance of saffron in the background but overall it was like any Monday in January: a dull, wet, mono-textural non-entity.
So, in some ways a mixed bag, but Kutir delivers (mostly) flavoursome high-end Indian food in a relaxed atmosphere with good service and prices befitting the postcode.
10 Lincoln Street
by J A Smith