Sunday, 6 April 2014

Trishna


Indian food in England is something of a thing. The first dedicated curry house (as opposed to the coffee shops that merely served curry) opened in London in 1809, and there are now over 10,000 Indian restaurants serving us £3.2 billion pounds of food a year. Indeed, two thirds of meals eaten out are said to be curry, and many pundits describe Chicken Tikka Massala as our national dish.

Things have come a long way since The Forme of Cury was written in the 1390s, and even if it is a dark story, of fashion and imperialism, you can’t deny that Indian food is an important part of English identity.

That said, how often do you think of curry as being a part of fine dining? Not often, I would hazard a guess, and you would not be alone. But nonetheless there are several Michelin starred Indian restaurants and it seemed about time that I got my act together and visited one.

Thus when darling Julian suggested we visited Trishna for my birthday this year, I jumped at the chance.

All the signs were promising. Based in Marylebone (close to L’Autre Pied, the venue for last year’s birthday meal, and didn’t that cause déjà vu) it is a lovely environment. We arrived slightly early and went for a wander around the Wallace Collection before lunch.

Purely coincidentally, it was Diwali, so we chose the Diwali Feast Menu (with wine for Julian and myself), and sipped at Bloody Indians while we pondered if the pretty yet forgetful waiter we’d been assigned would last through the meal.

Our fears seemed groundless at first. Okay, they brought three lots of wine instead of two with the first course, but the fried flakiness and savoury warmth of the chana bhatura drove that from our minds. It was, we were told, a special Diwali treat, and it was lovely; savoury and slightly decadent, as are all the best things in life.

The next course – hariyali bream – was, without doubt, the best thing I have ever eaten. Nestled in a vivid green blanket of marinade the fish managed to be at once slightly charred in all the best ways and meltingly, moistly perfect. The wine (a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc) was intense and fruity and wonderful, and the course was one of the most pleasurable I have ever eaten.

This was followed by tandoori grouse – a bird which I have a deep fondness for and which was shown to full advantage. The spices complemented the earthy ripeness of the game, and it wasn’t overcooked in the least, leaving it soft and yielding. Unfortunately, it was at this stage that the waiting staff lost interest in us. It may have been for any number of reasons – it was busy, it was a holiday day, there was a shift change – whatever. We sat for around 25 minutes, the remnants of the grouse in front of us and our glasses empty until the table next to us had a dish delivered and our lamb chops were rushed out to our still plated table.

The lamb, sadly, wasn’t worth the wait. Plonked down with no ceremony or comment by the waiter, it was lukewarm and slightly flabby. They’d removed the fat leaving bland meat, with no trace of char to enliven the marinade that coated it. I could see what they were going for, and if they had executed it as well as they did the bream it would have been suburb. Sadly it was a missed opportunity, although the mustard mooli was fantastic (and something I will try to recreate at home) and the 2009 Chateau du Cedre went amazingly with the lamb.

We had chosen different main courses in order to try everything. I had plumped for the malwani jhinga curry, with Julian and Mr Peas (the non-drinking designated driver) making the better choice of the South Indian coast lamb curry. Unfortunately this caused confusion with the wine, despite the waiters making careful notes at the start of the meal, though they fixed the problem with good grace. I have to admit that the side dishes of hyderabadi dal, spinach corn, and nan were the best part of this course. On paper the coconut prawn curry should have been my ideal, but although my prawns were cooked perfectly the sauce was over-salted and had a strange aftertaste, while the lamb was tough and uninteresting despite being in a beautifully flavoured sauce.

By now we had been there for a good three hours and my thoughts were turning fondly to relaxoslacks and dozing off somewhere warm (it had been a late night the night before. IT WAS NOTHING TO DO WITH MY AGE) and the wait until dessert felt far too long, although this is probably highly subjective.

Desert itself was shahi tukra (a bread based pudding that was a symphony of syrup and custard) for Mr Peas and me, and cardamom kheer for Julian. This time I had chosen correctly – my feelings about cold rice pudding are many and varied and none of them are altogether positive. Julian enjoyed it, however, and I should remember that it takes all sorts to make up the world. It wasn’t as sweet as he’d been warned, he reported and the mix of nuts and the sweet white juicy sultanas was good for me. He found the bread pudding a bit too sweet for his taste, but I love him so I will let this pass.

We declined coffee, to the consternation of the waiting staff, and struggled somewhat to get the bill, which was a tad confusing. If you want a table to leave, bringing them the bill and the card machine promptly is probably a better way to achieve it than ignoring them completely – but it was a Sunday afternoon so maybe none of us was reasoning clearly by that stage.

A note deserves to be said about the wine – it was all perfectly chosen, and Mr Peas commented that he’d never understood until then how wine could complement food that way. He’d always suspected it was a load of poppycock sprayed round by those who had a pretentious desire to lord it over him. The wine choices with this meal proved him wrong, and moreover were amazingly prudent – especially for the range of wines we tried.

So, conclusions. Would I go there again? Yes. In a second. I hope the issue with service was more to do with the fact that we were on a late lunch service starting at 1:30 and they were starting the afternoon service in the other half the restaurant than with any bigger problem, and the set lunch with beer would prove a very prudent solution to Sunday lunch.

 15-17 Blandford Street,
Marylebone,
London
W1U 3DG,
020 7935 5624, www.trishnalondon.com

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