Chor Bizarre - from Delhi to London in one bound
There has been a welcome renaissance in the more upmarket end of the Indian restaurant scene. Indian cooking of one sort and another has been inextricably linked with our post-war culture here in Britain since the early fifties when heavy flock wallpaper became the visual cliché and Korma and Papadoms became nearly as ubiquitous as fish and chips. If you were lucky, the best thing about your meal might have been the sound of a raga played by Ravi Shankar. Since then we've had many improvements, particularly the mass importation of Tandoori ovens; other crazes have come and gone, the most recent being the so called Balti cuisine.
Don't expect to find everyday dishes like Vindaloo, Jalfreizi or Madras on the menu at Chor Bizarre,, one of India's most famous modern restaurants which has just given birth to a new offspring in London's Mayfair, taking over from the Gaylord, the old established Albemarle Street Indian Restaurant that had become a little dated.
But why the name Chor Bizarre? Apart from the play on the word bazaar - a chor bazaar means a thieve's market - it also expresses the decor which is about as far as you can get from today's current minimalist style. Chor Bizarre is stuffed with strange antiques, Indian bric-a-brac and objets d'art. Our party ate under the canopy of a four poster bed from Calcutta that has been cleverly converted to an exotic table for six. Throughout, the chairs are all different, some are richly inlaid with ivory and mother of pearl.
Perhaps the best news of all is that several key chefs from the New Delhi mother restaurant have joined the advanced guard. The service also is under the management of a team from New Delhi, where their contribution to the award of India's first ISO 9002 for restaurant quality was significant. When we visited, the front of house was under the direction of Rashmi Chand, whose radiant smiles (and those of her all-girl crew) are in marked contrast to the undoubtedly professional but rather po-faced style of the normally all-male waiters at most other Indian restaurants in the UK.
Chor Bizarre specialises in Kashmiri and vegetarian cuisine as well as presenting a wide range of delicacies from various Indian regions. The menu is a lot of fun, especially the street dishes like Tak-a-Tak named after the sound of the knife on the griddle as the vendor slices off pieces for passers by. The great Chaat Bazaar selection offers tangy appetisers just like those you'd find in a market street in Old Delhi. At the other end of the culinary spectrum is the Wazwan, a Kashmiri feast, with up to 36 courses available! Ceremonial plays a part in this significant meal, with guests seated around the Tarami whose lids are whisked off to release the most delicious aromas. So that's where those serious looking waiters at the Dorchester and the Ritz got the idea from!
We had a selection of Tandooris for our starter, a very delicious chicken tikka; Adraki Chaampen - lamb chops with a thick coating of ginger and herbs, and Kakori Kebab, a grilled minced lamb kebab well spiked with mint. A Tandoori sampler which includes four meat delicacies costs Stg 15.00 and would provide an excellent starter for two people.
We thought we'd try Thali, because the assortment of little bowls gives plenty of opportunity to sample different dishes. The Maharani Thali, Stg 21.00 comes in silver bowls on a rather impressive silver tray. With the Thali you also get Jhinga Lasooni, tandaoori king prawns as a starter. There are six further miniature dishes found elsewhere on the menu, the most outstanding of which was the Nigiri Lamb Korma whre the lamb is sauteed with coconut, ginger, garlic and coriander.
Even better still, I thought, was the South Indian Tiffin, another combination dish, this time served in a collection of attractive ceramics on a traditional Tiffin carrier. Here the flavours were dark and intense, with tamarind figuring strongly. Rice came in a lovely earthenware pot, and Dal Makhni was rich and deeply coloured, its flavours are the product of slow cooking overnight in the cooling Tandoori oven. This dal is only one of a large selection of vegetable dishes.
I'm afraid I had my usual problem with the puddings, which are too reminiscent of school dinners. Just the menu description of Gulab Jamun is enough to put one off: spheres made of thickened milk, fried (!) and infused with a sweet rose flavoured syrup. To be fair, one of my colleagues who appreciates these things raved over his gulabs. Instead I had some fairly standard Indian ice cream, or Kulfi. The mango was nice, the pistaccio was gritty and the arrangement ordinary. I do wish they'd go along to Vong or Nobu to see how Oriental fusion desserts can be presented, (probably not very authentic, rather more enjoyable).
The wine list is sensible both in price and in selection. We enjoyed a bottle of Yalumba Rosé, followed by some lightly chilled Beaujolais, both of which were a perfect accompaniment to our meal.
Chor Bizarre, 16 Albemarle Street, London W1. Tel: 020 7629 9802
Open Monday to Saturday for Lunch, 12 noon - 3.00pm, dinner 6.00 - 11.30pm.
High Tea 3.00 - 6.00pm Monday to Friday.
Average price per head including drinks Stg 30.00
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