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Café Lazeez

One of the pioneers of Indian Fine Dining 

One of the many exciting developments in the British restaurant scene, certainly in London, has been the emergence of Indian Fine Dining. The use of this term has been promoted by a new breed of Indian restaurant entrepreneurs to differentiate their establishments from the often too familiar neighbourhood Indian restaurants. But we shouldn't knock the local guys, many of whom still do an excellent job, and who have introduced British palates to a whole range of exotic  flavours that scarcely existed within these shores before the 1960s. Nevertheless, Indian restaurants had got into a bit of a rut, and the exponents of "Indian fine dining" attempted to bridge the gap between a revival of interest in the authentic regional styles of the sub-continent and the exciting developments going on in mainstream "European" restaurants. So we began to see a less oily, lighter style, with more accent on presentation and integrated dishes, based on a much wider variety of well sourced ingredients.

The Cafe Lazeez group has been at the forefront of this movement, and it is interesting to note that its executive head chef Navin Bhatia has trained the Michelin starred Indian chefs Atol Kolchar at Tamarind, and Vineet Bhatia at Zaika, as well as Anurag Gaultam at Yatra. Navin's head chef at the Kensington Cafe Lazeez is the very talented Avneet Bhutani.

In order fully to appraise the cuisine at the original Cafe Lazeez in South Kensington, I took along as my guest Bruce Westsmith, the Corporate Head Chef of The Economist.

I often find that the first things that are brought out set the scene for the quality, or lack of it, that is to follow. Poppadums and chutneys have become an overworked cliché, but these home made condiments were delicious: especially the prune and tamarind, a slow cooked combination that I must try my hand at, and the minty raita which revealed its subtle spicing even after you'd swallowed it.  We started with the Lazeez Barbecue Feast (£14.50 for two) which gave us the chance to try four of the menu's starters in one go, although you lose out a bit on both the presentation and certain garnishes of the individual dishes.

Lazeez group gains wider recognition

It's always said that if you see a restaurant packed with customers who share the same ethnic origin as the chef-patron, then that is a good guide as to the authenticity and quality of the food! 

So I was intrigued to learn that Café Lazeez has been appointed the official caterer at this year's Asian Wedding  Exhibition 2004 which will be showcasing the very best of East and West fashion and beauty on Saturday the 31st of January and Sunday the
1st of February 2004 at Wembley Exhibition Hall 1 and Saturday the 13th and
Sunday the 14th of March at the Birmingham NEC. 

But that's not all! Just to prove that English palates are equally as tempted, Lazeez is now working to provide Indian cuisine to the corporate sector including the Natural History Museum and Twickenham Rugby Ground amongst many other venues. such as Brands Hatch, Wembley Arena and Cheltenham Race Course. 

Of these, the lamb sheek kebab was bit predictable (this is the more the problem of  the supermarkets who transform  the exotic into the mundane). The huge prawns were steeped in saffron and came with a delicious aubergine chutney. Outstanding were the pieces of salmon - perfectly spiced and timed in the tandoor oven - and also the tender chicken which might have been boring but was an excellent example of how to cook a more delicate meat. 

There are two separate main course menus: the first features the so-called "evolved" dishes" , which come as complete, integrated plates, and cost between £12.75 and £16.95 (£10.75 for the veggie Spinach and Fennel Dumplings filled with sweet and sour mushrooms on a bed of saffron rice and tangy tomato sauce!). Then there is the traditional menu, with dishes around the eight pound mark, but where you will need to order some rice and other vegetables. These dishes are perfect for sharing, which is the more authentic way of eating Indian food.

Bruce tried the scallop and jumbo prawn skewers, which came on a brilliantly executed salmon kedgeree, not like the traditional English smoked haddock version. This was softer and lighter, the rice mingled with softened lentil and the fish kept separate. Bruce commented enthusiastically that the timing of the prawns and scallops had brought out the caramelised flavours without drying out the fish. He found the spicing to be sufficiently assertive to be interesting but not overwhelming. Meanwhile, I had red snapper fillets (nary a bone in sight!) in a deep rich tomato sauce with a coconut base that was really delicious. The breads and vegetable dishes all had small but significant touches that marked them out as being special 

Normally, I wouldn't even bother with a dessert after an Indian meal - for one thing I simply don't have room, for another, puddings aren't really part of the mainstream culture of oriental cuisine in general.  But our charming waiter, a Samoan Kiwi (the service was excellent by the way) particularly recommended the carrot halva, which was nice, but somehow unnecessary after all that we had enjoyed before. 

A lot of trouble has been taken with the wine list with many suggestions as to suitable pairings with food.  House wines start at £10.75 a bottle and there are many good wines priced in the upper teens and twenties. From the fine wine list, I thought a bottle of 1999 Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru ‘Les Enseigneres’, by Henri Prudhon  for £58.00 was pretty reasonable in a London restaurant.

If you haven't yet tried fine Indian dining, hop along to a cafe Lazeez, your taste buds will be in for a treat! 

Clifford Mould August 2003

Cafe Lazeez, now (LAZEEZ @ SOHO), 21 Dean Street, Soho, London W1D 3TN Tel: 020 7434 9393

And in Birmingham independently owned:

Cafe Lazeez116 Wharfside Street, The Mailbox, Birmingham B1
Tel: 0121 643 7979

If you like Lazeez, you might also try Vama, Quilon , The Cinnamon Club and Benares

UK Restaurant Reviews – The Best Of The Dine Online Restaurant Reviews 2001 - 2010

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