GRAZING SOPHISTICATEDLY INDIAN AT 'ZAIKA' IN LONDON
Address: 1 Kensington High Street, London, W8 5NP
Nearest Tube (Subway Train): Kensington High Street
The name 'Zaika' means 'sophisticated flavours' and this restaurant was founded on creative Indian cuisine featuring traditional favourites with a western twist. Acclaimed dishes include 'Indian Home Smoked Salmon', 'Lamb Rogan Josh' and 'Chocolate Silk' dessert.
Located at the top of Kensington High Street, 'Zaika' occupies a former bank and retains original features like carved high ceilings and double height windows. There is also a Bedouin-style cocktail bar.
'Zaika' has received many industry accolades including 'Best Indian Restaurant' in the London Restaurant Awards, 'Restaurant of the Year' in the Restaurateurs Awards and their current claim to fame is "the only Indian restaurant to hold three prestigious AA rosettes". This is a far cry from halycon days when it held a Michelin Star (gasp!). In 2001, with renowned Indian chef Vineet Bhatia (at that time), it claimed to be the first Indian restaurant in Michelin's Guide Rouge's 103-year old history, to do so. Another restaurant, 'Tamarind', with acclaimed chef Atul Kochhar (at that time), makes the same claim. In truth, they both received their stars in 2001 but alphabetically, 'T' comes before 'Z'.
Today, only 'Tamarind' has retained its star thus surviving as the only Michelin-starred Indian restaurant in London. Mr Bhatia runs his own 'Rasoi Vineet Bhatia' (Vineet Bhatia's Kitchen) and Mr Kochhar runs his own 'Benares' restaurant, both of which, are doing very nicely without the cast of hundreds that the Guide Michelin demands to receive 'stars'.
So what is the food like at 'Zaika' these days? A 'new' chef has returned to the fold. Sanjay Dwivedi, originally from Delhi, grew up in the family hotel and catering business before moving to London as a teenager. Sanjay studied Hotel Management at Thames Valley College and proudly received his '706/3' - the only Indian at that time to achieve a distinction in this qualification. Sanjay learned his trade at some of London's greatest kitchens, including 'The Caprice', 'The Atlantic', 'The Ivy', 'The Lanesborough' and 'Turners'. Followers of celebrity chefs know how tough the Yorkshireman, Brian Turner, can be! Befitting his 'Rock & Roll' hairstyle, Sanjay toured as chef for The Rolling Stones' "Bridges of Babylon" world tour in 1998 and was part of the opening team at 'Zaika' in 1999. After global sojourns in Maldives, Los Angeles and New York, Sanjay opened 'Deya' in London for Sir Michael Caine and the owners of 'Zaika'. In January 2005, Sanjay returned to 'Zaika', full time.
I chose the Zaika Gourmand Course with recommended wine pairings, whereas, the current Mrs MTF made ala carte selections. Of course, we had to start with a bit of fizz:
Lanson Gold Label Brut Champagne 1990
This was not part of the gourmand course and with some envy, I watched Mrs MTF gradually draining the bottle...
The last vintage made with grapes from its own vineyard showed the characteristic Lanson acidity and citrus notes. The next vintage in 1993 and subsequent vintages were made with bought-in grapes because it's vineyards had been purloined by the giant LVMH group, probably to produce ever increasing oceans of NV Moet & Chandon!
Mini Popadums and selection of dips
These only served to excite the appetite as we watched dishes being served to neighbouring tables.
Hmmm...what's this? Just a crab dumpling on a bed of 'Indian Caviar'?
Crab and coconut milk soup got off to a good start already. Subtle spice in lightly whipped soup; not too crabby nor too coconut-ty.
WINE: Champagne Comte Audoin De Dampierre Grand Cuvee NV, Reims.
Toast and Honey semed to be the keynotes, which went very well with coconut milk.
I had never heard of this house before. Apparently, the best wines from this family house are served at fine restaurants, French Presidential Cellars, French National Assembly, the Spanish Court and 42 French embassies. Count de Dampierre, using only wines from Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards, produces a well received blend. In order to preserve the quality year after year, Dampierre is reputed to oversee the blending and the maturing of the champagne himself, combining modern equipment with traditional methods and techniques.
Count de Dampierre has revived one of the oldest methods of corking the bottles, known as 'ficelage', using string instead of wire to secure the cork. In 1735, a royal order was issued "that every bottle of champagne should be tied with three strands of flax". Tying the cork in such a way is an art in itself and adds distinction to the presentation. Being expensive handiwork, this is only used for the Cuvée Prestige, a champagne which has matured for a minimum of 10 years.
Exactly as it says on the menu, this was a truffle samosa served with a pear & clove chutney.
WINE: I must confess that I reverted to the Lanson Gold Label 1990 for this dish. Somehow, the extra frisson of the vintage wine matched the truffles better.
Scallops Seared & Poached
Seared with sesame and onion seeds and Poached with kokum and lime leaf sauce; the different textures and tastes made it remarkable that the raw ingredient (Scallop) was the same. The sauce was tangy sweet & sour which set off the wine pairing very well indeed.
WINE: Due Uve IGT 2003, Bertani, Veneto, Italy.
This was a surprise from a known producer of Amarone Valpolicella Classico. Bertani is one of the classic houses of the Veronese wine region. Another wine type in Veneto is Soave, and Due Uve (Two Grapes) is a modern alternative to that style, as it is an unusual blend of Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc, which are not traditional grapes of the region. The wine has a pale golden color, green-grassy bouquet with gooseberry tints before a full, crisp body and clean dry finish. Due Uve is tailor-made for fish and shellfish.
Tandoori Salmon & Prawn
Home-smoked tandoori salmon marinaded in mustard and honey served with red onion & cucumber raitha.
Tandoori prawn marinaded in rosemary and ginger.
WINE: Due Uve IGT 2003, Bertani, Veneto, Italy.
Due Uve is tailor-made for fish and shellfish.
Masala Foie Gras
Pan-fried foie gras dusted with spices, served with wild mushroom and naan bread & mango chutney. I could feel my blood cholesterol go up after this.
WINE: San Pedro de Yacochuya Blanco 2004, Cafayate, Argentina.
The high alcohol content (15%) is purely natural fermentation of the Torrontes grape, which is said to originate from grapes from Galicia, Spain or imported Muscat seed. Amber appearance with steely light reflections and distinctive muscat aroma. Strong, full bodied but refreshing, with pleasant acid. Flavours: Melon, grapefruit, resin and honey. I had not drunk this varietal before and it went fruitily well with the foie gras.
Lobster marinaded in saffron and spices, glazed in the tandoor and served with cauliflower & curry leaf rice, with sour spices & cocoa!
How interesting - I usually add cocoa to my chili con carne recipe but have never had it with lobster. The rice was just what I needed at this point, as I was a little short on grain starch through this menu. I thought the lobster was a tad overdone but that is really nit-picking now.
WINE: Château Val Joanis Rose 2004, Cote du Luberon, France.
A lively, fresh wine with a lovely pink colour. Well balanced and slightly peppery, with aromas of raspberry, this should pair well with mild curries and lobster. With mild curried lobster, it matched perfectly!
This is a new winery, revived in 1977 when Jean-Louis Chancel rediscovered this Château, which for several centuries had borne the coat of arms of Jean de Joanis, secretary to King Louis III of Naples. It is one of the few French estates to have survived successive revolutions without any change to its boundaries: indeed, they are as they appeared in Cassini's land register of 1575.
Nariyal Ka Gosht / Cumin Spinach / Butter Chicken
Diced lamb cooked slowly in coconut milk, tempered with mustard seeds & curry leaves.
Spinach tempered with cumin seeds and garlic.
Corn-fed chicken simmered in a buttery tomato sauce.
Oh yummy! - more rice; now I am satisfied with my grain carbohydrate intake...
WINE: Perez Cruz Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2003, Maipo Valley, Chile.
Ripe fruit is offset by roasted peppery aromas, with some green-hay notes. Good balance and elegant 'French-style' integration meant the high alcohol (14.5%) was not noticeable...at first!
Another new winery for the uninitiated me. The first vintage at Perez Cruz was only in 2002. This is a family business, with land that was originally for raising cattle. The winemaker, Hermann Lyon, who trained in Montpellier, wants to reduce the vigour of the vines. Can we stand any more sugar and alcohol?
This lychee and champagne granite was very light, which was just as well because I was almost full by now.
DESSERT WINE: Tawny Port, Ramos Pinto 10 Years (Quinta da Ervamoira 1994)), Douro, Portugal.
Complexed, full bodied, nutty nectar seemed odd with lychee until I realised that it was to match the trio of desserts coming up next. The granite was only a pre-dessert palate cleanser - oops!
Chocomosa / Rose Creme Brulee / Chocolate Silk
Samosa filled with chocolate ganache & nuts.
Rose water and vanilla creme brulee.
Chocolate silk with pistachios, pine kernels and cashew nuts.
I liked the chocolate filled samosa best. The caramelised crust on the creme brulee was too thick with very little creme beneath.
I was a little uninspired by the Chocolate Silk even though it is a signature dish. However, I discovered that a good Port just mops up chocolate like nobody's business!
I hope Chef does not notice my artistic alteration to his sauce decoration; I call it 'La Dragon Rouge'.
ala CARTE SELECTION
Teen Murg Tikka
Trio of Tandoori Chicken marinaded in green herbs, masala cheese and chilli & garlic. Perfectly cooked and tender chicken morsels with varied flavours.
Wild mushroom Biryani
Assorted wild mushrooms tossed with green herbs, aromatic rice & spices, truffle oil & served with paparika mousse. This was complimentary from the Chef because he did not want to see my dining partner 'unoccupied' whilst I was going through the gourmand courses. Alas, she does not like truffle oil so somebody had an extra course.....
Chicken Tikka Jalfrezi and Rice
That old British favourite reaches new heights with this rendition.
Iced Spiced Tea to finish.
'Zaika' certainly is different from your usual High Street British Indian restaurant. Even without the Michelin star or possibly because of that fact, it is not as pretentious as one might suppose. The common thread running through the menu is maximising the flavours of the ingredients without heaviness or cloying treatment. Some of the fusion combinations work well and some do not, but none were disastrous. The wine pairings were good and let me try new labels that I was not aware of.
All told, a 1-thumbs up recommendation and I would go again, just for the adventure.
Photos & Text Copyright Melvyn Teillol-Foo, 2006.