A chef who trained with Vineet Bhattia produces many dishes of very high quality at this Marylebone Indian – an offshoot, not that you’d know to look at it, of a famous establishment in Mumbai; the devotion to portion-control, however, sometimes verges on absurd.
We don’t make any apology for the fact that, like most people who write restaurant reviews in this country, we generally base our views on a single meal. It’s mainly in the US, where they take these things much more seriously, that some newspapers have a three-visit rule. (The leading American critic recently told us that he often doesn’t find that enough!)
There’s much to be said for the earnestness of the US model, but restaurants can drift over time, and it’s arguable just how much effort (and money) it really makes sense to put in to appraising a restaurant very definitely at one single point in time (especially if that’s just after opening).
What we do try to do, however, is to give a fair indication of what it is we’ve sampled, so people can work out for themselves how much weight they wish to place on our judgments. And at the moment, with an unusually large number of restaurants to cover, and budgets to be observed, the sampling is often the set lunch.
We believe that even a set lunch tells you pretty much as much about a restaurant as you’ll ever get out of a single visit. The ambience of a restaurant is the same, of course, whether you’re having a feast or a snack. And the service doesn’t change much either. (And if you see that your plutocratic neighbours are being treated much better than you are? Well that’s a really bad sign.)
It’s only on the food front, then – a major part of the experience, but only a part – that there’s really any apparent difference for lunchtime cheapskates. But even then, the difference is more apparent than real. Many of the touchstone features of a cheap meal are identical with that of an expensive one – bread and coffee are the same for all.
Often, of course, the set menu dishes are just a selection from the à la carte anyway. So it was on our visit to this new Marylebone Indian, which is an offshoot of a famous seafood establishment in Mumbai. (It’s almost best not to know this before you go. The general impression is not especially Mumbaiesque – think contemporary take on whitewashed brick English wine bar, circa 1980 – and the bias towards seafood is not that pronounced.)
So what do we actually observe? Well, the first point that’s starkly obvious here is that everything we taste of a fishy nature is beautifully spiced and presented. Given that the chef here, Ravi Deulkar, used to work with Vineet Bhatia, that’s no great surprise. On our small sampling, the food here seemed well up to Bhattia standards. Chilli squid parata to start, for example, was superb.
But the overwhelming impression, sadly, was of meanness. The fish main course from the set menu was so small that it could easily have been served in a tapas bar. Now you can get some pretty good deals in London for £17.50 at the moment, so the paucity of fish was quite striking. But the real problem was that all that came with it was, perhaps, four (nicely spiced) cherry tomatoes, chopped up. No rice. No nan. No little dish of dahl. Absolutely nothing to round out the experience.
When we politely enquired if that really was it, the (very charming) waiter had the decency to look a little embarrassed, and volunteered to go and get some nan. As it never arrived – you can only spend so long eating five mouthfuls of fish – we never got to see if it would have been ‘thrown in’ or not.
A sweet rice pudding, otherwise unexciting, provided at least some warmth and comfort, before we ventured out into the cold afternoon.