Rarely do London restaurants come with more history than this veteran institution overlooking Regent Street – home of the longest-established Indian restaurant in what is now the greatest Indian restaurant city in the world.
Established in 1926, it makes much of this history. Continuity, however, has sometimes been more apparent than real: immediately after WWII, the menu had become almost entirely French. The past two decades have seen no fewer than two major revamps, each more lavish than the last.
This latest incarnation has been something of a critical ‘rave’ elsewhere, and we visited with high expectations. Let’s start with the good news. The service is very good, and the waiting staff often very engaging. However the setting is less so. The new look is comfortable enough, but it can’t quite decide whether it’s ancient or modern. Contemporary dark-wood tables, for example, stand on very traditional Wilton carpet. Similarly, the light fittings include both a large Edwardian-style chandelier (although the ceiling is really too low for it) and clusters of trendy single-bulb lamps with glass shades in various colours. Perhaps the effect is supposed to be witty: if so, the joke eluded us.
In the end, though, it was the food that really let the place down. It started off well enough with a pretty dish of mussels, and a very spicy crab croquette. Thereafter, blandness set it. It seemed symbolic that that the couple on the next table were French – our meal tasted like Indian food for foreigners. Prawns lacked spice. A biryani – 1926 recipe, mind – was elegant but totally without interest. A nan had a good taste but was rather dry, and a kulfi’ Well, let’s just say we’re pudding men, and we left half of it.