James Lawrence visits Kahani and experiences subtlety with power, and confidence with restraint.
So far, I really like it. Admittedly, I have only just put my foot through the door but I have already received a warm welcome from the manager – and the smell is enticing. I’m sitting in the basement restaurant of Kahani, which is owned by Peter Joseph. Originally from Chennai, Joseph has been exciting diners looking for superlative Indian cuisine in London for over 15 years. Kahani, which means ‘story’ in Urdu, opened in September 2018. Before this, Joseph worked at another famous Indian stalwart, Tamarind, for 14 years. To put it mildly, he knows his stuff.
Yet, when he opened Kahani last year Joseph must have felt more than a little trepidation; flying solo is so very different from being a chef: the hours are no less intense but now you now (potentially) face pullulating bills, dissatisfied customers, and staffing issues. Nevertheless, all appeared right with the world during my inaugural visit, as i stood propping up the small but plush bar, sipping gin-based cocktails. The basement dining room can seat up to 90 diners and tonight was an assortment of families, couples, and suits. A wine cellar is visible behind a glass window and the kitchen is also semi-open. It’s a very pleasant space in which to while away a few hours.
The other vital part of the equation is Joseph’s cooking, which I’ve enjoyed many times at Tamarind. Joseph eschews heavy sauces and fiery heat in favour of a more sophisticated, subtle edge; his cooking is refined, a modern take on Indian cuisine and one which blends culinary techniques from the sub-continent with British produce. Overall, the food is on the lighter side, aromatic and not overly spiced, and brilliantly executed.
Poppadoms came with a trio of chutneys: tomato, tamarind, and pineapple, which were a pleasant way to start the proceedings. Indeed, my favourite parts of the evening came within the first hour: smoked Malabar prawns – from Bangladesh – had an exquisite flavour and nicely absorbed the spices and our waiter got plenty of exercise returning to the table for repeat orders. Lamb seekh kebab was a show-stopping dish of sublime, deep, umami flavours nicely rounded off with a softening hint of raita.
Joseph clearly wants his dishes to balance subtlety with power. The fish curry was excellent, the flesh nicely cooked and the sauce not overly spiced, while prawn biryani had lovely fragrant rice, the grains well separated, in addition to having carefully cooked prawns. Their signature dish, ‘Kahani ‘ butter chicken, wrote the book on gastronomic pleasure. The chicken had been charcoal grilled and pulled, the sauce featuring a tomato and fenugreek marriage made in heaven, and yet the sauce was lighter than one typically expects; usually, there is enough butter to horrify a cardiologist, however, Joseph again prefers a more dainty, subtle approach. The very epitome of classy Indian cooking, with health-conscious undertones.
What else remains? Service and our wine pairings were both very good but it is the excellent food that really makes a lasting impression at Kahani. Starting any business venture is fraught with risk, but judging by tonight’s experience, Joseph and Kahani have a rosy future ahead.
1 Wilbraham Pl,
London SW1X 9AE
020 7730 7634
James Lawrence @jameswinelover