Chakra at Notting Hill- a fine dining Indian restaurant with pristine white interiors – padded white leather walls,grand seating and grand chandeliers that could mimic the dining room of a rather swank Indian palace that has had a modern makeover of sorts – was where Fiona and me were invited for lunch a few days ago.
It was a lovely bright afternoon and the light was just right for food photography, so Fiona and me with our cameras on the ready started off our gastronomic adventure with these colourful and refreshing cocktails served with complimentary mini poppadoms and delicious chutney.
The Rajma Galouti – mini red kidney bean kebabs served with a coriander and mint chutney and saffron flavoured yoghurt – could easily have passed off as a mixed meat kebab , it was really very different from starters I would normally expect and a befitting entrée to the delicious dishes that were to follow.
Chakra is co- owned by Chef Andy Varma who also owned the now closed restaurant in Chelsea called Vama. Andy Varma has had an interesting and inspiring culinary journey starting in India where amongst managing restaurants for the Oberoi chain of hotels , he starred on the TV show Good Morning India and gave Delhi – India’s capital city its first ever pizza delivery service called Sticky fingers. Andy then moved to London to work with his brother Arjun Varma . Together this chef and finance director duo have found a niche in the restaurant business in London, taking Chakra to great heights of success.
From the starters menu I knew what I wanted instantly , the Ajwaini Machli and Garlic Scallops , Fiona choose the delicately flavoured Amritsar Kali Mirch – its not like the traditional version which has a heavy peppery taste set off by a cooling mint coriander chutney but this was nicely done, succulent and creamy but I’d rather have experimented with say the Murghabi Kebab because it uses the traditional meat tenderiser papaya which I use for mutton ,would be interesting to see how it works with duck ,but what is most attractive is the promise of robust spices on the duck, also the Curry Patta Burrata would have been a fab fusion dish to try, what with Huff Post describing the Burrata as the world’s best cheese!
The Ajwaini Machli was everything I wanted to eat in a masala fish ,delicious bits of tilapia in a light batter(quite a pleasant change to the otherwise heavy batter and oily masala fish that is served in many other Indian or Pakistani restaurants- hummm) with roasted garlic and carom seeds ummmm , there is something magical about roasted garlic ,I would have loved a sweet and spicy mango relish with this ,its called choonda and tastes amazing! I am sucker for Scallops and if they well done they simply delightful to taste, these king scallops seared on the griddle with garlic chilli oil are spot on!
With stellar starters we picked some crowd pleasers – Black Cod and Venison Galouti for our mains. Normally I wouldn’t pick Venison but the delicate balance of flavours in the scallops made me experimental and brave – a decision that I did not regret.After all a recipe for kebabs from Aminabad, Lucknow can’t go wrong can it ? Fiona was a bit doubtful about her cod when it arrived but with her first bite into it she was smiling .It did look a bit dry when it arrived but it was juicy and satisfactorily charred in bits and parts in the tandoor with the yoghurt ,pepper and lime flavouring it just right – enough to get me to taste it because cod and me just don’t get along much otherwise.
Now the staff decided to impress us by sending a selection of fab sides – Jalandar Chicken,Saag Paneer,Black Dal,Chakra Channa,Masala Asparagus,Rye wale aloo and a light green peas pulav (matar pulav).This was really way ,way more than we could possibly consume so a spoonful of tasting was what we tried to manage. The Rye wale aloo or lightly spiced potato bhaji tempered with mustard seeds ,chilli and crisp curry leaves was great with the plain rice and some Saag Paneer which is Indian cottage cheese in a thick gravy of creamy spinach. The pulav with the crisp fried onions tasted great with the black dal which is a popular comfort food and something I’d make for my guests if they wanted a vegetarian side.The chargrilled masala asparagus with a white sesame sauce was crunchy and took up the juicy sesame flavour very nicely.
The Channa masala was tangy and well done and would have made a great base for a spicy chaat topped with chivda and chopped red onions,some coriander and a thick tamarind chutney! Jalandar chicken reminded me of butter chicken but with tandoor grilled chicken in a creamy tomato gravy, very filling ,moorish and a must on my list at most Indian wedding bashes 🙂 .Definitely a must on your list when you dine at Chakra!
After all these dishes a cold sorbet was just what the taste buds ordered!
The dessert selection of mango kulfi and mishti doi was an apt sweet end to our meal .Although the mishti doi was a tad disappointing because the yoghurt was probably not as sweet as it should have been but it was almost like thick shrikhand ,also the creamy mango kulfi more than made up for the doi.
After I clicked some more photos of the restaurant, all the while in conversation with the staff who informed me of how popular their restaurant is with visiting Indian dignitaries and celebrities , it was time to leave.
The interiors and the prices are befitting the swank neighbourhood that Chakra is at but the food is definitely good enough to please a true Maharaja. Perfect choice for an evening out to treat yourself or a romantic dinner for two. The well trained staff will ensure that you feel pampered and the plush interiors will leave you feeling that you that maybe you just experienced a touch of royal treatment.
When we were invited to Chakra for lunch , we were not aware that they were part of Curry for Change campaign led by the charity Find your Feet. Curry for Change campaign is an initiative that is supported by many ambassadors including Michelin starred Chef Atul Kochhar and they together help raise funds to support the poorest communities in India,Nepal ,Malawi and Zimbabwe.
Find your Feet charity was started by journalist Carol Marton in 1960 in response to the plight of Eastern European refugees.Today they work to help most vulnerable rural families, marginalised tribal groups, women and young people in Asia and Africa. Those who have been left behind. As the inequality between urban and rural areas increases, families living in remote rural areas are also finding themselves forgotten as their countries’ economies grow.
Throughout June you can visit any of participating restaurants and support Find Your Feet by enjoying a special dish in aid of Curry for Change. This way you will be part of an important initiative that is working towards ensuring that poor rural families can grow enough food so they don’t go hungry, to strengthen their voice so they can speak out against injustice and to earn enough money so they can find their feet.
I’d say that if you were salivating at all the food pictures in this post then maybe you’d also like to know the fact that Chakra, won the coveted Restaurant Award category at the recent Asian Business Awards 2014, beating off stiff competition from a number of other high profile London Indian restaurants,if this isn’t reason enough to book yourself a table , then maybe the Curry for Change campaign is added incentive to check out Chakra, go build yourself some positive ‘Food Karma’ !