Potli Turns Up the Heat in King Street
Marketplace food cooked with passion is a hit with our reviewer
A ' potli' is a little cotton bag like a bouquet garni, containing the mix of spices used in Indian kitchens- cumin, mustard seed , cardamom and coriander predominate but every cook has their secret collection to make their cooking sing. A new restaurant in King Street has been inspired by the idea of the everyday kitchen item and Potli is promising what it claims is an original experience of Indian market-place food.
There is a distinction between food from the 'marketplace', or bazaar, and ' street food' which co-owner Uttam Tripathy was keen to clarify. Marketplace food in India contains special dishes with sometimes secret recipes known to the local chefs for many years - the food is cooked on the spot in specially designated market areas, and you are as likely to find a millionaire in the queue, as someone with a rickety bicycle. Street- food on the other hand, is more likely to be simpler ' chaats' or pakoras or dosa pancakes in the south, and is more akin to our 'fast' food'.
Potli opened in September and is on the site of the former Tandoori Nights. But the decor bears no resemblance to the often dark and heavy interiors of traditional Indian restaurants in London. Instead the space has been opened up - a bar serving cocktails is on the left as you enter and there are colourful cushions and lamps imported from India to give a splash of colour to the mainly cream and wood decor.
One review of the restaurant took issue with the menu for being over complicated. The dishes are elaborately explained and information about their regional provenance could be confusing. But I found it interesting to read about the marketplaces , from the Tokri of Chandni Chowk in Delhi, said to be the birthplace of ' tikka masala' , to Tawa of Chowrenghee Lane in Calcutta . If I cannot travel to Chowpatty, the famous Mumbai beach, or Aminabad in Old Lucknow (famous for kebabs) at least I can imagine the exotic locations while sitting in rainy west London.
There is an interesting selection of ' pre-starters' on the menu which are based on marketplace favourites. These are good for sharing over a drink and include Aloo Papri Chaat (£3.00), Indian style spiced potatoes and savoury fritters laced with date and tamarind relish and beaten yoghurt, topped with crispy vermicelli or Pani Puri (£3.00),which are puffed flour and semolina crisps filled with masala potatoes and chickpeas, served with imli pani (tamarind water).
These light bites could be substituted for a starter and are a cheaper option.
Starters do include samosas and poppadums and onion bhajees beloved of most local Indian restaurants but also include interesting offerings such as Miacchi Amritsari (£6.25) which is tilapia fish steak fried in seasoned garlic, ginger, carom seed and curry leaves batter. A house speciality is Chicken 65 ( £ 6.25) a replica of a popular marketplace dish consisting of chicken coated in flour batter and spiced with crushed black pepper and fried curry leaves.
For my starter I opted for a spiced potato cake served with chickpea masala, which was excellent and not too spicy. And with that I drank an Indian sauvignon blanc- I had no idea they cultivated vines in India, but I was told it's a growing industry. It tasted fine,not too dry, and the restaurant has an extensive selection of wines specifically chosen to pair up specific dishes. A bottle of Pinot Grigio costs about £18, a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc £14, and there are South African, New Zealand and South East Australian red wines from about £15 up to £50 . The restaurant recommends the acidity of fizzy wines such as Prosecco( £20) as a good match for the hearty flavours of marketplace food.
My companion, a frequent visitor to India, chose the tandoori chicken as a starter. This was the only low point of the evening.He did not enjoy the taste and found the flavour or the marinade overpowered the chicken. When the staff noticed he had stopped eating,they took it away immediately and brought round a freshly cooked puffed bread with chickpea masala to fill the gap,as he did not want to wait for another starter.
We also drank mango lassi- which is made with very thick yoghurt in this restaurant. You can of course, find Cobra beer.
For main courses we chose Lamb Biriyani, and a Goan dish of Indian Ocean king prawns cooked with coconut and flavoured with mustard paste and fresh coriander - a house speciality. I cannot tolerate very spicy food and was relieved to find this suited me very well . I had concerns that the mustard would be too overpowering for a prawn dish but it was the creamy coconut that provided the main flavour. Prawns were plentiful and fresh.
The Lamb Biriyani( £12.50) was more richly flavoured than the frequently dry offering of some restaurants. It was described as hunks of marinated lamb in a house recipe of ground spices, rose water, saffron, brown onions and cooked with aromatic Basmati rice. It was served with Salan (sesame, coconut, peanut and yogurt gravy).Verdict- very good.
The large selection of main dishes does include Anglo-Indian curry sauces so popular here including tikka masala, jalfrezi, and vindaloo.The difference is that the chef grinds the spices and cooks all the sauces on the premises . A true vindaloo is not the mouth-burning curry associated with drunken football fans, but rather a pork loin and belly dish, marinated in vinegar, chillies, garlic, cumin and cinnamon and simmered to a rich gravy. This is a dish characteristic of Goa and its principal ingredients are always based around pork, vinegar and chillies. I gather it has been a particularly popular choice in Potli.
Other interesting items on the menu included Kerala Fish curry, Lamb Shanks Rogan Josh , and Prawn Balchao, and main courses average around £9.50 to £12.00 with rice and bread extra.
There are also some House Specials which can be ordered in advance for a large group including Sikandari Raan (serves 8 people) at £12.50 pp which is marinated leg of baby lamb, with seven different spices, served with tossed spice vegetables, or a Rajastan dish of venison haunch simmered in an aromatic chilli yoghurt sauce ( £19.00). There are plenty of dishes for vegetarians, including paneer, chickpeas and daal.
Desserts include mango creme brulee, cinnamon flavoured chocolate mousse or ice-creams. I had two scoops of kulfi, one coconut based and the other pistachio and they were both very good.
Potli is the brainchild of Uttam Tripathy and Jay Ghosh who became friends when they met at hotel management and catering school in India. They have both spent several years working in restaurants in London but always planned to open a restaurant together. Jay is the chef in the basement kitchen surrounded by his specially imported tandoor ovens and pots while Uttam is front-of-house. They are both confident they can offer a new Indian experience to people despite being surrounded by more long-established restaurants in King Street.
I enjoyed Potli and I found the service attentive and friendly. A three- course meal for two people would cost around £55 ( without wine) but you could bring costs down by sharing the pre-starters instead. A meal with wine and service charge costs around £ 75 which is fairly standard for anywhere in west London. They are definitely not marketplace prices, but Potli also has a cheap lunch option, with a quick curry for around £6 . A Christmas menu has also just been launched which I thought looked good value at £18 and £25 for four courses.
I would certainly recommend Potli to anyone wishing to try an authentic restaurant where the food is cooked with care and passion. And I look forward to going back.
November 19, 2011