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Review

Chowki

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2-3 Denman Street (Off Piccadilly Circus), London W1D 7HA

0845 345 1723 cost per head £13







According to the early publicity blurb, a chowki is the raised platform where Indian families traditionally eat. It’s now also the name of Kuldeep “Mela” Singh’s latest venture: homestyle Indian food in the sort of high turnover volume setting made popular by Wagamama et al.



Quite simply, if I owned Wagamama I’d be very worried as Chowki will soon be breathing (exquisite curried fumes) down their neck. Where the noodle places seem happy to let their customers simply “refuel”, Chowki satisfies on counts of both speed and quality. If you’ve eaten in Mela, you’ll know roughly what to expect, if you haven’t, a) why not?; and b) you’ve got a treat in store. Either way, prepare to be amazed. And not least by the prices.



Your typical Chowki starter will set you back £3. Your typical main course is £7 and that includes a curry, a dal, rice and a bread. Throw in a drink – the mango lassi gets a big thumbs up from this reviewer – and you can eat heartily for about £13. That the meal you’ll enjoy is many times better than your typical neighbourhood curry house is just the icing on an already great cake.



Interestingly, as well as the homestyle idea – authentic Indian recipes as would be prepared in normal homes across the country - Kuldeep’s other twist for Chowki is a planned gastronomic “tour” of India. Every month, the menu will feature a selection from three different Indian regions, profiling the various areas’ different ingredients, herbs, spices and methods of cooking. At the time of reviewing, the areas featured were: Kashmir (typified by fragrant chillies and something called ratanjot which gives the dishes a bright crimson colour); Chettinad (fiery hot, fresh curry leaves, Star Anise and mustard seeds); and Lucknow (aromatic foods slow cooked in their own juices).



Thus, in the name of research – and not gluttony, oh no – we decided to wander between regions at each course. To begin, we opted for Supremes of Chicken, marinated in chilli, garlic, tossed with bell peppers and onions (£2.95) from the Chettinad starters and Lamb mince pattie kebab flavoured with fresh ginger and garlic, stuffed with mint and onion and fine duxelle of eggs. (£2.50) from Lucknow. Both were extremely good, although the chicken just shaded matters: soft, moist meat, a rich sauce and intense flavours that gave way to a satisfying spicy kick.



For mains, we wandered across to Kashmir for Mild chicken korma flavoured with fresh fenugreek (£5.95). This comes with a Red Kidney Bean dal (of well-judged feistiness), a choice of Saffron Pulao or Plain Rice, plus either a Roti or a Nan. (Incidentally, the korma comes with almond shavings but, as the menu proudly declares, they’ll take into account any food intolerances you may have.)We went the Saffron/Nan route and very happy we were too. We also strolled back into Chettinad for Queen Prawns cooked in coconut, cocum and curry leaf flavoured gravy (£7.95). This one came with a Yellow Lentil dal and either Lemon or Plain Rice – the Lemon is very good indeed – and a Paratha or Appam. As we’d never had Appam before, we plumped for that. It’s actually a rice flour pancake – it looks a bit like one of those sherbet flying saucers only much bigger – and again was up to the restaurant’s obvious high standards. Great dal, two fat and clearly fresh prawns, and a gravy that we eagerly mopped up with the breads. Food is also stylishly presented, on smart looking oval plates which slot neatly into the crescent-shaped serving plates.



Puddings, or sweetmeats as the menu has them, looked tempting but we were pleasantly full and decided to pass, jumping straight to tea while we tried to pick holes in Kuldeep’s master plan. The only fault we could come up with was that the tables are quite high for the seating but then perhaps that’s a subtle nod to the volume trade that’ll be necessary for this vision to survive. Whatever, it’s a small price to pay for food this delicious. A very big thumbs up.