A couple of minutes’ walk to the West of Regent Street, Kanishka’s entrance on Maddox Street looks both anachronistic and geographically out of place. Chunky and wooden but intricately carved, it’s traditional Indian door conveys protection and strength but offers intrigue, makes the passer-by curious about what’s inside. Way more contemporary than the entrance suggests, with a bit of art deco thrown in for good measure, the restaurant interior is eclectic but elegant.
Eschewing more traditional Indian restaurant decor, it mixes bold blue and white stripes with subdued, tasteful lighting and a wall of mirrors. The non-existent ceiling through which the venue’s mechanics bustle, turns industrial brutalism into ingenious chic with white rope intricately twirled around a metal lattice.
Led by TV personality, Atul Kochhar, one of the first two Indian chefs to receive a Michelin star back in 2001, the restaurant offers a new menu, one which represents the diverse and distinct flavours of India’s various regions, from Punjab to Kerala, from Kolkatta to Delhi. We take the easy way out, order cocktails and wait for the chef to surprise us.
The seductively titled Kanishka Kiss is the only drink which uses the restaurant’s moniker so seems like a no-brainer. It’s a heady mixture of vodka, champagne, thyme-infused Chambord and lime; a kind of double shot of alcoholic love. It’s sweet, refreshing, strong and eminently quaffable.
It also works perfectly with poppadoms but then again, what doesn’t? More often than not, it’s the relishes which make or break the Indian version of our crisp and, here, each one surpasses itself. The most traditional is the pickled lime which is often too strong, too thick, too something or other but here it’s a perfect combination of spice and tang with a consistency more like jam, easily spreadable, therefore. The gooseberry relish is piquant and fresh and almost works as a palate cleanser while the cranberry relish is infused with cardamom seeds, suggestive of an exotic Christmas.
Three different starters are served simultaneously. The Mini Vegetable Samosas with potato curry and smoked yellow peas are comfort food at its most luxurious and intricate. The peas taste and look not dissimilar to chickpeas whilst the cauliflower purée is enlivened with the zing of an occasional pomegranate pip. The Orkney Scallop Masala comes with parsnip crisps and small whirls of pickled cauliflower which have a similar tang to the lime chutney to offset the creaminess of the firm scallops.
Perhaps the most playful serving is the Chicken Tikka Pie, a speciality of the house. Pretty much as it sounds, the traditional Indian curry is served in a traditional English pie and serves as a genial fusion of gastronomic cultures. The pastry is delicate and flaky and a subtle aniseed flavour permeates the generous chunks of chicken, all of which can be flavoured by generous dollops of fruity berry chutney.
Over 500 spices, we’re told, are used in Indian cuisine, more often than not, a mixture of many together so although turmeric, cumin, and cardamom are the most known, it’s almost impossible to pinpoint what really contributes to many of the sauces and this is specifically true of one of Kanishka’s signature dishes, the Black Dal. Cooked literally overnight at an incredibly low temperature, it’s creamy but not mushy and has a warm taste with a subtle hint of cinnamon. As well as fluffy pilau rice and light naan bread, we’re also presented with a Kashmiri Roganjosh and an old-style Delhi recipe for Butter Chicken. The Kashmiri lamb comes from the Lake District and is infused with tomatoes and onion. The chicken errs away from the more obvious ‘butter only’ dishes and is infused with a complex tomato sauce. Both dishes are rich and filling but remarkably the meats’ flavours still shine through.
It’s rare if not unique to write about hand wipes in a restaurant review but after the mains, our friendly waiter presents us with what looks like industrial-strength Alka-Seltzers. We’re both confused. He smiles as if we’re not the first to share such an emotion. He also carries a dainty white jug and deposits that next to the Alka-Seltzer. He instructs us to pour the jug. We do. What looks like white pills practically explode into warm, hand-sized wipes. It’s a neat touch, a great trick, refreshes us, cleans our hands, prepares us for dessert.
Both are presented in a more contemporary, haute cuisine fashion and look like they could work as avant-garde hat decorations. The Dark Chocolate Mouse gets the main billing for the first dessert but it’s the pistachio kulfi which is the true spectacle here. A raspberry visually enlivens the piece and sits in a delicate pile of desiccated coconut. Caramel sauce underpins it all to a rapturous effect. Riffing on the French classic, the Chai Crème Brûlée is equally delicious and served with an elaborate tuile – a hexagon inside of which are several mini hexagons. All in all, it’s a fantastic finish to a fantastic evening, one that amply bears out Kanishka’s top reputation.
Address: 17-19 Maddox St, London W1S 2QH