Andy Mossack visits the original Raj Indian restaurant just off London’s posh Kensington High Street.
Talk to anyone and they will always tell you about their favourite curry house. Of course, everyone’s tastes aren’t the same, and generally, after taking up the offer, you come out feeling it was no different to your own personal favourite.
There are exceptions though, and when I wrote a review after the opening of Raj of Islington a couple of years back, I remember raving about it to everyone I knew. It had the whole package. The crisp tablecloths, the dinnerware, the wine list and of course the quality of the food. It was a big step up from your local curry, thanks to owner Salim Sheikh whose own career in fine dining provided the attention to detail that made Raj of Islington such a hit for me.
Then I found out that the impetus behind it came from his original restaurant in Kensington so there was no discussion, I had to go there and find out just where all the magic happened.
Kensington High Street has always had a cache about it, the upscale retailers a magnet for shoppers with deep pockets and a perfect location for locals who crave Indian fine dining.
The Raj menu concept is based around the kaleidoscope of flavours that defined the numerous regions of India during the Raj era. Consequently, many of the recipes are over 100 years old.
There’s an obvious air of familiarity about the place, albeit a lot cosier than the Islington branch, but the menu is no stranger. All the memorable dishes are still there like the railway lamb curry (£12.95) that was served on the long train journey from Bombay to Calcutta, the Punjabi Dhaba palak paneer (£10.95) and Tawa jhinga (£15.95) the poached black tiger prawns from the military Bazar in old Delhi.
However, after a recommendation from Manager Jitendra, I opt for the Traveller’s Yatra Menu (£38 per person) comprising a four-course tasting menu banquet of Raj’s signature dishes.
The first course is a couple of dishes. Sharabi jingha, cider-soaked tiger prawns sautéed with chopped peppers, tomatoes and spring onions and crushed mustard. And a crispy aloo tikki chat sweet potato patties with a layer of chickpeas underneath. The tiger prawns are a total triumph, with the patties offering a late spicy kick. Delicious.
Next up is another duo of dishes: murg tikka – grilled chunks of boneless chicken flavoured with cumin and rock salt with a green pepper sauce, and the aforementioned dhaba palak paneer, fresh cheese with chunks of onions with pureed spinach, flavoured with garlic and fresh coriander. Beautiful flavours, impressively plated. Seriously good.
The mains now, and all of a sudden, it’s raining food. Butter chicken simmered in buttery tomatoes and fenugreek leaves, the legendary railway lamb curry, dal Makanhi – very creamy black lentils simmered overnight and alo gobi adraki – cauliflower florets & potatoes cooked with onions, fennel seeds and ginger. The butter chicken was the standout for me. Literally, melt in your mouth delicious.
As you can imagine, this feast of food is quite a banquet to get through but there was more. Despite my own capacity issues, Jitendra insists I taste the included dessert, “homemade and not to be missed.” And he isn’t wrong. The gajar ka halwa is an absolute belter . Grated carrots tossed in clarified butter, soaked in sweet honey syrup and ground cardamom, and served up with ice cream. Despite the description, it isn’t at all sickly sweet, quite the contrary, and I love it.
Raj of Kensington is a fine example of how high-quality Indian cooking doesn’t need to have Michelin stars attached to it. Starting his magic with this one and extending it with Raj of Islington, Salim brings outstanding Indian fine dining to the local curry scene.
All images (c) Andy Mossack
Tell me more about the Raj of Kensington
Raj of Kensington, 1 Abingdon Rd, London W8 6AH
T: 020 7937 6182