A review of Chakra, Notting Hill Gate, W11
Renowned Indian chef Andy Varma opened Chakra between Notting Hill Gate and Holland Park in November opposite the site of Damian Hirst's old Pharmacy restaurant.
The exterior of Chakra
The word “chakra” means “vortex or spinning wheel” and is also related to good energy. The logo of the Chakra restaurant reflects this. Originating from around 2500 B.C., the word is associated with Ayurvedic medicine and scriptures and having a “positive chakra” is said to be associated with having a “good and healthy life.” This restaurant definitely offers both of these things but equally should be noted for much, much more.
Andy Varma and his brother Arjun with Shomit Basu and Taimur Khan
Andy Varma, who runs Chakra with his brother Arjun and a core team that includes Shomit Basu and Taimur Khan, began his restaurant career in the 1980s in Mussoorie, India when he opened Le Swisse. This was a huge success and after opening The Village Shop and Dukes Place, he subsequently began to present a regular cookery slot for Good Morning India. In turn, Varma and his brother moved to London to launch Vama on the Kings Road in 1998 and now, following a period travelling in India, they’ve returned with an even more impressive offering.
The front section of Chakra
Opulently designed by Dezzi McCausland, known for his involvement in the Kingly Club and McQueen, Chakra is frankly one of the most lavishly decorated Indian restaurants I’ve ever been lucky enough to visit. Chakra’s style is about as a far cry from a traditional flock wallpapered establishment as you could possibly get and the building features cream and dark mahogany coloured banquette seating, leather covered walls and oak flooring. The look is slick and chic but not overwhelming.
The rear section of Chakra complete with conservatory roof
The clientele at Chakra, on the December night we visited, included a mix of well-heeled locals and affluent Indians. The Bentley Mulsanne parked outside and a couple, part of a group next to us, who turned out to be the former owners of the Greenwoods clothing empire, were indicative of the level of wealth here. That said, with such friendly service, Chakra is a restaurant that is a most welcoming a place whoever you may be.
Knowing of Andy Varma’s skills from his Kings Road days, we opted to allow this culinary maestro to guide us through his artisan menu and sampled a vast selection of dishes that ranged from those inspired by The City of Nawabs, Lucknow to the Punjab kitchens of Patiala.
We commenced our “Chakra Experience” with garlic scallops with roasted carom (£16.50) that were packed with oomph. Dilli kebabs (£14.50), made with free-range chicken mince seekh and spiced with fresh mint chutney; and a vegetarian Lucknow plate of spiced lentils and mint with a red kidney bean mince patty and spinach and nutmeg kebab (£10.50), similarly, were both well worthy of a mention in despatches.
Of the many dishes we subsequently tried, the highlight, undoubtedly, had to be the venison Kakori (£15.50). These kebabs were unlike anything I’ve ever had before and simply melted in the mouth: they truly must be experienced to be believed.
A curry of onion and ginger flavoured English baby lamb (£16.50) with fresh bottle gourd that was cooked in a yoghurt sauce was utterly brilliant. Andy Varma learnt the recipe for this dish from a chef named Rehman in Lucknow and I can assure you that this is definitely one not to be missed.
The only slight disappointment had to be the roasted quail (£17.50). Cooked in crushed chickpea flour and marinated in a chilli onion paste, this was the only thing we sampled that was a little lacking in flavour.
We concluded with a ginger and black pepper brûlée with lime jelly (£8.50) and a mango kulfi with raspberry coulis (£8). Calming on the palate, both were highly commendable as were the accompanying sweet wines.
The overall drinks offering at Chakra is surprisingly comprehensive. Beyond a range of beers and signature cocktails is a wine list that starts with a £24 a bottle Pinot Grigio and a 2010 Domaine L’Oliver Rouge, Pay’s d’Oc at £21 a bottle. The offering of whites and reds rises through a whole selection in the mid £30s to a £92 a bottle 2005 Château Gruard Larose. Champagnes range from Chakra’s house offering of a Renard Barnier Brut at £44 a bottle to a 1999 Dom Pérignon Brut at £148 a bottle. We opted for a 2008 Vedicchio Di Matelica Superiore at £32 a bottle and found it perfectly palatable.
Chakra was a huge surprise as Indian restaurants go: here you’ll find a place that is stylish and sophisticated yet run by a welcoming team who are truly passionate about what they offer. It must be stated that if Andy Varma and his team continue in their current vein, this will fast and deservedly become one of London’s hotspots.
Come early 2012, Chakra will also be open for lunch so make sure you get your booking in early as this superb secret will soon be out.
Chakra, 157 – 159 Notting Hill Gate, London, W11 3LF. Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7229 115. Website: http://www.chakralondon.com
Follow Chakra on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/Chakra_London
Follow Andy Varma on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/andyvarma