The first Indian chef to get a Michelin star (in 2001), Vineet Bhatia opened his own restaurant in 2004, which has in turn just been awarded its first star. With him, Indian cuisine enters the temple of gastronomy. Dining at Vineet Bhatias’ restaurant is like accepting an invitation from a friend.
Nothing distinguishes his restaurant from an opulent house in this quiet residential street in the district of Chelsea, a stone’s throw from Sloane Square. Only a glance at the mezzanine allows you to catch a glimpse of white-clad apprentices bustling about behind two small windows: there’s no doubt about it, these are indeed restaurant kitchens.
A star of Indian cuisine
And yet Vineet Bhatia is a star in London: he is the first Indian chef ever to have obtained a Michelin star, when he was officiating in the kitchens of the Zaika restaurant in 2001. Since 2004, he has decided to go it alone, opening his Rasoi (meaning “kitchen” in Hindi) in his dream house, with the help of his wife Rashima. With Vineet and a few others (like Karunesh Khanna at Amaya), Indian cuisine enters the temple of gastronomy, which has long been a bastion of Western cuisine alone. The secret of this child of Bombay? A vast range of first-class products, tried and tested cooking techniques, and a subtle and light use of Indian spices. With him, it is as if Indian cuisine is transcended; the malcontents will speak of “international fusion cuisine”, others will be delighted by this Mahâbhârata of flavours and colours.
Just like home
I ring and am welcomed like a friend of the family, warmly and without formality. This is a constant feature of every moment spent at Rasoi: the service is friendly and even verbose, when it comes to commenting on and explaining each dish.
The modern decor – the work of Rashima – favours warm dark shades, which bring to mind spices such as cardamom. Numerous saris, rugs from Kashmir, and panels of precious wood from Rajasthan subtly emphasise the Indian theme of the place. Decor which proves to be in tune with Vineet’s cuisine: subtle and balanced. When night falls, the restaurant is dimly lit by little candles set on the tables. Dubbed Chelsea Cottage, the dining room at the far end seems the most pleasant, with its large glass dome. At Rasoi Vineet Bathia’s, intimacy reigns supreme, the number of covers being limited and the atmosphere peaceful.
I studiously bury myself in the menu, which looks like nothing I thought I knew of Indian cuisine, even if I recognise here and there the names “samosa”, “biryani” and “tandoori”. My host therefore has little difficulty in persuading me to try the seven- or nine-course Rasoi Gourmand sampler menu. This gourmet journey encompasses a great variety of products, flavours and cooking styles. In short, it is an almost exhaustive demonstration of Vineet’s talent.
This chef is particularly at ease when handling seafood. Scallops, seasoned with a touch of saffron mustard and served on sprouting lentils with spicy masala sauce, are a perfect introduction, tender, iodine-rich and full of flavour. The khichdi with truffles and morel mushrooms – a sort of Indian-style risotto – served with tomato ice cream on a piece of papadum (Indian bread), is highly memorable, all smoothness and melt-in-the-mouth.
The crab and lentil soup, with a crab fritter, is served in a cup suspended – almost – in the air: the laws of gravity are defied thanks to a magnet placed in its base. Throughout the meal, dishes, cutlery and plates accompany and emphasise the inventiveness of Vineet’s cuisine.
The soup comes as a fun transition before a masterpiece: half a lobster roasted in ginger, on a khichdi of broccoli served with the lobster stock… At the last minute, the waiter dusts it with a cloud of curry, spices and cocoa powder with the aid of a jute bag used like bellows. The dish orchestrates a remarkable tempo of flavours, the iodine-rich juicy meat of the shellfish melting in the mouth just before the explosion of spices! My neighbour, a New Yorker passing through London, compares the dish with a chapter of the Kama Sutra.
After this sensual lesson in Tantrism, the desserts come to assuage the fire of the senses: a variation on the classic samosa, here filled with chocolate (called chocomosa), and homemade rose, vanilla, tea and ginger ice cream.
I will also remember Rasoi for the perfectly paced menu and the play of contrasts between each dish. At Rasoi, all in all, the spices never sacrifice the flavour of the product: an amazing feat.
Rasoi Gourmand (9 course), £69*, (7 course) £59; Rasoi Veg Gourmand, £59; lunch menu (2 course), £19, (3 course) £24.
* £1 = €1.47
Rasoi Vineet Bhatia
10 Lincoln Street, Sloane Square, London SW3 2TS.
Opening times: 12pm-2.30pm (Monday-Friday), 6.30-10.30pm (Monday-Saturday).
Tube: Sloane Square, Circle and District Line.