Blink and you might miss it, this wonderful Indian restaurant on London’s Charing Cross Road, just around the corner from both Leicester and Trafalgar Square. The unassuming exterior belies what you will find behind the entrance doors, though the recently added signs proclaiming Lotus has been voted the Best Indian Restaurant London at the Lux Hospitality Awards 2016, only a year after it opened, are, of course, more than a give-away.
This 65-cover restaurant serves authentic dishes from all over India, created by award-winning Chef and Manager Bhaskar Banerjee and cooked by Head Chef Mohammed Nassem Qureshi. You are in excellent hands here, both have a wealth of experience and have a passion for authenticity and tradition. The extensive menu includes many choices for meat and fish eaters and vegetarians alike, and changes seasonally.
We received a warm welcome at Lotus, both figuratively and literally speaking. Debbie Henriques, the sommelier and front of house manager of the restaurant, showed us to our table and it was clear from the beginning that we would be looked after by the best. She could not have been more helpful, she explained the new winter menu to us and told us that each of the dishes would be matched with wines chosen with help of London’s Chief Wine Taster Jimmy Smith AWE (Owner of West and North London Wine Schools).
Almost straight away we were served with a glass of Vatua! Colet, a light Spanish sparkling wine blended from Moscatel, Parellada and Gewürztraminer grape , to drink while we were perusing the menu. A glass of Rasam, a hot, clear, spicy and warming tomato broth from South India, perfect after coming in from a cold night, followed, along with a tray of Assorted Poppadums (rice, potato, millet) and three beautiful dipping sauces – apricot-mango chutney (I loved this, the two fruit work so well together), green tomato and roasted chilli sauce and a mint sauce. We also tried Corn Chaat Golgappa, small crispy corn-filled puri balls, served with a separate jug of jaljeera, a spicy water made with tamarind, coriander and mint. You pour the jaljeera in the ball and pop it in your mouth to experience an explosion of flavours and textures. And when I say explosion, I mean explosion!
We chose two starters, the first was the Salmon, queenies, duck egg and peanut relish lentil wrap was presented as a triangular wrapped parcel and when you cut into it the delicate package the delicate smell of the fish, shellfish and egg hit your nose. The flavours were light and well balanced, as was the wine that went with it, a DeLoach Zinfandel from Santa Rosa in California. I do love a glass (or two) of Zinfandel! The other starter we tried was Rabbit Kheema with green pepper corns and missi rati. This dish made from minced rabbit is full of warm (almost christmassy!) spices and on the hotter side of the spiciness scale. One of my favourite dishes of the evening. Give me a bowl of this on a cold winter night and I’ll be a very happy customer. The aromatic and fruity Izadi Rioja, that we had with this dish, was perfect.
Debbie recommended we should try one of the kebab dishes before embarking on the mains and we decided on Lamb Chops and Rump with Garlic Pickle, Indian Onion and Chilli salad which also came with the De Loach, Zinfandel (perfect!). The marinated meat was incredibly tender and I gnawed every last morsel off the bone!
She also suggested for us to order Prawn Narkel Shorshe, one of the reataurants signature dishes. This traditional Bengali dish of steamed prawns in a coconut and mustard sauce is cooked and served in a de-husked coconut with Organic Rice, Indian lemon and chillies. This is the perfect dish for somebody who doesn’t want a rich creamy sauce but something light and fragrant. The Force Majeur, Chenin Blanc was lovely with it.
One of my favourite fishes is monkfish, so the second main dish we ordered was Monkfish Chepa Pulusu, a red fish curry served with tangy tamarind sauce from the South Eastern Indian region of Andhra. I enjoyed this immensely. With this we had a glass of crisp Brookland Valley Verse 1 Chardonnay.
I adored the Palak Pudhina Paneer – spinach and cheese in a coriander, fennel and mint scented sauce – spinach and cheese are two of my favourite things in the world! The Dal Maa Dumpukth – black lentils simmered overnight with garlic, tomato, clarified butter and cream, are also a wonderful dish. And the Saffron and Green Peas Rice and Assorted Indian breads were perfect to soak up all the lovely sauces and juices. At this point Head Chef Qureshi came to our table to say ‘hello’ to us and we had a chance to thank him for the wonderful food personally.
We could have stopped there, but Debbie told us about the authentic Indian desserts that the chefs have created and that are a far cry from a scoop or two of vanilla ice (not that there is anything wrong with vanilla ice, but there is a time and there is a place). As we really didn’t know what to expect,we listened to Debbie and ordered the two desserts she recommended: Baked Rasmalai, Falooda and Pineapple Chutney (milk dumpling, cornstarch, noodles and basil seeds) and Raj Bhog, Clementine and Basil Doi (cottage cheese, steamed yoghurt and fig chutney). I found the texture of the first dessert a bit weird, as I was not that keen on the noodles in a cold, sweet dish, but I did like the taste. The second one I really liked, especially the clementine and basil doi, which reminded us both in taste and texture of a creamy citrussy cheesecake. And the two dessert wines we had with our puddings, Pink Moscato from Innocent Bystander and Botrytis Semillon by Peter Lehmann, were beautiful. A pot of milky masala chai, prepared by the chef in the kitchen, rounded the meal up perfectly.
There is little that will distract you from the the taste and look of the dishes – at Lotus the food is the star. The restaurant is decorated in muted masculine colours – shades of dark blue, grey, taupe and cream with just a few orange accents and comfortable leather armchairs and dark wooden tables adorned with white linen runners and votive candle holders. The background music plays so softly, it is just that: background music, and it was only audible when the restaurant got quieter after the first theatre crowd had left. The dinnerware is white porcelain, showing the presentation and colours of the dishes to perfection. I also loved the glassware.
If you are worried eating gourmet Indian food will break your bank, you are wrong. Prices are very reasonable and the lunch and pre- and post- theatre deals are very, very good value indeed. Take the theatre deal (17.00-18.00 and 21.30-22.30) for example: a glass of tomato broth, poppadums with chutneys, a starter, a main course with green peas rice, lentils, cumin scented potatoes, a bread basket, a dessert and a small glass of wine for just £23.99. At lunch, a similar deal is available for just £19.99.
We can’t speak highly enough of Lotus, both the quality of food and service are exemplary. A wonderful culinary experience!