The mark of a good restaurant must be when the locals chatter away to the staff like they’re old friends, and at Chelsea’s Kahani it practically feels like a school reunion. It’s also a strong indication of the calibre of cooking, and on that basis I think I’ll soon be a regular at this South Indian restaurant.
Kahani, is the first solo venture from the former head chef at Michelin-starred Tamarind. Peter Joseph grew up in Tamil Nadu (India’s most southern state) and was inspired to become a chef by his mother’s passion for good food in the home. Kahani brings India to the UK combining seasonal British ingredients with Indian cooking and flavours. Tucked away behind the hustle and bustle of Sloane Square, Kahani sits opposite the old Cadogan Hall, and it’s a hidden gem.
Kahani means ‘story’ in Hindi, and this defines the ethos of the restaurant, the dishes are designed to be shared, the idea is to bring people together to share stories. There are small plates of every type of protein imaginable, soft shell crab, octopus, scallops, chickens, prawns, three types of fish, game, poultry, lamb, and beef. I dare you not to struggle choosing what to order! Before you stop me vegans, have no fear, Chef Peter Joseph has designed an entire vegan menu.
An incredible tank of Scottish blue lobsters waiting for diners as you descend the stairs, even the most devoted vegan would be tempted to turn carnivore, I mean talk about wetting your taste buds!
Interestingly, there’s a subtle railway aesthetic running through the restaurant, with frosted glass dividers giving an intimate experience despite the large room and high ceilings that, unusual in a basement location. What’s more, ladies, you’ll be pleased to hear that the bathroom is perfect for that essential selfie! It’s got a mauve pink colour palette with an ‘asamyutha hastas’ hand symbols print. Note to self: do this before you’ve stuffed yourself out of your dress!
I started with a selection of triangular poppadums with three chutneys (spicy tomato and garlic, pineapple, and a minty tamarind) that were served with drinks. From the small plates we chose octopus and tandoori calamari, delicious and offset by citrus bursts of orange, grapefruit, and accompanied by two smoked melba turmeric prawns which were enormous and perfectly charred.
The restaurant’s highly recommended tandoori broccoli was a brilliant shout, artfully presented and delicious, I only wish it retained a bit more crunch. But that was fine because coming up was one of the only two curries on the menu (controversial!) and let me tell you that the classic butter chicken was a truly standout dish; silky with a subtle smoky aftertaste.
We also adored the Thalasseri Biryani with lamb, incredibly fragrant and tender meat. These classics are a exactly that for a reason. The truffle naan was a rich side that I used to mop up all the butter chicken sauce I could stomach. Truffle naan….need I say more?! And what couldn’t be soaked up with naan, was washed down with a New Zealand Dry Riesling which matched the heat and intense flavours of the dishes perfectly.
For dessert, despite being quite full we were intrigued to see their take on the traditional Indian kulfi, a kind of ice cream trio delicately presented. Salted caramel and pistachio are always clear winners but the rose malai was good too.
It wasn’t just the food we loved, I was advised to have the Tandoori Ananas, a home spiced rum masterpiece that was wonderfully balanced with sweet pineapple, zingy lime and Indian spices. Surprisingly, it was vegan, using soy lecithin instead of egg white.
Kahani was the perfect date spot, the atmospheric music and elegant decor together with the inspired menu that is equally sure to spark conversations if your date is a bit awkward; and the spicy heat of the dishes are well balanced by cooling accompaniments, so even if you happen to have a more delicate palette, you will masterfully manage to enjoy yourself while looking suave. But given the number of locals who are clearly in there all the time, you don’t need to be on a date, or in a formal context at all.
Indian elegance for the Chelsea set.