HomeNewsBlack Salt, London: ‘A thrilling take on familiar dishes’ – restaurant review
Black Salt, London: ‘A thrilling take on familiar dishes’ – restaurant review
June 5, 2022
Black Salt,505-507 Upper Richmond Road West, London SW14 7DE (020 4548 3327). Starters and tandoori grills £6.50-£15.50, mains £11.90-£14.90, desserts £4.50-£5.90, Cobra (large) £6.50, wines from £22
We often talk about the British high street as if it were one homogenous retail experience. In truth it is many places, not all of them utterly delightful. In London it can mean the increasingly tawdry Oxford Street, where legacy brands desperately fighting the rising tide of online shopping sit alongside a bizarre number of joints apparently selling shelves of weird fizzy and sour sweets that nobody seems to want to buy. It has been suggested that some of the latter are fronts for laundering cash and various sorts of dodginess. Though obviously that’s not what’s going on, heavens no.
Then there’s the other kind of high street: the suburban drags servicing the needs of those who live near them. In the case of the Upper Richmond Road as it saunters through Sheen in southwest London, it’s mostly a well-heeled lot, who might prefer that the pleasures be brought to them. Here, there is a cheery-looking Persian restaurant, a smart Thai place, a bunch of swish nurseries and an outpost of Elysium Healthcare, a company unselfconsciously named after the paradise to which those who had been granted immortality by the Greek gods could be sent.
Certainly, I doubt that the team behind Black Salt, which opened almost a year ago, stopped to wonder whether this was the right place for their elevated, intense take on the Indian repertoire; for, say, a drop-dead gorgeous, big-fisted sheekh kebab, the colour of copper coins, made not with the customary minced lamb but with rich fatty duck and guinea fowl, robustly spiced, alongside a fresh apple chutney, popping with mustard seed. Well, of course it is. During the long, dark sprawl of the pandemic in 2021 many in the hospitality industry wondered whether the days of the city centre restaurant were numbered; whether all the most interesting action was now going to be found closer to where people actually live. Grand pronouncements are always risky, but if it has resulted in restaurants of such class turning up in locations such as this, then that’s a positive.
Black Salt is a side project by the people behind the highly regarded Dastaan in Epsom. Chefs Nand Kishor and Sanjay Gour met while working at Gymkhana in Mayfair. They have now come together with chef Manish Sharma, who has worked with Atul Kochhar, as well as at Jamavar and the Copper Chimney. It’s about as serious and experienced a team as the Indian restaurant sector in Britain could pull together right now.
The three-roomed space is unburdened by any of the clumsy cultural signifiers of the high street curry house. Sitars do not play. It’s a wood-floored urban brasserie with bare brick walls, gunmetal grey wood panelling, dangly lights and stridently spiced, assertive food that will, in any case, have you staring more at your plate than the decor. Even on a quiet Tuesday night there is a gentle satisfied hum to the place. The menu is relatively short, but touches all the bases. I immediately know, just by reading it, that all the food will run the gamut from light brown to, ooh, dark brown, perhaps with the occasional flash of red from a tomato chutney or a bit of green from something involving mint. This is a good thing, for as we know by now, all the best foods are brown.
From the tandoor menu, we have mighty king prawns to go with those sheekh kebabs. They are crusty and singed, but still bouncy and fresh from the extreme heat. I could have had the lamb chops. I wanted the lamb chops. I always want the lamb chops. But I know it’s predictable for me to order them and decide to deny myself my natural desires on this occasion. I saw them pass by, though, and they are chunky beasts, as they should be at £9.50 a pop. Next time.
From the starters come crisp and airy patties of mixed bhaji made with kale, potato, spinach and onion and with a sprightly tamarind and mint chutney. (God, how I wish I hadn’t banned the use of the word “punchy”.) A large, lightly battered and deep-fried soft-shell crab is served whole, as if straight off the beach. Alongside it is a savoury prawn chutney. It’s a joyous accompaniment to the sweet crab, but would, I think, be a joyous accompaniment to almost anything. I want a pot of the stuff to spread on toast. Or just to spoon out neat.
The star of the curries is a pork cheek vindaloo, which stays true to the vinegary Goan origins of the name, rather than the testosterone-fuelled chilli heat monster it has become in some places. The fibrous meat has been braised until it can be carved with a spoon and sits in an outrageously luscious, very dark but fragrant sauce, that has been cooked down to its essence. I could imagine coming here by myself and ordering just that dish and one of their ever-flaky parathas with which to scoop it away, and being very happy. I have that sort of imagination. Kid goat keema is a sweeter, gentler affair, a reminder of the dish served at Gymkhana.
The chicken biryani, from a list that includes a diverting version made with asparagus, artichokes and snow peas, has the requisite waft of aromatics, though it does need the mint and cucumber raita with which it is served to get it lubricated. We use it as a base for everything else, including aubergines roasted down to a smoky mess, and a soothing but garlicky tarka dal. The dessert list stays true to the form, being short and not massively diverting. There is, of course, gulab jamun, those bronzed and shiny balls made from sweet, reduced milk, in a light sugar syrup; it’s a very well made if slightly humdrum way to end the meal.
We drink Cobra, served in large bottles, alongside glasses of a French vermentino. Black Salt could easily be mistaken for just another suburban high street restaurant, there to save those who can afford it the tiresome business of cooking on a school night. It’s much more than that. It’s a serious and at times rather thrilling take on otherwise familiar dishes. It just happens to be tucked away here, on this tidy parade, some distance from the bright lights of the big city.
To stay very much on theme, Nand Kishor and Sanjay Gour are to open a second Dastaan, this time in the Leeds suburbs. The new restaurant will open later this year on the site of what was until recently the Italian restaurant Mio Modo, on the Otley Road north of Headingley (dastaan.co.uk).
Even in a crowded market, some cookbooks are very much worth waiting for. Finally, the great Jeremy Lee, formerly chef at the Blueprint Café and latterly at Quo Vadis, will publish his first book on 1 September. It’s entitled Cooking: Simply and Well, for One or Many, and as well as 150 of the recipes his devoted fans have come to love him for, will feature memories from his Dundee childhood. Pudding will be a big part of the story as it always is on his menus.
Irishman Richard Corrigan of London’s Bentley’s is to open a restaurant in Dublin. The Park Café, on the site of what was the Shelbourne Social, will have a menu partly featuring ingredients grown on the estate of his country house hotel Virginia Park Lodge to the North of the city. As well as the dining room with a counter, it will have a 60-seater all-weather dining terrace, and a roof garden for small parties. Corrigan expects to have it open by September.
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