A good Indian restaurant is hard to come by. As someone who was brought up on Indian grub (well, Pakistani to be exact), expectations are extremely high which is why I rarely dine out at south Asian eateries. But when I do, the rule of thumb is to always order food that can’t be replicated at home – naan baked in a tandoor oven, seekh kebabs, chicken tikka and lamb chops. With everything else (dahl, curries and biryani), I know they will never come close to the home-cooked version. Flavour is key and to achieve that, takes a careful blend of spices, time and patience.
Last week I was lured to Chakra, a fine dining establishment tucked behind Kensington High Street and accompanying me was a big Indian food critic – my mother. The north Indian restaurant recently underwent a complete refurbishment, which is significant in the ambience of dining here. I sensed the vibe from the moment I stepped inside: the decor is tastefully done with beautiful, rich jewel tones in the furniture coupled with dark wood and a splash of white.
Chakra isn’t huge inside, which I like. In fact, it gives off a local neighbourhood favourite vibe with its quiet back street location. (My suspicions are later confirmed by the numerous Deliveroo bikers collecting orders.)
Chakra’s cuisine has carefully been curated with Punjabi influences and given a contemporary twist, focusing on dishes cooked in the tandoor as well as cherry-picking dishes from various regions of the sub-continent. The menu is concise with each dish sounding so appetising. I instinctively knew I wanted to try Truffle Kulcha from its description alone (wild mushroom and black truffle naan with mint sauce and mix pickle – £3.50) and the thought of Samosa Chana Chaat (samosa with chickpeas, tamarind sauce, yogurt and sev – £6.50) always gets me salivating so that was another easy decision. We also ordered Achari Paneer (clay oven cooked Indian cottage cheese marinated with chillies powder, pickling spice and yogurts and served with figs murabba and cucumber salad – £9.95), and lamb chops (sorry, I can’t remember how much these are).
Each dish scored highly on presentation alone but as they say, the proof is in the pudding. The starters were light and packed a punch in flavour – yes, each one. The Samosa Chana Chaat had an explosion of tanginess and spice from the combination of tamarind sauce, yogurt and sev, and a smattering of pomegranate seeds added a burst of sweetness.
The Truffle Kulcha was neatly cut into triangles and immensely divine – not overpowering, just enough flavour to linger on the taste buds while the lamb chops were succulent and aromatic, with a subtle aftertaste of cardamom coming through. The green chutney of mango, coriander and chilli ignited just the right amount of fire to compliment the lamb.
Paneer can go horribly wrong if it’s not prepared properly; I recently had some at a restaurant in Southall which had a pungent charcoal taste to it and blandness in the middle. Chakra, fortunately, nails it with their offering – silky smooth sliced cubes of cheese with the marinated spices seeping through and a finely sliced pepper relish on the side.
By the time we had polished off the starters, the mains arrived. Mum chose the Lamb Rogan Josh (Kashmiri lamb cooked with ginger, saffron, chilli and whole spices – £13.95), and I opted for Jalandhar Chicken (tandoor grilled chicken simmered in a fine tomato and cream masala – £12.95). The masala was rich, creamy and sweet. Mum was taken by the Lamb Rogan Josh, commenting on how well the meat had locked in the spices, and had been cooked perfectly. We shared basmati rice (£4) and naan with our main courses.
For afters, it was traditional rasmalai served in a martini glass and sprinkled with crumbled pistachio (£5.95) and mango kulfi with mango sauce (£5.95), which were both neither too sweet nor too rich for the palate. We left with bellies nicely full but without feeling like we were about to fall into a food coma.
I said above that a good Indian restaurant is hard to come by, but Chakra has charmed me enough to come back. The portion sizes are just right, the dishes we tried all hit the right notes and the service is attentive. With a warm and relaxing ambience, it is a great escape from the hustle and bustle of High Street Kensington.
Chakra is a precious jewel in the crown of the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea – I implore you to ditch the likes of Dishroom (ick!) and experience the authenticity of Indian food that’s sophisticated but not pretentious, and sublimely delicious. The defining point, however, is it gets mama Shaikh’s seal of approval.
For more information on on its two branches (Kensington and Kingston) as well as its menu, visit https://www.chakra.restaurant. Chakra also caters for vegans.
*My visit to Chakra was complimentary for review purposes but my words and opinion are entirely my own.