Peter Morrell and a friend enjoy genuine Indian street food in luxurious surroundings
Relatives of my dining companion have restaurants in India, so her knowledge of the cuisine is second to none and by the end of the meal I was going to be interested in her verdict.
Hankies is located in the very smart Montcalm hotel, it has its own entrance on Upper Berkeley Street and is accessible through the hotel lobby. The dining space itself is quietly sophisticated, a combination of London cool with Indian chic artefacts.
Hankies was founded by Anirudh Arora, who avidly seeks out traditional recipe and has co-authored the authoritative Food of the Grand Trunk Road where long lost recipes come to life. He is a veteran of the London Indian food scene and I have fond memories of reviewing his highly successful restaurant Moti Mahal in Covent Garden more than 10 years ago.
As we browsed the menu we were given a taster of what was to come, a glass of assiduously spiced spinach and green pea soup, it was delicious. The first item on the menu is the namesake of the restaurant, Hankies. These are roomali rotis, flatbreads which are folded like a hanky before serving.
We order one each and were treated to an entertaining piece of culinary theatre. In a corner of the restaurant we watched as a chef deftly spun a round of dough in the air until it was wafer-thin. He then draped it over a searingly hot roomali tawa, which looks like an inverted wok. Within seconds the chef turned it until it started to blister then folded it into a hanky shape.
These can be served either stuffed or plain, we chose plain but paired them with a trio of traditional pickles, flavoured with house spices and preserved in oil – mushrooms, chicken and tomato with sultanas. These were all very moreish and packed with flavour.
There was an intriguing array of dishes on the menu, and we made choices from four of the sections – small bites, grills, pan-fry and roasts, and pots. These, particularly the bites, are based on genuine Delhi street food. We started with two dishes from this section, the first was the sweet potato bomb, a crunchy orb with a yielding, well-seasoned centre and served with sprouting seeds. spicy chickpeas, jaggery and chilli jam. The second was bhindi bhel, a dome of crispy okra, sweet chutney, onions, fresh coriander and topped with puffed rice. I thought that these dishes were emblematic of the food, a clever combination of taste, flavour and texture.
We moved on with an item each from the grill, pan-fry & roasts, and pots. The skewer of grilled yellow chilli garlic prawns, which was on a bed of chives, garlic and a spicy bell pepper couli was excellent, I particularly liked the couli. The pot of Hankies handi ghosht featured slow-braised lamb, curry leaf, pearl onion and roasted garlic, this had huge depth of flavour and the meat was meltingly tender.
Our final selection was kekada kofta, a large crab dumpling in a delicate creamy coconut sauce and sprinkled with freshly grated coconut. This had an aromatic and uplifting quality which was highly enjoyable.
The drinks list offered a good range of cocktails and wines from both the old and new worlds. My companion had the Novita Sangiovese Rubicone 2016 from Italy, an easy-drinking red from Emilia-Romagna, it had good berry aromas in the bouquet and soft tannins which made it very smooth. My pairing was the Founders Merlot 2016 from South Africa. This had strong cherry and plum notes on the nose which were joined by spice and vanilla flavours on the palate. The finish was long and persistent.
We were too full for desserts but if we had wanted to indulge there were temptations like saffron jalebi and homemade kulfi ice cream. We did finish with a relaxing cup masala chai tea.
My companion with restaurateurs in the family declared all the food delicious, and she was impressed with the spice blends. Her favourite was the Hankies handie ghosht. I would agree with her opinion about the food although my top-spot went to the bhindi bhel as I like anything with puffed rice.
This was a very good dining experience, the décor and ambience are faultless and the service was friendly and attentive. The food had a unique quality in terms of its preparation and inventiveness which made it so enjoyable.
I would regard this as a destination restaurant but its location, about a 5-minute walk north of Oxford Street, makes it the ideal place for a restorative lunch during a session of retail therapy.
Hankies Marble Arch
61 Upper Berkeley St
London W1H 7PP