I’ve been slightly obsessed with finding good Indian food since attending a friend’s wedding last year and eating the best Indian Gujarati meal I’ve ever had! Here in the UK you don’t have to look far for an Indian restaurant, but the food has been Anglicised and so to find something truly authentic is surprisingly not that easy.
Cue Indian Essence by Atul Kocchar. Most people will know chef Atul from his Michelin starred restaurant Benares in Mayfair and his appearances on TV. Indian Essence is a joint venture with Jitinder Singh and is based rather randomly in the suburbs of Kent. Good for me as its only 2 miles from home, but a little bit of a trek if you’re coming in from London. From the outside it looks like any other Indian restaurant found on your average high street, but once you sample the cooking, you quickly realise that it’s anything but ordinary. The Better Half coincidentally had dinner at Benares just two days before and saw many similarities between the restaurants.
TBH and I decided to go for the set menu because it all sounded so good. I was having a tough time choosing so minimising the choices to just 3 or 4 definitely made things easier! It is also incredible value – £14.50 for 2 courses or £18.50 for 3 courses, which included rice, two vegetable side dishes and naan bread!
To start I had the Aloo Tikki Chaat – cumin scented potato cake with wheat crisps, chickpeas and a tamarind and mint chutney. I absolutely adored this starter. It was punchy with heat and slightly sweet from the tamarind and mint chutneys, this was a really well balanced dish.
The Better Half ordered the Khasta Murg – chicken tikka pie with prune compote. A similar dish was on the menu at Benares and he had major plate envy of those that had ordered it, so he wasn’t going to make the same mistake again when he saw it on the menu at Indian Essence. With the most buttery rough puff pastry top (thanks Chef Atul for clarifying on Twitter), tender chunks of chicken tikka and a sweet prune compote. He said that he could’ve eaten it all over again, it was that tasty.
For my main dish I ordered Murg Makhni – chicken tikka cooked in a creamed tomato and fenugreek sauce. I don’t usually order saucy dishes, but I had this dish at the wedding and really enjoyed it. This version was rich and very mild in spicing, I enjoyed it a lot. For his main dish, TBH had Tandoori Murg cooked two ways – chargrilled chicken breast, leg julienne English peppers and tomatoes. The chicken was juicy and had a lovely smokiness from the chargrilling. This was another winner for him.
I have to make special mention of the side dishes as they were both excellent. I really love daal and included in the set menu is a yellow daal. I asked our waiter if we could change it to black daal and they happily accommodated my request. We also had spinach with American corn tempered with garlic. I’m not sure what made the corn American, but this was different to any spinach dish I have ever had and enjoyed it so much that I want to try to recreate it at home.
By this point I couldn’t eat any more, but TBH always has room for dessert. So he ordered the chocolate fondant with cardamom ice cream. This one was perfectly executed with a nice gooey centre. The cardamom ice cream added a lovely hint of spice. The contrast between the hot chocolate and cold spicy ice cream was delicious.
Service was friendly and attentive. Nothing was too much trouble for the team. Our total bill including service was £78.41. We’re really lucky to have Indian Essence on our doorstep and can’t believe it’s taken us this long to find it. We’ll definitely be back!
Until we eat again!