Chakra: good but not great

Steve Dinneen
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157-159 Notting Hill Gate, W11 3LF
Tel: 020 7240 2078
FOOD ***

Cost per person without wine: £50

WE hate it when our friends become successful,” lamented Morrissey back in 1992. “And if they’re Northern, that makes it even worse.”

I have to disagree with the last part. In Birmingham, Manchester or Glasgow, Londoners are seen as rude, self interested and happy to claim all the glory. Everywhere else in the country people tend to think the capital is full of pretentious you-know-whats. And if they’re successful it makes it far, far worse.

They might be right. But, when it comes down to it, London just does most things better. For the very best food, theatre or art you rarely have to stray far from the Thames (although Manchester and Glasgow have the edge on music). The rest of the nation can take solace in the fact the law of averages plays a part – London has almost 8m people, Greater Manchester just 2.6m.

One area where the capital falls far short, though, is Indian cuisine. Having lived in both Manchester and Glasgow, I can still remember the disappointment after my first trip to the East End’s Brick Lane. Flavourless meat. Insipid sauce. I have since discovered better alternatives – Tayyabs and Cafe Spice Namaste, both near Whitechapel, spring to mind – but none live up to Manchester’s The Sangam or Glasgow’s Ashoka West End.

Chakra, the new Notting Hill Gate venture from food entrepreneur Andy Varma, is the latest restaurant to try to redress the balance.

It gives nary a nod to the trend for simple, rustic minimalism – on entering you are greeted by swathes of ivory, white and mahogany. Chandeliers swing over padded, ice cream coloured walls. Indeed, if you sit facing the padded expanse you get the creeping feeling you’re eating at a well appointed insane asylum.

The gigantic menu (27 options before you even think about sides or salads) is dotted with phrases like “interaction of physical, emotional and mental” and “invigorating the positive energy”. It’s all very informal, with sharing encouraged and dishes arriving as they are ready (a system inspired, the menu rather grandiosely informs you, by the Royal Kitchens in the City of Nawabs).

The food, which is pricey but not pricey enough to put off a West End crowd, is very good without ever being great. The scallops – at a whopping £16.50 – caved under the weight of a small mountain of garlic. I’m not sure about balancing your spiritual energies but they would definitely keep vampires at bay. The Amritsar Kali Mirch – succulent, crisp chicken in a creamy garlic sauce – was far better.

My guest swooned over the palak paneer (I thought the sauce was too sweet. We rarely agree). A slightly sorry looking roasted quail yielded some tasty meat but the canoe-shaped plate it arrived on made it almost impossible to extricate.

And herein lies the problem – at Chakra, the substance is (usually) there but the style gets in the way. There are too many asymmetrical plates and off-key design flourishes. It walks into the top end of London’s Indian restaurants but for the very best, you’ll still need to venture outside of the M25.