As someone born and bred in India, I hardly ever ventured out for Indian food during the first couple of years of my stay in London. I rejected the ‘curry’ concept that is so prevalent in London restaurants specialising in ‘Indian’ cuisine. The only place that I could seek refuge when I was homesick and craving proper Indian food was Bombay Brasserie, where the food and the hospitality was par excellence.
Which is why it was heartening to know that some of that experienced team behind Bombay Brasserie have now regrouped to create Pure Indian Cooking – a cozy, no-frills, quaint Indian restaurant on a busy confluence of Putney and Fulham high streets.
The decor is understated and minimal – wooden tables, comfy dark leather chairs, parquet flooring – different to some of the loud and over-the-top interiors one associates with curry houses.
There is a smattering of geometric artwork and striking mirror details on the walls to break down the mostly neutral decor and add a splash of colour and interest. The understated simplicity of the interior is in tune with the ethos of the restaurant which is about fresh, simple and pure ingredients.
But it is the food that is to be celebrated here. Power couple Faheem Vanoo and Shilpa Dandekar, with their combined experience of working in some of the top luxury London restaurants, expertly manage operations here. Faheem is very friendly, down-to-earth and welcoming. Behind the scenes is Chef Shilpa Dandekar – her shy persona completely transformed when she is in the kitchen – passionately rustling up innovative and refined dishes. Her food is influenced by her heritage and sound professional training under Michelin-starred chefs Raymond Blanc and Sriram Aylur (Quilon). The menu may represent popular flavours from the North and South of India but the thinking and execution is completely outside the box!
We started the evening with two of their signature cocktails made by Faheem himself. Mr. K had the Mango Chilli Margarita (Chilli spiced with Tequila, Cointreau, Lime Juice and Sugar Syrup) – a spicy and powerful cocktail. There was bite from the tequila and the kick from the cointreau, softened by the mango, lime and sugar. The chilli garnish was a nice touch. It’s quite hard to balance all the ingredients in a drink like this without making it overpowering and Faheem gets it just right.
I had the Lychee and Lemongrass Gimlet (muddled lemongrass, Lychee juice, Gin and Fresh Lime. It was a more temperate cocktail compared to the strong margarita – clean, mellow, easily drinkable and balancing well with the spicy Indian palate. It was definitely my kind of cocktail and I could easily down a few of those!
The first of many little surprises throughout the evening was the pre-starter of Papad, Crudites and Chutneys. Rather than the typical papadums that arrive on a plate with the ubiquitous mint chutney that is so cliched, we were served some lightly-baked, slightly crispy mini wonders that you can pop in your mouth. They had a soft crunch and were deliciously moreish when accompanied by the Mango (sweet) and Tomato (fiery) chutneys.
From the starter section we tried their Patra Chat (Colocasia leaves serve with tamarind, yoghurt, pomegranate, tomato and sev). This is a bit of a cult favourite amongst Pure’s regular patrons and I can see why. It was sweet, spicy, tangy, sticky, crunchy, moist – a festival of flavours and textures on a plate.
Next we tried their sharing board – Tandoori Paneer (cottage cheese), Chilli Fried Squid, Spinach Salad, Curried Cashewnut, Chicken Malai Tikka and Lamb Seekh Kebab – a smorgasbord of all my favourite Indian snacks.
My favourite was the Chilli Fried Squid, which was expertly cooked; not too oily, lightly fried in a medium spiced batter with just the right crunch. I would definitely recommend ordering a couple of those.
The accompanying green salad was a revelation; wholesome hunks of snappy spinach leaves, tossed with crumbled cottage cheese and avocado bites with a kickass dip. It was refreshing to not see the tired and deflated cucumber side salads that one is so used to. This salad was fresh, green and vibrant. It was so good that it could almost be a dish in itself – a headline rather than a supporting act.
Mr. K loved the Seekh Kebab, but I found the meat a tad dry for my liking. The Chicken Malai Tikka were succulent morsels of quality chicken. However, it could have done with a bit more spicing. However, the Tandoori Paneer was absolutely delicious; blistered and fragrant with flavours of the the spices and charcoal.
Highlights from the mains included a Coconut Venison (cooked in an onion and tomato spice paste, finished with freshly ground coconut). The dark and gamey meat was beautifully enveloped inside a peppery, bold, full of body, semi-dry sauce.
We also tried the Paperwali Macchi – an Indian take on the en papillote. There was a piping hot, delicious chunky piece of cod, delicately marinated with tamarind, dates and chilli, wrapped in parchment to seal all those flavours. Unfortunately, on this occasion the fish was over-baked, a fact that was duly acknowledged by the staff. However, the accompanying Corn Chaat was superb and added texture to the meaty, white fish.
And then there was the Dal Makhani – lashings of mildly spiced black lentils, cooked overnight in a traditional recipe. This dish was fragrant and smoky, full flavoured from the slow cooking. It was lovingly prepared and reminded me of the famous Dal Bukhara of ITC Maurya Hotel in Delhi. I think Dishoom’s Black Dal has serious competition in their hands.
Other sides included a zingy and velvety Baingan Bharta (roasted aubergine cooked in tomato and onion), soft and pillowy naan with a hint of garlic and fragrant saffron pulao.
Although we were feeling super stuffed, we thought it prudent to share a dessert. We had the Falooda with Strawberry (stringy, slightly al-dente vermicelli dipped in condensed milk and rose water, topped with a dollop of strawberry ice cream and peppered with basil seeds). It was quite a light and refreshing dessert, palate-cleansing and soothing to taste after all the spicy food.
Throughout the evening, we were looked after by Kader, who is their front-of-house manager. Service was prompt and extremely courteous.
We had a pleasant chat with both Faheem and Shilpa toward the end of our meal where they talked to us about their vision for the place. Their passion, honest and unassuming service and relentless hard work is sure to bring a lot of success to this neat little venture of theirs.
Indian food in London is going through a period of renaissance. Restaurants like Jamavar, Kricket, Tandoor Chop House, Dum Biryani and Talli Joe are changing the perceptions and expectations around Indian cuisine. My hope is that more local restaurants like Pure can showcase the depth of the Indian cuisine and change the status quo.
More information can be found here.
N.B. I was a guest of Pure Indian Cooking but all photographs and views expressed in this blogpost are solely my own.