I challenge anyone to step into the hallowed oak walls of the Great Hall at The LaLit London and not let out an involuntary ‘oooh’ because this is a truly splendid space. The high ceilings and windows let light bounce around the room, the distinctive blue chandeliers add the requisite level of grandeur. Once the dining room of the boarding school, it seems fitting that this is now home to Baluchi, The Lalit London’s fine dining Indian restaurant. Although I suspect that is where the similarities end; I am sure the food served then is a million miles apart from the delightful Indian delicacies served now. A room like this could serve as the backdrop to any special meal, but on this particularly evening we were in for a real treat… but that’s what you expect when you’re here to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of Indian Independence!
I know that for much of India and neighbouring Pakistan, the last seventy years may hold some bittersweet memories but many will now also agree it’s still a milestone worth toasting to. We certainly thought it was, and decided to raise our glasses to the occasion. The Indian-inspired cocktails served in the old Teacher’s Room were a fantastic way to ease our palates into the meal ahead. The delicate spice of my saffron gin martini to start was wonderful, but the Kashmir: Valley of Flowers with Earl Grey infused gin, lavender syrup and lime juice was definitely the cocktail of the day! With a drink in hand and the dulcet tones of the sitar floating through the room, it was hard not to get into a celebratory mood before moving back into the Great Hall for dinner.
A rassam soup to start was a bold move from the kitchen, but one I emphatically approved of. I had never tried this South Indian soup before, and was reliably informed by Reena that it’s rare on restaurant menus in London, but was smitten at first sip. The soothingly spicy concoction of tamarind, tomatoes, chillies and various aromatic goodies certainly perked up my tastebuds. The balance of sweet, salty and sour reminded me a little of a Thai tom yum or Malaysian assam broth – both soups I am very fond of. To follow, I chose the monkfish tikka purely because our waiter’s description of it was so convincing, I barely even looked at the other options but thankfully, he did not lead me astray.
The coating on the nuggets of fish added such immense flavour to the sweet flesh. The cacophony of spices it had undoubtedly been luxuriating in and the faint hints of char from the grill both married together to make these rather moreish, especially when dipped in the pea puree or tangy mustard sauce. The prospect of a creamy butter chicken was obviously too tempting as I think that was the unanimous choice around the table. In almost perfect sync, our team of white-gloved waiters started spooning curry and fluffy basmati rice onto our plates… I was a bit taken back by their arrival, but then again, that’s just the kind of place this is.
Once they had retreated, I happily helped myself to a warm naan and wasted no time in sneakily dipping it straight into the piping hot bowl of curry. There may have been a second helping of the butter chicken itself too… this was a celebration dinner after all. Baluchi’s version of this staple dish was sound; the chicken was moist and well flavoured, the curry was rich and delicately spiced, but it was no better or worse than some of the others I’ve had in more low-key curry houses. What sets Baluchi, and The Lalit London in general, apart is the impeccable service, setting, and I suppose that also contributes to the price tag that comes hand in hand with that.
We ended the evening with one of the best desserts I’ve ever had at an Indian restaurant -a delectable jamun gulab cheesecake served with a masala chai ice cream. I’ve not been shy about admitting that Indian desserts are usually too much for me; too sweet, too spiced, too aromatic… just too everything. But this fine specimen was sweet enough but not overpowering; the perfect fusion of two styles, much like the hotel itself now that I think about it. I was really impressed by the warm hospitality and attention to detail at The LaLit London which I can only assume is a feature across all their other luxurious properties in India! If, when I turn seventy, someone throws me a dinner party half as vibrant and delicious as the one The Lalit London threw to mark India’s big milestone, I’ll be a happy lady!
Have you got a favourite Indian restaurant in London?
Thanks to The LaLit London for inviting me to celebrate Indian Independence Day with them, but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone!
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