Saturday, 15th February 2020 – Trishna, London
As part of a trip to London to go to the theatre, we do like to go and have a good dinner somewhere, and with Trishna, over in Marylebone, we certainly seem to have struck gold. We made our way over from a performance of Uncle Vanya in the West End in the face of Storm Denis doing its worst to knock us backwards, but made it in good time – in fact 30 minutes earlier than our booking. It didn’t throw anyone and they soon had us seated in a small, cosy room, one of a series of such rooms that comprise this restaurant. There are vintage Air India posters all round the walls, and comfortable chairs at decently sized wooden tables.
We were quickly handed the drinks menu, which contained an interesting collection of tea-based cocktails, which sounded most intriguing. The Tea Garden Collection comes from a selection of the Rare Tea Company’s artisan teas. Apparently “it is a celebration and an exploration of the regions and heritage of the Indian sub-continent’s famous tea and botanical gardens” with each of the five cocktails coming in two versions, alcoholic and non-alcoholic. I opted for a Himalayan Kir, made with an osmanthus and apple liquer, Nepalese Himalayan green tea, and Champagne. The tea was described as being from the Jun Chiyabari Estate, and was “A hand rolled Nepalese green tea that truly exemplifies the idea of terroir. This early Spring pick originates from one specific field, one specific harvest. Tropical fruit; mango, cooked pineapple and lychee notes yet low in acidity.” I’m not sure I picked up all of that, but it was refreshingly pleasant with a good effervescence to it.
Lynne went for the muscatel Manhattan, made with Hine cognac, vermouth, quince, and a cordial of second flush muscatel tea, from the Temi Estate, Sikkim, India. “Swaraj Kumar Banerjee (known as Rajah) is a fourth-generation tea planter who hails from the unspoiled garden of Temi, West Bengal. Rajah is concerned with protecting the unique ecosystem and the rich variety of flora and fauna that still exist in the foothills of the Himalayas. You can taste this unmissable rich terroir in Rajah’s tea. Heady, floral aroma with soft notes of muscatel grapes.” She liked it; I found the vermouth slightly too bitter for me.
While we were drinking our cocktails and taking a look at the food options, we were brought a basket of mixed poppadoms, with some superb chutneys, and a mint raita. The mango chutney was good, but the prawn and tomato chutney took it up a whole extra level; it was superb and I would have happily demolished at least as much again of it. The various textures of the poppadoms were interesting too, especially the one that looked like dozens of tiny little ball bearings!
After a bit of thought, we decided we would go for one of the two Taste of Trishna – Koliwada menus (Koliwada referring to the coastal settlements around Mumbai), settling for the five course one not the seven, on the grounds that we didn’t think we’d be able to get through all seven of them. We also decided we’d take the sommelier wine pairing which would save a lot of casting about for suitable choices. It wasn’t that I didn’t think I could do it, but I just thought if they’d gone to the trouble of creating pairings, it would be churlish not to go with it. With two delicious sounding dishes to choose from at each course, it was too hard to choose which one sounded best; the good news is that the restaurant is happy to serve one of each dish to two diners so we could get to try everything!
The first course, when it arrived, made it clear we’d made the right decision. The nadu varuval was a glorious soft shell crab, deep fried and coated in a crispy batter, served with green chilli, white crab meat served in a mayonnaise-like base and an excellent, vivid tomato chutney. It was served with a glass of non-vintage Champagne, a crisp and fruity Brut Réserve, from Philippe Gonet that matched the crab very nicely. It seemed the wine choices were good ones!
The other dish was a plate of Telicherry squid and shrimps, made with curry leaves, Indian onion, raw mango and a dense green coconut chutney. Like the crab, the squid and shrimps were crisp and delicious in a batter that was light and crunchy. Another excellent wine choice accompanied it a 2018 Abilla from Juan Antonio Ponce, in Manchuela, Spain. It’s made from a pretty obscure Lusitanian grape (which only seems to be grown in a small stretch of Spain and Portugal), and the wine is called Reto, which apparently means challenge. It’s matured on its lees, and has minerality to spare, along with citrus notes that mean it works with seafood.
The next round of dishes was also marine-based with some utterly fabulous fish. There was sea bream cooked with green chilli and coriander, with a smoked tomato kachumber that maintained the sweetness and acidity of the tomatoes while the fish was moist, fresh and sitting on a perfectly crisped piece of skin. It was matched with a glass of Prunus Branco, from the Gota Winery, in Dão, Portugal. The 2017 was packed with stone fruit flavours and minerality that went perfectly with the fish. The sommelier was a charming Romanian who told me that she doesn’t get to choose all the wines, it’s done with the direction of the group’s wine experts, but regardless of who made the choices, this was a good one.
The other fish dish was a piece of salmon, the shahi salmon tikka, again spectacularly moist and tender. It was cooked with royal cumin, a black form of cumin that is pretty rare, and dill leaves, smoked raw papaya and a samphire chat. There was a sharpness and saltiness to the samphire that contrasted with the sweetness of the marinade that coated the fish and the whole dish had a freshness that was welcome after the fat mouth-filling feel of the previous course. The2018 Bandol Rosé, from Domaine la Suffrène, Cedric Gravier, didn’t go amiss either, a pale pink blend of Mourvèdre (40%), Cinsault (30%), Grenache (20%) and Carignan (10%) that matched well to the lovely fish.
And now we were off and running with some beautiful meat, beautifully cooked. First up was a dish of venison, cooked in the tandoor oven with just the right degree of exterior cooking, tender and soft on the inside. You couldn’t quite cut it with a spoon but it was close! It was served with a side of pickled venison, and a bonda, which is a south Indian snack, which can be sweet or savoury, this one being the latter, made of potato commonly. The meat was incredibly good, coated in a herbal crust that added a punch of salt and spice. It was brilliantly done. It came with a glass of a light red wine, unexpectedly made entirely from Cabernet Franc, a 2018 Saumur-Champigny, La Folie, Château Yvonne, from the Loire, produced biodynamically and – unusually for France – unfiltered.
The lamb chop had also been in the tandoor, and looked far more “traditional” in that respect, with a charred exterior (just the correct amount I would say) and again a perfectly cooked interior. It came with a hint of chilli heat, warming ginger notes, and crushed onions, and kasundi mooli, the latter similar in texture and taste to a particularly lively celeriac remoulade (a dish I love). It came with a wine which contrasted but also connected withe the one accompanying the venison, a 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Notary Public, from Santa Barbara County, California. The Cabernet Sauvignon grape is a “child” of Cabernet Franc so the proximity was pleasing, as was the higher level of acidity in the wine and the flavours that came from the wines maturation process. This was a most pleasing dish and it was all I could do not to grab the bone and chew on it to get the last morsels of flesh off.
The waiting staff had taken our request to slow down to heart so we had time to finish the wine before moving on to the final main courses, which was much appreciated (and is not always possible in some restaurants). When the final savoury dishes arrived we were glad we had taken a breather as there seemed to be an awful lot of food. There was a colourful fish dish, a meen manga curry made from coley, and seasoned with raw mango, and the sour citrussy hit of Malabar tamarind. It looked as warming as it tasted. It also went well with another rather unusual wine, as we headed straight to eastern Europe. The wine was a 2018 Malvazija (a white grape originating on Croatia’s Istra peninsular), from the Kozlovic winery. The wine itself has hints of stone fruits, and honey, and went well with the “curry”.
The other dish was Gongura Lamb, with abundant pickled sorrel leaves, dotted with poppy seeds, and seasoned with what turned out to be a more than slightly dangerous Guntur teja chilli. The chilli is left in the dish and if, like me, you are foolish enough to bite it, you may need a handy supply of cold water to put the fire out. Apparently these chillis come from the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh, and are “renowned globally”. I must admit I hadn’t heard of them before, but they did add a warmth to the dish without any of the harshness that sometimes comes with chillis, at least as long as you don’t bite them. The rest of the dish was utterly delicious, and I was only sad we couldn’t manage to finish it. With it came a glass of a superb Spanish wine, a 2009 Gran Reserva, from Bodegas Petralanda, in Rioja. This was an interesting choice to go with a meat dish with so much spice and heat, but it really, really worked.
Both the dishes also came with some accompanying side dishes, including a splendid makai saag, the umami-rich spinach dish studded with sweetcorn kernels, a creamy rich dal panchmel, the lentils still holding their shape and providing texture, a bread basket of different naan breads, and a bowl of basmati rice. We were running out of steam and there was still the dessert course to go! We couldn’t finish the mains, and the staff kindly offered to package it all up for us to take home. We were looking at the most upmarket takewaway we’ve probably ever had!
Desserts were just as delicious as everything else we’d eaten. The rhubarb stone fruit kulfi falooda was rich and gloriously cooling after my chilli adventure, even if it took some doing to cut in half so we could share it. The apricot chutney that came with it was a nice touch, and the orange poached rhubarb retained enough crunch to be interesting, with a sweetness that suggested this was some of the best rhubarb you can lay hands on, the “champagne” version that I love. There was a lychee granita, which was smooth and tropical and a scattering of candyfloss that completed the dish. I failed to take a photo before we started into it, so take my word for it that it was a good looking dish as well as good tasting. A glass of light sweet Italian wine came with it, a 2018 Moscato d’Asti Nivole, Michele Chiarlo, from Piedmonte, its low alcohol (4.9%) and sweetness of the Moscato grape making it a gentle ending to the meal.
The other dessert was equally enjoyable. A saffron poached pear cheesecake, with fennel and pear jelly, and a caramel and nuts ice cream. Lovely, though presumably it all means there’s no need to employ a pastry chef – I don’t have a problem with this, many restaurants don’t. The creamy smooth nature of both desserts was just what was needed to round out he evening. The glass of 2017 Ondenc Doux, from Domaine Plageoles, in Gaillac in south western France. I’m not sure how I’ve managed to miss this before, given my love of sweet wines and of south western France, but I suppose the fact that it’s a disappearing grape might have something to do with it. “As a wine it displays a range of citrus, melon and sometimes hay flavors” and it definitely earned its place on this list.
Stuffed full of delicious food, and having failed to finish the petit fours, no matter how good the cardamom biscuits were, we headed out into Storm Denis clutching our takeaway bag. We would eat the leftovers for lunch the following day, when they were just as good.