Vintage India may not be the most evocative moniker, but it does boast a very fine kitchen indeed. What’s more, the crazy decor looks and feels like it was lifted straight out of Delhi – off-centre chandeliers and fans, a gramophone on a pedestal, lacquer-red wall fabric and cutlery so shiny you’re already half convinced, within moments of sitting down, that you’re in for a good meal. Which you are.
The menu makes a democratic tour of the various cuisines of the subcontinent, starting with the naans and tandoor of the north and sweeping south towards the seafood-based curries of Kerala. The trick is to be adventurous and venture off the usual orders of tandoori prawns or butter chicken (though Vintage India’s version was a rich but never cloying blend of thick ochre-hued, gingery gravy with strips of skinless chicken).
On one evening, the curry leaf-scented Malabar fish curry seduced with snowywhite flesh that fairly melted on the tongue, while a lamb curry warmed with crushed cashew nuts begged for second helpings – as did the split log of grilled eggplant, its soft meat churned with ginger. At another dinner, wondrously chewy paneer (cottage cheese) was drenched in a subtle crushed hazelnut sauce; and from the grill emerged the Kakori kebab, a long, slender brown roll of lamb finely minced with onions and cloves that, admittedly, looked terrible, but tasted just fine.
To accompany the dishes, you could be virtuous and stay carb-free, but that would be to deny yourself the thick clouds of garlic naan, its characteristic pungency here wonderfully restrained and a perfect partner for the grape-studded raita; the incredibly crisp pastry of samosa pyramids; and the vegetable biryani spiked with carrot, peas, beans and cauliflower.
The desserts were fine, if a little on the sweet side (not unusual for an Indian restaurant). There was a fairly decent, if unspectacular, pear poached in thick red wine, honey and mint, though it only took a few bites to be won over by the phirini, a custard made of pounded rice and milk, and stirred through with a light lychee paste. Not so good was the staff’s rather unsubtle pushing of the beverages list, including the dreaded option of still or sparkling water. Worse, at one dinner, though we only wanted two glasses of wine, the waiter brazenly suggested that ‘it might be better if you ordered a bottle’.
A surprise date spot with classy comfort food