Chutney Mary, London
Twenty-five years ago Indian restaurants all seemed to have standardised menus, beer was the drink of choice and the reception desk doubled as the pick-up point for takeaways. Now many have Michelin stars, wine cellars and time limits on their pre-booked tables.
Chutney Mary, on the raggedy end of King’s Road in Chelsea, was the game-changer. Now it’s moved on, and up – to St James’s St, a neighbourhood that I don’t think has ever had a local Indian, and undergone a gilt-edged, crystal-crusted, and radically chic makeover.
The menu’s been upgraded as well: a ramekin of Cornish crab flakes tossed with garlic butter marries sweetness with a savoury umami kick; monkfish tikka’s firmness is brightened by the anise sharpness of a light and lively dill marinade; and black-pepper Dover sole, presented whole on the bone, is a juicy, spicy revelation (our enjoyment was somewhat tempered by being left to fillet the £34 beast ourselves, with a dull knife). Be warned that main courses are served without garnishes, so side dishes and grains will boost the tab as well as the heat level; the best of these was puneri aloo – potatoes and chopped peanuts in a light curry sauce, enlivened by a light smattering of raisins.
The service was somewhat disorganised, despite the large number of staff; the opacity of the à la carte menu, also not as organised in the helpful ways it could be, didn’t help. We’ve all come a long way, but few of us are as expert as we’d like to be in this complex cuisine.
Sommelier savvy: The wine list is just about right, unselfconsciously cheery, organised by style, and internationally eclectic, mostly French but carefully including various gems from Portugal, Spain, Italy, California, South Africa and New Zealand, with just over half of the 75-bin collection priced at less than £50. There are two dozen by the glass and a selection of half-bottles, adding some flexibility to food-and-wine matching, and the ‘Classic and Fine’ choices range from Au Bon Climat to some top Rhônes, Barolo, white and red Burgundies and Clos Ste-Hune, ending up with the likes of Batailley 1998, Léoville-Las-Cases 1996 and Haut-Brion 1998 for those who want to push the boat a long way out.
For the rest of us, there is an obviously hand-picked array of bracing wines perfectly serving as accompanists to the outspoken spiciness of the food, including several rosés and Bardolinos, New Zealand Pinot Noir, sprightly whites from the right parts of Italy, and some you may never have heard of at a reasonable price. The tasting notes, though enthusiastic and positive, are also straightforward, with good hints.
73 St James’s St, London SW1A 1PH.
Tel: +44 (0)20 7629 6688; www.chutneymary.com.
Open for lunch and dinner Monday-Friday, dinner only Saturday.