‘Not your average curry night’, or so the ladies and gents at Trishna claim. But here at Hg2, we’d have to agree. Sister restaurant to Trishna in Mumbai (often thought of as one of India’s best seafood restaurants), the Marylebone Village restaurant in London serves delicious and innovative Indian cuisine, heavily influenced by the food and flavours of the South West Indian coast. Hg2 had a bit of a chin-wag with Karam Sethi, patron chef, and found out what puts the spice in his life.
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Some say that London has the best Indian fare in the world – what are your thoughts on the city’s offerings and how does it differ to the cuisine in India itself? The diversity of Indian food in London is brilliant. Whether you want authentic street food, haute cuisine, or proper home-cooked Indian food, it is available in the city. I would say, obviously, that the cuisine in India is far more traditional and authentic; yet there has been a recent trend of modern Indian restaurants opening in Delhi and Bombay. For authenticity, there are small communities and pockets in London where proper Indian food can be found cooked in the same way as it would be in India — although, obviously, they will never compare to India. There is a tendency for Indian restaurants here to tone down their food for the Western palate, but what I find from experience is that if your food is kept authentic in terms of spicing, Westerners love it even more. A lot of them have travelled to India and have experienced the real thing. In my mind, quality Indian food should be bold in terms of flavour and spiced so that the flavour of the main ingredient is not masked.
Where did you learn to cook? From the age of five I started cooking with my mum in the kitchen at home. From then on, our summer holidays would always be spent in India and I would spend all my time in the kitchen with my grandparents’ chef who taught me the basics of Indian food. After leaving school I spent some time in India at the Maurya Sheraton Hotel at Bukhara restaurant which taught me the complexity and balance of spicing Indian food, and then worked with Zuma in London which highlighted the importance of using high-quality ingredients and treating them simply. Out of all my experiences I find the best Indian food in the world is found in people’s homes, and the ideas I pick up by eating food in another Indian homes are incomparable.
How would you describe your signature style? Seasonal British ingredients cooked in a style influenced by the South Western Coast of India. The spicing of my food suits both the Indian and European palate and there is an emphasis on the fragrance of spices rather than chilli heat. We roast and hand-grind our spice powders and masalas here on a daily basis to ensure the freshest flavours are achieved and to make sure that the main ingredient of the dish is never overpowered or bogged down by the spices. You will find that there will never be more than three elements to a dish and the main ingredient will always be the focal point and be allowed to sing.
You recently took over the menu at Trishna; what have you changed and how have you shaped it? Food-wise I have made the flavours bolder, and perhaps more authentic, which has been received very well by our customers. I have put a lot of emphasis on seasonality. I’m using ingredients such as morels, wild garlic, asparagus and Cornish gurnard and alphonso mangos at the moment. There are 25 dishes on the menu, half of which are signature dishes that have been on the menu since we opened, but I am continually striving to hone and improve them. The other half are dishes that we change seasonally. In terms of the whole offering at Trishna, I have made it a lot more accessible by having a number of menus other than the a la carte that suit most budgets.
From the menu, what would you be your pick of the starters, mains and desserts? Starter – Hariyali Bream: We use wild black bream and marinade it in mint, green chilli, garlic and ginger and roast it in the clay oven over coals and then serve with a charred tomato kachumber which complements the hariyali masala perfectly.
Main – Guinea Fowl Tikka: A dish influenced by my time at Bukhara, which is famous for its tandoori cuisine. I use guinea fowl legs and marinade them in a roasted coastal spice powder we make using fennel seeds, cloves, star anise etc., cook them over charcoal and serve with a fresh brown masoor lentil salad.
Desserts – Alphonso Mango Rice Pudding: Served hot in the winter and cold in the summer. It’s a very simple dessert that shows off the sheer brilliance of alphonso mango.
The drinks menu seems to be just as important at Trishna – there’s quite a focus on wine-pairing, which is unusual for an Indian restaurant. Tell us about this and the nights you host? From day one we have promoted matching our food to the wine list at the restaurant. There is still an old-school way of thinking that Indian food and wine do not work together. We have gone to great lengths to offer inspired pairings and some truly diverse wines from niche producers and boutique wineries all over the world. And for those who think that Indian food calls for a nice cold beer, a specialist selection of beers including Indian and European varieties completes the selection. We have started hosting monthly wine-beer-sherry-cider and Indian food matching sessions with WineChap, and so far the response has been brilliant. Londoner’s are intrigued as to how Indian food works with such an array of drinks and we are loving the experience of educating them.
And what about the cocktails? There are some exciting ones on there, like the mango chutney one. Who is responsible for these, and can you tell us the recipe for this one? My sister, who joined me at the restaurant in August, is the mastermind behind the drinks at Trishna. We have tried to take the recipes of classic Indian drinks and create a more refined and contemporary interpretation of them. The mango chutney Martini is simply our house-made mango chutney, lemon juice, alphonso mango pulp, vodka and orange sugar all shaken together – it’s an acquired taste but has gone down a treat with customers.
How do you see Indian food moving forward in London in the future? I see a move toward more regionally-focused restaurants in London; Indian restaurants in the city tend to serve ‘pan-Indian’ cuisine. There is still huge scope for a quality Goan restaurant or a restaurant serving the cuisine of Hyderabad, for instance. Indian food is hugely diverse and there is still such a lack of knowledge of the cuisine in the UK. I also feel the higher end of the market is too stiff and can definitely be made much more accessible.
Finally, what’s next for you and Trishna? I’m currently looking for a second site to open a more casual-bar dining restaurant serving my interpretation on Indian nashtas (snacks), which are eaten throughout India in every home.