Indian fine dining is something I have never really got to grips with. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for innovation, but at no point should flavour and centuries old cooking methods be sacrificed for dainty foams and soils that only serve the purpose of looking good on a plate. What if someone could focus on the classics and cook them so well that people would almost be transported to India in a heartbeat. Dishoom nailed it with the street food of Bombay and in particular their Parsi inspired breakfasts. Enter Matsya, the newest kid on the block that seems to have all the ingredients for success. There is a W1 postcode, a name inspired by the Hindu God Lord Vishnu and a desire to serve you the flavours that characterise India. When they invited me to come and taste the food last week ahead of the official opening today, how could I resist?
As you open the menu and see some of the prices, you will probably suffer a minor heart attack. Just try and remind yourself that you are in Mayfair and a pizza up the road at Jean-Gorges will cost you £35. Once you have recovered (you can take your time with this, no two hours and out rule thankfully), you will see familiar words pop out at you but with a twist. Everyone has a twist nowadays. Indian food is a celebration of flavour and everything is eaten together how the diner wants it, not how the chef finds convenient. I thus ask for everything to be served together and not by this ridiculous ‘it’ll come when it’s ready’ malarkey that slowly seems to be taking over the capital. Our waiter Marius happily obliges and I am so thankful for it because I can dip my slightly underwhelming tofu and mushroom frankie into one half of the split personality daal and on the next bite into a bowl of cool minty yogurt.
Let’s stick to the topic of daal because it is the one dish I will judge with intense scrutiny. As someone who has grown up in an Indian household and someone who is fortunate enough to call India a second home, I have the right to be judgemental on this. Every chef should get this staple right before worrying about how many drops of truffle oil should go into a naan. The split personality offering here is a thing of genius despite the slightly worrying name. Will one part be nice to me and the other try to murder me in a sadistic manner? Fortunately, not. One half is made from black urad and cooked overnight that makes it so rich and buttery that you’ll probably block an artery in the process of eating it but it’s just how it should be and is a thing of beauty. The other half is made from chana dal and every mouthful takes you on a voyage of spice that ends with a little hint of chilli in the back of your throat.
Give me paneer cooked any way you like, on any day of the week and chances are we will be best friends and I will be an extremely satisfied man. Over the years, I thought I had tried it cooked and served in every way possible, but oh how wrong I was. Matsya presented to me a fondue pot filled with makhani sauce, on top of which sat two huge chunks of paneer on little skewers just waiting to be dunked in and then devoured. It’s a messy affair but you know what, I don’t care. I will happily endure a mouth surrounded by sauce in exchange for soft paneer laced with hits of mild green chilli all cooled by an almost nutty sweet sauce.
If you want to try the paneer croquettes, and frankly why wouldn’t you, you’ll have to concede to having the same makhani sauce. As good as it is, my taste buds are crying out for a whack of chilli that will be too much for them to handle but my drink will deal with that. There is a dover sole on the menu that is cooked in a spicy Goan sauce, let me have some of that instead.
Let’s talk rice because without that, any Indian meal would be incomplete. The veg berry pulao here is simply outstanding, in fact, it may just be one of the best rice dishes I have eaten. Yes, the old Iranian chaps in Bombay have been doing it for years but nobody has done it in London and it’s making me wonder where has it been all my life. The rice is so perfectly shaped, almost as if the grains get their treatment alongside the Mayfair residents at the Berkley Square cosmetic surgery centre. The berries are sweet but maintain a little sharpness that helps cut through the flavour of the crunchy nuts. Every element plays a part and comes together to produce something fantastic.
The food here takes you on a little tour of India. You very quickly realise that the map at the front of the restaurant serves a purpose beyond decoration. Do I think the food here is expensive? Yes. Would I come back again? Yes.
- Paneer Tikka Hari Mirch £16.99
- Tofu Mushroom Frankie £13.99
- Makhani Fondue Bowl £25.99
- Paneer Croquette Makhani £19.99
- Split Personality Daal £12.99
- Veg Berry Pulao £12.99
- Naan: Blue Cheese, Kashmiri, Butter £3.99
- Tandoori Roti £3.99
- Gin Martini £14.00
- Strawberry Mojito £12.00
Good luck on the launch and I look forward to coming back for more of that pulao!
This meal was provided free of charge by Matsya.