RESTAURANT REVIEW: Venetia van Kuffeler visits Chutney Mary in the dead heat of the summer
EACH SUMMER, IN ABOUT MID-JULY, the very centre of London empties as the hedge-funders and city types escape to their country houses and holidays on the continent. In these mostly non-residential areas, only a handful of people are left holding the fort, struggling to work each day amongst the tourists. On a steamy August night, right on cue the streets of St James’s were empty, so we were amazed to discover that behind its enormous doors, Chutney Mary was as busy as if it was Ascot week in June, when London is at its liveliest. The restaurants was full of international diners, and tables continued to turn over, even as we were leaving at 10.30pm.
Owned by the Panjabi sisters, who also run Veeraswamy, Amaya and the Masala Zone group, when Chutney Mary opened in Chelsea 25 years ago it put refined Indian dining on London’s culinary map. This was long before it upped sticks and moved to St James in 2015.
Arriving a little ahead of our reservation time, a rose and lychee martini (for me) and vodka martini (for him) in the splendid Pukka Bar was a dazzling start. Recalling the Tokri Chaat from a previous visit, we enjoyed these small string potato baskets filled with vegetable goodies and drizzled with Tamarind and green chutneys while marvelling at the lavish surroundings of a leather topped bar, Indian bell chandeliers and colourful artworks. This popular snack from northern India was a powerhouse of flavours and a good indication of things to come.
The major issue with Chutney Mary is the vast menu – it was simply too difficult to choose. For seafood lovers like myself, options included the mouth-watering golden fried prawns; roasted scallops in Mangalorean sauce and watermelon chaat or Tandoori Sea Bass Amritsari. And for carnivores like my husband, there’s Wagyu Beef Boti, Hyderabadi Lamb Shank and Afghani chicken tikka.
The best option seemed to be to cover all bases. So, we began with a fantastic venison samosa that eschewed the typical triangle shape, arriving as two cones of wafer-thin pastry filled with rich minced meat, plus fragrant Goa crab cakes served with dipping chili raita and tamarind chutney. Vast wild Madagascan prawns marinated in green herbs arrived fresh from the grill, while a rich lamb curry came in a spicy, dark oily sauce. A light and fluffy paneer and spinach dish was better than anything I have tasted like it before. Perfect sides of steamed basmati rice, naan bread and Kachumbar Raita tied the dishes all beautifully together and were the perfect antidote to any spicy heat.
At this stage, I was understandably groaning and clutching my sides, but my husband would not be defeated. He had soon demolished a delightful bowl of yoghurt and honeycomb ice cream.
The wine list is extensive; the service smart and efficient. Two sensational private dining rooms and large tables in the restaurant cater for family gatherings, discreet lunches and client dinners. Furthermore, there’s an extensive menu of options to cater for these private celebrations. (For private events, Chutney Mary can cater for up to 32 guests for a sit-down meal, or 60 for a cocktail reception.) The restaurant even now serves brunch on Saturday and Sundays.
Although I must admit that the walk back through silent streets definitely did me some good, Chutney Mary really is a go-to restaurant for people you’d like to impress, or even just have some fun with. But go with an appetite, this is for people who enjoy their food!
CHUTNEY MARY, 73 ST JAMES’S STREET, LONDON SW1A 1PH
T: 020 7629 6688 E: RESERVATIONS@CHUTNEYMARY.COM WWW.CHUTNEYMARY.COM