Durga Misra, an Indian chef skilled in classical French cuisine, is combining the best of east and west at his newly opened Putney Wharf bistro. Jennifer Sharp pays a visit
Born in the Indian state of Odisha, Durga Misra found his vocation as a chef while at hotel school in Chennai. He was inspired by the great names of European cooking, and since arriving in London in 2002, he has worked with Pascal Proyart, Joël Antunes,
Raphael Duntoye and Eric Chavot at both the Capital and Brasserie Chavot, where he was head chef. While working with Chavot at the pop-up restaurant on Selfridges’ roof, he finally met his hero, Pierre Koffmann.
By now highly skilled in classic French cooking, Misra was determined to evolve his own style, using the spices and techniques of India, Asia and the Middle East, and to open his own restaurant. His dream came to fruition in June, when Bistro Vadouvan launched in the sleek riverside development of Putney Wharf.
It is a large, versatile space on the ground floor, with floor-to-ceiling windows and 110 covers spread over four distinct areas. The main restaurant has conventional tables and chairs with vivid, peacock-blue buttoned banquettes around the walls. There’s also a chunky wooden sharing table with high stools, a secluded semi-private dining area for 16, and an extensive outside terrace for 44, with heaters and exotic throws for chilly days.
The marble-topped bar looks straight into the open kitchen, where Misra and his brigade of four produce utterly delicious food that is light and modern, but grounded in classical techniques. Stockpots bubble on the stove and traditional Indian clay ovens provide super-hot temperatures for barbecues and bread.
The à la carte menu and daily specials range from fashionable favourites, such as tartares, salads and ceviche, to sharing snacks, substantial main courses and divine desserts.
The originality and flavour of the cooking is rare in a neighbourhood restaurant. Traditional pâté de campagne of pork and chicken livers is perked up with chilli and smoked paprika, while a superb bouillabaisse enjoys the extra depth of chorizo and rose harissa.
Duck confit is used for an Asian take on pot-au-feu, and Cornish sea bass is served with celeriac hummus, lemon confit and cauliflower enlivened with the North African spice mix ras el hanout. Even side dishes have an exotic touch, with spiced cabbage slaw and the signature couscous with raisins and pine nuts.
The oriental idea of balance, of yin and yang, runs through Misra’s cooking. Fresh sweetcorn is blanched, barbecued on a skewer, glazed with tamarind, green chilli, miso paste and yuzu mayonnaise, before coming to the table in chunks with a scattering of spring onions and wedges of lime.
Family-style dishes for large parties are subtly spiced and modernised. An Asian take on chilli con carne uses minced pork with cardamom, onions, green chilli and peppers.
Lamb shoulder is cooked overnight with white wine and cumin. The next day, spicy merguez sausages are grilled and added to the meat, along with a mix of tahini and yogurt with zhoug, the green Israeli paste of parsley, coriander, green chillies and cloves. Finally, before serving, an egg is broken into the hot dish.
For afters, there are Neal’s Yard cheeses and a small selection of desserts, including strawberries in hibiscus jelly with lemon custard or floating islands in a lavish crème anglaise topped with chopped nuts.
A short but well-chosen drinks list features wines chiefly from France, Italy, Germany and Spain, to suit the style of cooking. Whites include Picpoul de Pinet from the Languedoc,
Albariño from Galicia and a fine Soave classic from the Veneto, while reds include a light Chinon from the Loire and more complex wines from the Bordeaux region. For celebrations, there are prestige Champagnes, such as Louis Roederer and Dom Pérignon, or prosecco and crémant if you’re economising. Honeyed pudding wines, liqueurs and speciality coffees, including an espresso martini, are also available.
Alongside the well-priced menu and lunchtime specials, Misra is also planning to launch ‘friends of Vadouvan’, providing tastings, discounts to regulars and a monthly showcase of a specific region of France. This is a neighbourhood restaurant we’d all love to have on our doorstep.
From the menu
• Prawn, crab and cucumber salad with orange dressing £12
• Beef tartare with smoked aubergine, tahini and flaked almonds £9.50
• Poached brill and prawn ravioli with coconut broth, enoki and shiitake mushrooms £17.50
• Glazed marinated salmon cooked in the clay oven with carrot and harissa yogurt £13
• Daube de boeuf with ginger, orange, cinnamon and cloves, served with cucumber and mango salad £16
• Exotic cheesecake with passion fruit crémeux £6.50
• Raspberry trifle £6
Bistro Vadouvan, 30 Brewhouse Lane, Putney Wharf, London SW15 2JX
Photos by Jade Nina Sarkhel