Ravinder Bhogal has fashioned herself a career as a chef, creating global food with a local flavour, says Neil Gerrard
This new venture, from first-time restaurateur Ravinder Bhogal, who is showing her roots as a fashion and beauty journalist, is tastefully done: feminine in style with beautiful mismatched tablecloths and clean white walls.
The operational experience in the business comes from Bhogal's business partner, Ratnesh Bagdai, finance director and shareholder in Brindisa Tapas Kitchens and co-founder of Restaurants Etc with Mark Hix (he has since sold his stake). However, the business relationship between the pair nearly didn't come off.
After Bhogal won a televised competition called 'Find Me a Fanny' on Gordon Ramsay's The F Word (in search of the next Fanny Cradock), she embarked on a new career, initially as a food writer. She secured a contract to publish her unconventional book, Cook in Boots, and wrote columns in Grazia magazine and The Times. There was more TV work, including a show on Channel 4, Food: What Goes in Your Basket?, co-presented with The Observer food critic Jay Rayner. Impressed by her cooking, Rayner encouraged Bhogal to spend more time in professional kitchens and there followed pop-ups with Anna Hansen, Hix Selfridges (where she met Bagdai), and Trishna.
"Ratnesh was very busy and the Hix empire was growing very quickly, and every time I bumped into him he said we should do a restaurant, but would never really follow up on my email," Bhogal explains. Rayner advised her to take the brave route of informing Bagdai the next time she saw him that she was no longer interested. It worked, and Bagdai emailed the very next day to get the ball rolling.
The menu itself is an unusual one, which perhaps reflects Bhogal's route into the industry. Hailing from an Indian Sikh family by way of Kenya, who moved to the UK when Bhogal was young, there is a confluence of differing culinary influences - neither traditionally Indian nor traditionally British.
"Lots of people say to me, 'what's the concept?' and the truth is, there is no great concept here," says Bhogal. "It's the kind of food I would like to eat at home and the space is very 'unrestauranty' in a way. I am an immigrant and, as an immigrant, you come to a place and it all seems very barren to begin with. In Kenya, we had passion tree bushes and guava trees in our garden, and here I didn't have that.But gradually, what looks barren starts to fill up, because you pick up new things while preserving your culinary tradition."
In this vein, Bhogal has taken the decidedly British Scotch egg on a journey. The prawn toast Scotch egg with banana ketchup and pickled cucumber (£7.50) is one such example, as is the venison Scotch egg with pork and smoked beetroot raita (£7.50). Similarly, the banana cake with miso butterscotch, Ovaltine kulfi and peanut brittle (£7.50) recalls Bhogal's childhood, mixing the Ovaltine she had before she went to bed with Indian ice-cream.
But her influences don't stop there - she is always on the lookout for new creations. The chargrilled concertina squid with Jerusalem artichoke and chorizo crumb (£12.50) comes from an octopus dish she tried in Spain. "I liked it so much I went back to the restaurant four times. We have done it with squid and Jerusalem artichoke, rather than potato," she says.
But perhaps the creation the restaurant is best known for, and one that is unlikely to come off the menu, is the deliciously naughty mutton keema Sloppy Joe with pickled onion, mint and mango chutney, toasted brioche and fried padrons (£12) - Bhogal's take on a burger.
"Jay Rayner came in, and he can't review the restaurant because we are friends, but he loved it. We work with a butcher who gives us really good mutton. We marinate it in lots of spices and yogurt for two days before we cook it."
So how does it feel to be running her own 55-60 cover restaurant with five other chefs? "It's so much nicer for me," Bhogal says. "I feel like I have much more focus. I felt like a bit of a nomad before and I was always carrying my boxes of things around. Now I have a home - a place to really lay down my roots."
From the menu
•Maple-spiced nuts £5.50
•Stilton & Cheddar namakpara, apple achaar £4.50
•Beetroot and shanklish croquetas £6.50
•Charred Brussels sprouts, chestnuts, hot & sour dressing, bonito £8
•Crispy pig's cheek, turnip polenta and puffed pig skin £15.50
•Pan-fried brill/barrel-aged feta, moghrabieh, caramelised fennel, orange blossom, candied orange zest £12
•Rose panna cotta, quince jelly,
poached quince, honeycomb £7.50
•Paan madeleines, Kenya cha £6
19-21 Blandford Street, London W1U 3DH