With the Chelsea restaurant celebrating its first birthday, Emma Lake has a taste of Peter Joseph's fresh twist on Indian cuisine
Peter Joseph opened Kahani just over a year ago with the aim of getting people together to share food and stories. The move from Mayfair to Chelsea has seen the former head chef of Michelin-starred Tamarind lighten traditional dishes to suit his new clientele.
He explains: "Indian food is known for being highly greasy, saucy food, so I was very careful when we opened Kahani in Chelsea. People [here] are much more health-focused, so 70% of the menu comes from the robata [grill] or the tandoor [oven, heated using a light charcoal].
"I've taken the flavours of the traditional core, saucy dishes and used them to marinate the meat before putting it on the robata or tandoor. It's worked really well. For example, there is a dish of smoked Malabar prawns, a southern Indian dish, where the main ingredients are coconut, turmeric and curry leaves, all of which we grind and marinate with the prawns before grilling on the tandoor."
The restaurant sits just behind Sloane Square with space for 85 covers, including a 10-12 cover private dining room. The name Kahani means stories in Hindi, and Joseph has developed his menu around smaller sharing dishes that he hopes will facilitate conviviality, prompting his guests to share their tales with one another over a meal.
"I wanted meals to be a bit livelier and that's been achieved as we come past year one. People are really enjoying it; we've had so many parties and families and we are building up more and more regulars," he says.
In the first 12 months several signature dishes have emerged, including the smoked Malabar prawns (£32/£16); tandoori broccoli, honey, nigella seeds, crushed wheat crisps and tempered yogurt (£14); as well as a guinea fowl tikka marinated in spices taken from Chettinad cuisine, from a region of southern India and cooked on the robata (£20).
Kahani does not associate itself with a particular region of India, with Joseph picking up influences from across the country as well as some closer to home.
"Before opening Kahani I dined at more than 50 restaurants in London and travelled to five or six countries. There is a lot to learn and pick up from all cuisines – from how they present the food, mix their spices, garnish dishes. I'm always anxious to learn and understand."
This combination of influences, and Joseph's focus on using the best of British produce, can be seen in the restaurant's chargrilled sirloin kebab with truffle oil, ground fennel and royal cumin (£30/£15). While sirloin is not used regularly in Indian cuisine, Joseph says the addition has been very popular with guests.
Kahani does serve a selection of dishes in sauces to ensure it meets the expectations of all guests, but Joseph explains that the menu has been kept short. "We have a few curries, one fish, one lamb, one chicken and one vegetable, as well as one biryani. I don't want to disappoint my customers when they come in; we've never had any complaints about not having 20 curries on the menu. These things are all very well cooked and carefully spiced and we change the menu regularly; for example, to use the catch of the day."
In the interests of ensuring that diners will not be disappointed, Joseph has spent a lot of time developing the restaurant's dessert menu. He explains: "I started my career as a pastry chef in India in 1999, so when I opened Kahani I really focused on desserts. Traditionally, Indian desserts are very sweet, so I did some research. I use traditional flavours but in different ways that change with the seasons."
They include a raspberry and cardamom ‘melt in the middle' cheesecake (£10), the fruit element of which will change through the year, and a chilli chocolate mousse bomb with gulab jamun bits (£10).
Looking ahead, Joseph says that Kahani's second year will focus on consistently delivering a fantastic experience for guests, although he hints that a move into street food could be on the cards.
"Right now, I just want to focus on whoever comes in to Kahani; they need to be welcomed really well, have attentive service, and beautifully presented food with a balance of flavours," he says.
1 Wilbraham Place, Belgravia, London SW1X 9AE www.kahanidining.com
From the menu
Soft-shell crab with Mangalorean spices, kachumber, smoked tomato chutney £12
Black chicken, Chetinaad roasted spice, curry leaves £10
Kahani klaasik – chargrilled
Tandoori broccoli, honey, nigella seeds, crushed wheat crisps, tempered yogurt £14
Grilled stone bass coated with browned garlic, sundried tomato purée £20/£10
Kashmiri Nihari: Somerset lamb shank, browned onion, Kashmiri spices £24
Hyderabadi biryani with lamb or prawn £25
Tandoori pineapple, coconut-flavoured steamed yogurt £8
Medley of kulfis £8
You need to be a premium member to view this. Subscribe from just 99p per week.
Already subscribed? Log In