EMNI: MEDIOCRITY REDISCOVERED
It’s obviously been a week for openings in London’s restaurant world with DH visiting three new places in the last few days.
Restaurants come and go, I suppose. They certainly do in Islington. So, it’s “Thank You and Goodnight” Brasserie La Trouvaille. “Hello and Welcome” Emni. Well, “Hello” at least.
After St Germain’s ludicrous comparison to Paris and New York, I thought the hubris trophy for most idiotic boast would have to be retired, but Emni has made a late dash for the 2006 award with its proclamation to be “INDIAN REDISCOVERED” Oh deary, deary me.
When I read those words I couldn’t help thinking of the time I had to tidy up a student flat before leaving so I could reclaim my deposit. I moved a sofa and found the remains of a four year old onion bhaji that had rolled under stayed there when I proved too lazy to move the heavy furniture. That’s one bit of India I certainly wish I had not rediscovered.
Anyway, Emni opened yesterday, so I gave it a try today for an early supper.
There was only one other couple in the place when I arrived and I chose a table at the back of the restaurant away from prying eyes. My server was cheery enough, about 14 years old and had patently never been further East than Lowestoft. When I asked him where the chefs had come from he replied confidently “ Oh, India” I guess you can’t fault his logic.
However, you can fault his training. The restaurant makes much about the provenance of the chefs in the front of the menu. Apparently, they used to cook for the Sultan of Brunei. On the evidence of the food , I suspect that’s a curry house near Chingford rather than the second richest man on the planet. In either case, I expect more from the waiter than just practically pointing in the vaguely eastern direction and going “oh, from that way somewhere”
Anyway, none of this would matter if the food was splendid. It wasn’t. It wasn’t foul either, it just was well, hugely bland. Again, the menu makes a big play about the fact that the chefs insist on churning their own Indian cheese and in making everything from scratch to bring out the true and real flavours. You could not taste any of that supposed attention to detail in any of the dishes I tried. Quite the opposite. All the dishes tasted much the same.
To begin, some slightly chewy papad with three brightly coloured but muted chutneys. The best of them was a lemon mango which was a lurid green. A chilli chutney was cloying and lacked heat.
To begin, “ Chicken Chops From West Bengal”. These should be bursting with clean flavours of the traditional Bengali spices ( ginger, turmeric etc) instead, what I got was drumsticks of chicken in a slightly overpowering marinade of mint and coriander. Not horrible, just not correct.
With this Samundri Khazana which, apparently is a Goan seafood dish. What appeared were two small dishes with a couple of strips of squid and a couple of tough prawns in a sauce that reminded me of that sketch in Goodness Gracious Me “ Bring me the blandest thing on the menu”
The place was beginning to fill up by now and they were obviously caught unawares as the wait for my main courses went from the point where I thought “ I could do with my main course soon” to “ where the hell is my main course?” to “ if they don’t bring my main course soon I am going to go down the kitchen and introduce someone’s knackers to my calf skin Merrills”
Finally, it did arrive. Not really worth the wait. Again, not terrible just, bizzarely lacking in any discernible flavour at all. A Rogan Josh is a dish that is, in theory easy to make, but actually incredibly hard to make well. This was not made well. Instead of a rich, dark sauce thick with hours of reduction, this was thin and watery. Instead of tender chunks of slowly cooked meat which had marinated first in spices and then yogurt, this was small, tough chunks of lamb which was grey in the middle all of which showed it had been cooked separately and too quickly.
A side dish of Dhal Makhani was better. Slow cooked and unctuous urud dhal with butter and cream. I am not sure the skin it had formed from sitting under pass too long added anything though and again no great taste sensation.
For a restaurant that is making its stand based on recreating classic dishes from around India with the help of classically trained chefs ( from Mumbai, I later extracted from another waiter ) this is really uninspiring, insipid cooking. For a standard curry house, it would have probably passed muster, but for a place with the aspirations this restaurants strap line proclaims, it just looks foolish
It’s not cheap, either. The small dish of seafood was £7. The Rogan was £9 and a bottle of Hildon water was a massive £4.50 bringing the total to £35 including service.
By the time I left, it was packed and the staff were scurrying about and far too busy explaining that the chefs came from India to bemused punters to notice me leaving. I suspect in a very short while, no one will notice this place closing. It’s just not good enough to last in a street that has plenty of uninspiring places to eat already