TRISHNA: A TRANSPLANT TO BE REJECTED
I have a problem.
In fact I have any number of problems, but the one relevant to the matter at hand is that I cannot for the life of me understand why people try to shoehorn ethnic cuisines into Western fine dining styles as if to say they have to be presented this way to be considered worthwhile. It seldom ever works and, particularly with Indian food, evolved over centuries to be eaten by large families and with enjoyment more of an issue than decorum, the failing becomes even more obvious.
So, when HP told me he had a booking for Trishna, a new transplant from Mumbai, I had my doubts. Budget and time restraints precluded me visiting the original branch on my travels through India, but my research showed me that, while the room is considered shabby, Trishna is well known for its seafood dishes and in particular its butter, pepper and garlic king crabs.
Well, it’s London sibling is a much smarter operation and the small tables in the dining area were filled to overflowing with plates and a variety of wine glasses that reflected the offer of wine pairings with each dish. There was a long cocktail list too as well as an incongruously large list of spirits, but after our evening before in the bar at Rules, we were on our best behaviour ordering just a beer for HP and tap water for me.
I am always wary when someone offers to explain the concept of their menu particularly when they don’t speak loud enough for you to understand what they are saying, but the menu at Trishna is simple enough with a suggestion that you choose a dish per person from a list of pakora, a dish each from those cooked on the charcoal grill and one each from the main course list of “Trishna” dishes.
Some workaday papads came with a coriander chutney that, while fiery enough lacked a burst of lime juice to contrast. I should send them my recipe. Things perked up considerably with the arrival of superb, greaseless pakora of lentils, onions and coriander leaf which came with a terrific and suitably sour tamarind dipping sauce.
Our communication problems with our server continued as we waited for our second choice pakora of plaice that I overheard being described to a neighbouring table as “Indian, Tempura style fish & chips” I would have loved to have found out if that culinary Esperanto actually worked, but the dish never arrived even after the second time of asking and, in the end, we told them not to bother.
Instead, we were presented with a dish of bream cooked on the charcoal and covered in more green chilli and coriander masala. While the fish was very good indeed and cooked to a perfect flake, the accompanying “charred tomato kachumber” lacked any spicing and simply became chopped up watery tomatoes.
Two little lamb cutlets made our eyes water. Not because of over spicing but because they cost £10.50 which puts them right up there with those at Fino as the most expensive slices of lambykins in the city. The taste was good but HP sighed “it just makes you want to be at Tayyabs” and he was right.
The signature dish both here and in the mother ship in India is the crab and the London version uses Cornish crabs that compare favourably to the best in the world. I can’t make a comparison of the dishes in the two branches, but imagine that the gourmands of Mumbai wouldn’t be too thrilled with the little claws and shell that came to us at a whopping £17.50. I am no great fan of crab served in the shell, too much faff for not enough reward. True to form, all our efforts here led to the excavation of small amounts of very good, sweet meat but barely repaid the sweat beads which formed on our brow. The much vaunted butter, pepper and garlic did little but coat the shell and contributed little to the dish other than extra mess.
As we cleaned our fingers, our final dish arrived, a whole baby chicken roasted with a while lentil marinade and curry leaf. It looked a little dry and anaemic as I began to dissect it into equal portions and we waited for our side dishes of Hyderabadi dal, breads and house made yoghurt to arrive before tucking in. We waited and waited and waited and finally, at the second time of asking, they arrived just as our chicken was nice and cold. They dealt with it well, clearing the table and bringing new dishes out at the same time and it was just about worth the wait. The breads, in three varieties, were exemplary if miniature versions of the real thing, the dal had been spiced with a good tarka and the strained yoghurt was thick and creamy. The second chicken too was moist and spicy but only made me long for the ne plus ultra of tandoori chickens at Bukhara in New Delhi.
Our young server or “whispering Bob” as he became known apologised many times for the error and, although I am of the Homer Simpson “don’t keep blaming yourself. Just blame yourself once and get over it” school, I think his managers and the owner could have done more to help their stretched staff than glad hand with a procession friends and family who seemed to fill most of the other tables.
HP’s eyes lit up when the front of house told us that, as it was still a soft opening, there was a 50% reduction on the food portion of our bill, but dipped again with another sigh as we realised that they had included the cost of the undelivered pakora despite our specific request to make sure that they did not. It exemplified the whole meal and even a bill of £42 compared to over £75 did little to warm us to the experience.
By the time we left, the place was filling up and we slunk out with not a “goodbye” thrown in our direction compounding what had been a pretty miserable experience leaving us to decide that, despite some decent tastes, this transplant is going to need a large dose of warmth and competence drugs to stop the new body rejecting it.