Zaika Aiming for the Top Spot

257/9 Fulham Road, London SW3 6HY

The battle for supremacy amongst Indian restaurants in London continues apace with the likes of Chutney Mary's, Bombay Brasserie, Chor Bizarre, Tamarind and Port des Indes all claiming top spot. Zaika in the Fulham Road is aiming to join that elite group in a hurry, and if the early plaudits from the experts and heavyweight critics is anything to go by, then it already considers itself in that crowd. Zaika is the brainchild of Claudio Pulze and partner Raj Sharma, who decided to select the talents of Chef Vineet Bhatia, formerly of Star of India in Old Brompton Road. Situated on the site of a failed French restaurant called Chavot, Zaika has a comfortable interior with earthy tones and the odd dash of colour with the usual assortment of Indian art objects and antiques. Only a few cosmetic changes really had to be done to make the place appealing and comfortable.

The rest of the team has been strengthened with the addition of Robert Meneziz running the show upfront and Yves Sauboua as consultant sommelier. Wine is an important part of the package at Zaika where a concerted effort is being made to move people away from the curry and beer thought process, although one suspects that the client base of Zaika is far removed from the Saturday night crowd at the Golden Curry House in Ilford.

The emphasis of his cooking style combines sophisticated flavours and the introduction of selected special dishes that I believe are unique to Zaika. They include crusted lamb biryani, smoked salmon kebab and grilled honey-mustard chicken. A leisurely lunch allowed me the opportunity to try some of these dishes including the much talked about Dhungar machli tikka, a crispy chunks of tandoori smoked salmon in a marinade consisting of honey, turmeric, ginger, garlic amongst other things and flavoured with mustard and dill. It is served as a starter for a steal price of 5.25 or included in the Jugalbandi menu. This menu has proved extremely popular and also includes Tikki Chaat (vegetable cutlets on a bed of sweet and sour chickpeas), Kekda Masala (flaked crabmeat cooked in mustard seeds, curry leaves and coconut Masala) and Murg Makhanwala (chicken tikka flavoured with fenugreek). The cost of this, which includes a Malai Kulfi dessert, is 22 or 30 if you want to try a different glass of wine with each course.

I did try the Kekda Masala (9.95) along with Adraki Champean (lamb chops marinated in crushed ginger and cheese for 12.75) and enjoyed them almost as much as the fabulous Gilafi Dum Biryani at 9.95, the previously mentioned crusted lamb biryani. Tender pieces of minced lamb in a flaky casing and easy for two people to share. A must selection when you visit Zaika. I must also not fail to mention the Lal Mirch Murg (spicy chicken Masala at 8.95). This goodie is simmered in a spicy fennel and coriander seed Masala and tastes superb just like the majority of what I tried at Zaika. The food is highly colourful and not very spicy, with chef gauging the strength on the outside temperature, so on a sweltering day the food is mild.

Indian desserts are rarely something worth shouting about but Zaika is a notable exception. Chocomosa at 3.95 are Samosa style white and plain chocolates with chenna and roasted almonds and not only unique but delicious as was the strawberry rice pudding flavoured on top with green cardamom and roasted pinenuts. Some people are already talking about a Michelin Star about Zaika and although that might be premature, there is a freshness about the whole concept of the food served here.

Michael Hepworth-September 99.

Tel:
+44 (0)171-351-7823
Fax:
+44 (0)171-376-4971

Opening Hours Mon-Fri lunch 12.00- 14.45
Mon-Sat dinner 18.30- 23.00

Nearest tube: South Kensington

Average price for dinner for two w/wine 65

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