Penny Flood was impressed
News that Machaan has a new chef was a perfect excuse to go and try it out so my husband and I wandered down. It was a warm evening, the front windows were wide open, and the whole place had a lovely airy, relaxed, summery feel, ideal for sitting back and enjoying dinner. A good start.
The new chef is Hissam Rajai who trained and worked at the Taj Group, the largest chain of luxury hotels in India, so he knows a thing or two about posh. Machaan is posh, but it’s posh combined with prices that won’t make your eyes water.
The menu isn’t long and although there are some things that sound familiar there are plenty that we’ve never come across before. Take the starters where the better known onion and potato bhajia, samosas and chicken tikka shaslik sit alongside the more unusual such as methi machchi tikka, (fresh salmon marinated in yogurt and spices and cooked with fenugreek leaves), jhinga merunisha (fresh jumbo prawns marinated in yogurt with saffron, cardamon seeds and fresh coriander and grilled) and fish Amritsari (proper street food that you’d find in Amritsar). If there are two of you and you can’t make up your minds you can have a selection of starters with the gourmet platter. But be warned, the portions are very generous.
We started with tandoori paneer khaas, soft Indian cheese stuffed with chutney and pickles, marinated and grilled with vegetables cooked in a charcoal oven, and samosas, those deep fried, pastry parcels filled with peas and potato. We chose these because paneer and samosas are pretty ubiquitous dishes that you find in most Indian restaurants, we eat them a lot so they’re good benchmarks. If Mr Rajai could get these right, we reckoned there’d be a very good chance he’d get the rest right. We weren’t disappointed.
The paneer was cut into four big triangles and cooked to BBQ brown on the outside and creamy in the centre. Paneer can be difficult to get right, it’s protein and coagulates and goes rubbery if it’s not cooked with care. This had been cooked with care and was perfect. The samosas were completely different from any samosas we’d had before. Instead of the little triangles of filo pastry, we got two small pasties made with a sort of short crust pastry stuffed with a mixture of potatoes and peas and all sorts of spices. They were deep fried which made the pastry lovely and crispy, and served with a tamarind and tomato sauce. Both the dishes came garnished with a small salad including swirls of carrot and mooli so they looked lovely as well as tasting great. Machaan passed the samosa and paneer tests with flying colours.
The starter menu doesn’t have a big choice for vegetarians but all 12 of the veggie dishes in the main menu can be served in small portions so they can be eaten as starters as well.
We followed this with house speciality dhal makhani, saffroni chicken korma and a side dish of sukhi meloni subzi – mixed vegetables in a spicy sauce with asafoetida and tamarind and a buttery, flaky paratha bread.
I had the dhal. I was going to have the pindi chana because I like chick peas but I let myself be persuaded to try something different and have the dhal. I’m very pleased I did because I’ve never had dhal like this. I’m a vegetarian and lover of India food so I’ve eaten lots of lentil dishes in my time and this was something new. Dhal makhani is black lentils slow cooked overnight with tomatoes and cream and a selection of spices and it was wonderful.
The chicken was more special than the usual kormas. It was flavoured with saffron and cardamom, cooked with cashew nuts and onion and topped with almond flakes. Both main courses had plenty of creamy sauce, ideal for dipping the bread.
All the dishes tasted as good as they sounded.
There’s a small dessert menu which includes the Indian stalwarts of kulfi and gulab jamon. We would have loved to have tried the kulfis but with all that we’d just eaten we didn’t have the room, so we finished with two cups of tea – lovely.
The food at Machaan is prepared by an expert who understands ingredients and spicing and has the confidence to introduce new dishes. It’s very, very good. As Machaan is at the Goldhawk Road end of the High Road it’s giving the competition in King Street a run for their money and has set a very high standard for fine Indian dining and modern Indian cuisine.
And what about the prices? They’re a very pleasant surprise. The meal we had which included two papadoms with relish, two glasses of Sauvignon Blanc and a beer came to £50 – yes you read that right.
Machaan- 12, Chiswick High Road, W41TH
July 7, 2014