|New Found Sense of Direction|
Turns ugly duckling Ochre into classy swan of an Indian restaurant
Ochre, at the western end of Chiswick High Road, had an uncertain start in life. Forum regulars may remember a certain Eddie, who trumpeted the opening of this new restaurant in the forum with a great deal of sound and fury which turned out to signify more or less nothing. Ochre didn’t live up to Eddie’s promises, Eddie left and for the last few months of 2007 it drifted in no man’s land, with a muddled sort of menu and no real sense of direction.
But now all that has changed – ugly duckling Ochre is now a very classy swan of an Indian restaurant.
Before it became a restaurant Ochre was two shops – one selling car parts and the other a florist. But the arrival of Halfords put paid to the car shop and one of Chiswick’s small family businesses had to close. I bought something from the car parts shop many years ago but when I got it home I found I couldn’t fix it myself so I took it back the next day and the owner’s son fixed it for me for free (they charge for that in Halfords). That was when I first met Shah, the urbane, charming young man who runs it now.
So this is still a family run business that hasn’t succumbed to the steam roller of ‘chains’.
But this is a restaurant review, so what about the food? Like I said: classy Indian and the prices are surprisingly reasonable for a place as smart as this.
After Ochre’s false start, Shah’s mother started to advise him on what to do – serve up the sort of food she’d cooked for the family. She then helped him find the right chef and things are really starting to look up. This makes the cooking genuinely ‘desi’ – an Indian term, I believe, for ’just like home’. Everything about the food tells you you’re in the hands of an expert, a well trained chef with the skill, confidence and sophistication to go beyond the usual expectations of Indian food to try something new (for non-Indians) and do it well.
The whole place was shut for a few days the other week, as forum members noted, but it was nothing sinister – Shah was working on the next stage of his plans for Ochre. He wants to bring some of the bar ambiance upstairs so he’s made room for a small bar area at the edge of the restaurant and he’s working on a ‘desi’ tapas style bar snacks. When I was there it hadn’t been finalised but by the time you read this it may well be in full swing.
There are two lots of starters on the main menu when we went: regular and sizzling – regular starters are a mix of old favourite such as samosas, spring rolls and deep fried spicy potatoes along with some less familiar dishes such as chilli paneer , mushrooms sautéed in butter and fresh herbs, Cajun chicken satay, Goan mussels, and deep fried calamari.
The sizzlers include a selection of chicken dishes which can come with a mild tikka and yogurt sauce, a nutty cream cheese sauce or marinated in pickled spices. Then there’s tandoor cooked spicy fish, sizzling beef and seafood all with various spices and marinades. For the truly hungry, there’s an Ochre mixed grill.
The main course menu is divided into chicken, lamb, seafood and vegetarian. The chicken and lamb eaters get to choose from a selection of makhanis, jalfrezis, dhansaks and more, while the fish eaters have a selection of jhinga and masala dishes. Vegetarians are not sidelined into picking from a selection of side dishes but have a big choice of various paneer, chickpea, lentil, potato and vegetable dishes. There’s plenty to choose from. We mainly had veggie dishes.
We started with a mix of chilli mogo chips and must bhaar paneer tikka, which is tandoor cooked paneer marinated in creamy tikka spice. The chilli mogo chips are a revelation, soft cassava with a crunchy, spicy, chilli dressing, and very more-ish. And, because this was for a review and therefore counts as research, we added a dish of palak and onion pakora which is mix of spicy shredded onions, baby spinach and coriander deep fried in a spicy batter. Another excellent dish.
For mains my companion had dum mirch gosht , lamb marinated in fresh herbs and spices cooked with hot chillis and I had mirtha daal makhani, black lentils slow cooked until they are creamy - a cut above the regular tarka daal - and we shared a Punjabi Chille, chickpeas cooked with tomatoes, garlic and ginger and the chef’s own massala sauce. These were all good, but the lamb, although melting tender, was let down slightly by the sauce which my companion found a little too rich.
On a previous visit we had an amazing dish called mufhlavi malal kofta (paneer and apricot dumplings in a special creamy and mild masala sauce). We couldn’t finish it so we took it home with us and it was just as good the next day for lunch.
The dessert menu deserves a mention. It even includes gulab jamon and ras malai – dishes that are seldom seen on menus in these weight-conscious, carbohydrate-counting days. And there’s mango kulfi, fruit chaat and an Ochre (Shah’s mum’s) special, Faluda which has to be tasted to be believed – it’s gorgeous. It consists of an Indian condensed milk, Indian vermicelli and other Indian flavours and spices.
I swear if my mum had made food like this I would never have left home.
There’s a good, well priced wine list. You don’t have to spend a fortune but you can if you want to.
The price for this which included fluffy fried bread, one faluda and a bottle of wine was £66.15.
Ochre is more than just a restaurant, there’s a downstairs bar with moody lighting and lots of squashy chairs. This is where you can sit and drink and eat tapas.
When we went after the re-opening, Shah gave us a special tour of his new tapas menu. For the most part they are scaled down versions of what’s on the main menu – stuffed aubergine, chilli mogo and biryani, with some new ones such as mushrooms stuffed with spicy scrambled egg (which tastes better than it sounds and even my carniverous companion liked) and fried potato in a tamarind sauce. Shah and the chef (and Sha’s mother) are working on more. The plan (which may have changed since I was there) is to charge around £4.00 per tapas dish which, for cooking of this quality, is very reasonable. The restaurant opens up to tables and chairs on the pavement and if we get a summer this year, a glass of wine with a selection of tapas dishes will be a very pleasant way to spend a summer’s evening.
May 22, 2008