|Thoroughly Modern Setting With Very Traditional Food|
Penny Flood tries out the new kid on the Fauconberg block Peppers
Are you watching that television series ‘The Restaurant’? It’s the one where enthusiastic would be restaurateurs are set a series of tests by Raymond Blanc. How well they perform governs whether they go into the next round. One week , Raymond told the contestants to come up with something that would delight their guests. This is a test that Peppers would have passed with flying colours; they gave me a red rose.
I was delighted.
Peppers is the new kid on the Fauconberg Road block. It has moved into the space left when Sultanee closed. It’s an Indian restaurant, but what exactly is it about? Another of Raymond Blanc’s tests was to ask the contestants to give their restaurants a brand so customers knew exactly what they could expect.
Peppers would have fared badly in this task because it’s difficult to describe exactly what Peppers is aspiring to be – traditional Bangladeshi or new-wave modern Indian.
First appearance makes you think that it is one of the latter; it’s light and bright, painted in a colour that is best described as apricot with attitude, and the walls are hung with a mix of artworks that look like a job lot from Bayswater Road on a Sunday and there’s no sitar muzac. And then a glance at the huge menu, which runs to four pages, quickly disabuses you.
It’s an amalgam of all the usual suspects with pretensions to haute cuisine. Dishes are classed as connoisseurs, traditional and chef’s presentations - but really there’s very little you won’t have seen before. And then if you can be bothered to read all the menu you’ll find even more of the same with Parsee dishes, biriyanis and tandoori specials along with all the usual rices and breads.
So we settled down in a thoroughly modern setting to tuck into some very traditional food. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Right through Raymond Blanc’s series there is one great theme: the food. However well the contestants perform their tasks, the food is his overriding concern. It has to be good.
So what about the food at Peppers?
In short, some of it was good and some of it didn’t quite live up to the lavish descriptions on the menu. Food chosen from the chef’s presentations’ section suggested a chef that was punching above his weight.
We started with good old favourites – onion bhajis and lamb chops with the less ubiquitous sabzi chat on puri. Yes there were only two of us but this was research. The onion bhajis were excellent – dry and crispy with plenty of onion, and not too heavy on the flour, although the other two dishes were disappointing. The spicing was great but the basic ingredients let them down. Sabzi chat is a mix of spicy vegetables on a fried bread and although there were plenty of veg, they were undercooked, and the lamb chops were on the tough side. The starters were accompanied by a selection of very agreeable pickles, one red one was particularly good and we were assured that it was the chef’s own creation.
On to the mains. My companion chose Zafrani Chicken from the chef’s recommendations. This was described as tender chicken cooked with pistachio, coriander and green chillis in a thick sauce. And that was where things went wrong. The sauce wasn’t just thick, there was too much of it and although it tasted great, it swamped the chicken.
For the vegetarian option I chose saag paneer, aloo anardanna and massala dall and couldn’t find fault with any of them. The saag paneer comprised great big lumps of paneer with soft, melting spinach. The aloo anardanna was potatoes cooked with sun dried pomegranate seeds and fresh coriander and the massala dall was like tarka dall with tomatoes, onion, garlic and Kashmiri red chillis.
Instead of the usual naan bread we went for batura, deep fried fluffy bread which sounded better than it tasted. It was heavy and greasy and not a bit like the deep fried fluffy bread found in South Indian restaurants.
Overall, Peppers is a restaurant that is trying too hard. A smaller menu with greater attention to detail would be a step in the right direction. The chef is a dab hand with the spices but it takes more than that to make a great meal. And I don’t appear to be the only one who thinks so as we were the only customers after eight.
I should mention the service here, as the waiters were quite charming.
Prices are good, and the whole meal came to £44, which included £11 for a bottle of indifferent Pino Grigio. There is a take away service with free delivery for orders over £15 and at Pepper’s very reasonable prices, you can eat a lot for £15.