Saturday, March 28, 2009

Something new under the sun

It's been said that the british national dish is not fish-and-chips as many would have guessed but chicken tikka masala; and when we came up with this idea of having Indian food together in London, our friend e suggested this trendy place on Kensington High Street. We were also meeting our friend d who happened to be in town and his friend c. well, d and e are high school mates, e and I crossed path in both Washington dc and boston, and d and I were college roommates. That’s how this dinner gathering came about. Talking about a small world.

The dinner came right after a jubilant afternoon when we saw my favorite football club came out victorious in the big London derby march, so that already set the right mood for the evening for us. The restaurant’s located in the heart of Kensington on the main street and about 5 minute walk away from the tube station, so it’s not hard to find at all.

The menu does take us a bit of time to study over: there are the a la carte ones and also several tasting menu sets we can chose from, and after some deliberation we came up with a consensus to go for the 6-course “Jugalbandi” tasting menu. Turned out it's such an eye-opener – definitely not like any Indian food that we have had before. Ever! On the menu it said it’s a selection of traditional dishes; well if that is so we definitely feel the need for a whole new lesson on Indian cuisine.

Starting off with an amuse-bouche of spiced coconut soup with chicken served in an espresso cup, we then moved on to dishes like scallop in kokum and lime leaf “foam”, trio of chicken tikka, tandoori grouper with “upma”-Indian cous-cous in a champagne and cardamom sauce, and spiced wild mushroom rice with mini papadum and tomato “makhni” ice-cream... and they were all presented so beautifully.

And you can imagine, as with typical Indian, they were so all rich in flavors, with familiar spices and some not so familiar ones, and all in their unique shapes or forms. Every course was such a delight as it’s brought in front of us one by one, and so were the conversations we shared in between, trying to catch up on how everyone’s been in their lives and having a good laugh. Since almost all the courses came in tidbits of a single ingredient cooked multiple ways, we were able to sample quite a bit of different tastes.

By the time we finished dessert, which was a pinekernal, cashew and pistachio brittle with silky chocolate moouse and masala tea icecream, it’s already 10:30pm, and that was the time when we were "politely" asked to move to the bar area for drinks so our table can be cleared for another round of patrons. Well, it's already late and there were actually people waiting to come in, so fair game, I suppose. And my cup of masala tea drew the evening to a satisfying close.

With our regular Indian restaurant of choice being in the somewhat filthy chungking with dishes such as chicken tikka masala, tandoori on a hot plate or garlic naan, needless to say, the evening at Zaika will easily come down as one of our finest Indian dining moments. Always something new under the sun, I must say.

when? march 21 2009
where? Zaika, 1 Kensington High Street, London.
occasion? a get-together with friends
menu highlights? Tandoori Machli: Tandoori Grouper, marinated in ginger and chillies, "upma"-Indian cous-cous, in a champagne and cardamom sauce

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