Address: 51-53, Shelton Street, London, WC2H 9JU
Cuisine: Bengali (East Indian)
Alcohol Policy: Licensed
Summary: Modern, small and sharing plate Indian restautant, with Bengali cuisine inspired by the eclectic influences found on the streets of Kolkata
It had been 50 days between curries and things were getting pretty bleak. A brief foray into the world of take away left me wanting (Depa Tandoori in Bloomsbury if you were wondering). Desperate times called for desperate measures so I arranged a curry with my colleagues Alice and Hannah. Cat also joined as a late child-minding addition and, despite fears of conversation turning to ASOS offers and behaviour descending through alcohol abuse, it proved just about bearable in the end.
We had a pint in the Crown and Anchor, Neal Street, to kick things off. It was then a short walk to Little Kolkata for our curry. A full debrief was then undertaken in The White Hart, Drury Lane after, helped by a few bottles of white wine and my own witty repartee throughout. And, whilst drunken dancing and scuffles broke out, I can safely say it was not as a result of our lot. You might even say it was a pleasant evening, but I'm not that kind.
Here's what we thought of the restaurant...
Little Kolkata is one of many contemporary Indian restaurants that have popped up around central London in recent years. Like many others it offers a small plate, sharing experience of modern takes on regional Indian dishes. Like local counterpart, Darjeeling Express, Little Kolkata started life as a supper club before founders set up store permanently on the edge of Seven Dials. In doing so, they brought with them Bengali, Mughal and Chinese flavours from their home city of Kolkata.
The decor within also invokes Indian tastes, but this time for a range of bold colours. However, at times these, and the change in styles from one part of the restaurant to another, can seem a little disjointed. The front left has a pink, almost nail bar, theme, the back right a living room red wall lined with framed photos. Both were linked to our little corner of dark navy and burgundy walls by a chessboard tiled floor. These changes were mirrored in the lighting - in places bright with tasteful, globular light fittings, in others (like our table) a little dingy, despite a shiny, copper-topped table. I'm no interior designer, but this millennial, curry house-meets-Made look didn't quite work for me or my fellow diners, despite positive reviews for the wine glasses!
The atmosphere was also a little flat for a Friday too, compounded by the strange muzak playing in the background: classical versions ranging from the Titanic theme to Iris by the Goo Goo Dolls. Very bizarre. Add a slightly stuffy temperature and it's regrettably a 6/10 for Venue.
Starters and sides
Selection of Papad
Tawa Grilled Chops
Banana Flower Croquette
Luchi Puffed Bread
For starters we chose a wide range of items from the 'Nano' and 'Small Plates'. It was a cracking start with a selection of papad, including mini poppadoms and other fried snacks, accompanied by a slightly miserly portion of mango chutney. These were fun and different, although one of the snacks, it has to be said, evoked polystyrene in both look and taste.
More flavour was found in the now ubiquitous pani puri. These semolina shells rarely fail to disappoint, offering a splash of tamarind water and spicy potato when munched down whole. Equally crunchy, but a little less satisfying were the crispy okra that were a far cry from the excellent offering at Soho Wala. They were over done and, as a result, lost their charm.
The chilli paneer was also a little flat and not to my taste. Far from the best paneer you can find, it was sat in a rather sweet and sour, Chinese inspired mix of red and green peppers that was a little disappointing. Better were the mustard aubergine - two slices of aubergine topped with a coconut and mustard, korma style sauce - and the banana flower croquettes, that came with a tangy tamarind dip. However, neither really exicted. The best of the bunch was probably the tawa grilled lamb chops. Thicker and juicier cuts than the more common punjabi style chops, their firey marinade added a further punch to this weighty plate. Far lighter and close to perfect were the luchi puri-style, puffed breads, but the porota was a touch cold and not that exciting.
So, whilst there was a great range on offer, the quality of the dishes also varied. One or two fell a little shy of expectations, and by not quite hitting all the top notes it's only a 6/10.
Jumbo Prawn Malai
Goat Kosha Mangsho
House Special Lamb Biryani
Unfortunately, it was another mixed bag with the main plates.
The strongest showing came from the slow-cooked goat kosha mangsho with its array of aromatic spice and wasn't far off the same dish from the excellent Darjeeling Express. Conversely, my recent penchant for biryani wasn't quite satiated with the lamb biryani here. Despite it being the only house special and home to a lovely blend of fragrances, it was a touch too dry. The same couldn't be said for the jumbo prawn malai that came swimming in a shallow bowl of light, coconut and green chilli sauce. However, the result was more of a Thai than Indian curry and, whilst jumbo in size, there were only two prawns for the £14.95 price tag. Smaller than average portions and slightly underwhelming overall it's a 7/10, pushed up by the goat.
Service was nothing out of the ordinary. Some dishes were a touch cold whilst the water on the tables was pretty tepid. However, as is usually the case, with nothing to complain about and little patter to push marks up it's a steady 7 for Service.
Value for money
The jumbo price for the jumbo prawns was an indicator of the wider value on offer here. We were of course paying a premium for the location, but the quality wasn't quite up to our expectations. Other small plate restaurants tabling dishes at this price point give a little more back; conversely, portion sizes here were a little on the smaller side. With a final bill of £134 between 4 with 1 bottle of wine, it's only a 5 out of 10 for VFM.
All in all the scores may seem a little harsh, but Little Kolkata didn't quite hit the heights of other similar restaurants we've been to recently. It's probably worth a visit for the lamb chops and goat curry, but other dishes could be elevated with a touch more quality and care. The crispy okra is probably a case in point, a potential winner, but a little overdone. This sadly rings true for Little Kolkata overall. Perhaps more time spent on the food than on interior design would see it rise to match the experience of (currently) better rivals.