14 November 2018: Est. India - An Indian curry establishment
Another outing for the old work football crew and another member stepping up to the plate to organise it. This time it was Wakey - a man with a penchant for a milder curry and a good peshwari naan.
The London Bridge area was chosen as the destination so he could get home easily, clearly ignoring the fact that convenience was Pete's downfall in choosing Gandhi's earlier in the summer. But perhaps more wisely he delegated restaurant choice to yours truly. After considering a few options I landed upon Est.India in Borough on account of its stylish look and good reviews.
After a couple of jars at The Market Porter we walked the short distance to Est.India and entered to see if it would live up to our last curry venture at Tayyabs. Here's how it went...
Est. India can be found in Flat Iron Square opposite the popular food market of the same name. In the vein of eateries in the area, Est.India is a more trendy than traditional Indian curry house.
The interior is relatively minimalist and modern with edison bulbs in glass-paned lampshades providing mood-lighting for the smart grey, lime green and wooden furnishings. The majority of seating is found in one half and a few seats and the bar in the other, with the dividing wall decorated with a patchwork of stenciled elephant motifs. Elsewhere, intricately carved wooden frames and choice photographs line the walls to complete a very pleasant and contemporary Indian restaurant setting.
Whilst we were tucked away in the corner on the bar side it was probably for the best given Spellin's booming voice and our past record of being hushed by other diners. This didn't detract from our views on the Venue which gets a very respectable 8 out of 10.
Starters and sides
Kasmiri Lamb Chops
Tandoori Broccoli (Large)
2 Bread Baskets
2 Pilau Rice
In line with the contemporary vibe, we started with a perusal of Est.India's craft beer menu, opting for a few delicious craft beers from the Wild Card Brewery. These set things up nicely, whetting our appetite for the poppadoms that came next. These came in small pieces set in a wooden basket and looked the part but weren't a replacement for the good old big flat round ones we're all used to. A lack of raw onion also raised a few eyebrows, but their absence was made up for by a lovely chilli dip with an almost West Indian, jerk kick.
Following the poppadoms came the kebab platter which was a bit punchy at £20. This was supplemented with a couple more kasmiri lamb chops and some tandoori broccoli for our resident veggie, Jack. The kebabs were some of the best we've had, with a generous slathering of marinade creating an intensely juicy bite. The hariyali and achari chicken tikka peices were also outstanding - tender and full of flavour - but the gilafi seekh kebab was a little drier than the rest. Overall it was a solid mixed grill.
The naans came in a basket with a mixed of plain, garlic and peshwari and were very fresh, but didn't have the most generous amount of filling. Also a little lacking - a lot in fact - was the tandoori broccoli. Not since Die Another Day has a broccoli production been so disappointing. At £9 for a large portion, these cream cheese and yoghurt marinated florets amounted to little more than one whole broccoli (RRP 45p) and daylight robbery. Let down by this, it knocks down the overall score for Starters and Sides to 7.
North Indian Fish Kari
Goan Prawn Curry
For mains we had a range of four meat dishes and a couple of vegetable curries. All were of good quality, but the meat dishes felt a bit samey and, dare I say it, a little safe. All had a similar creamy, smooth texture that will please the more Anglicised curry palate (i.e. Wakey), but were a little unadventurous or varied. The lamb, gohst lababdar had a tomato flavour, the fish kari more zingy and sour, the prawn similar but lighter and the kadai more of a spinach and coriander edge, but all could easily have come from the same base. A lack of supplementary ingredients and textures like onion or vegetables added to this sense of similitude.
Offering more variety were the okra (bhindi dopiaza) and aubergine (lahsooni baingan) curries. Both were perfectly cooked - which is particularly challenging with okra -and delicious as a result. However, as I've found before with baby aubergine at Salaam Namaste the ratio of skin to flesh is weighted to the former, which imbalances the texture a little.
Despite the more middle of the road meat curries, it's hard to ignore the overall quality here so it's still a solid 7 out of 10.
The waiters here weren't the most friendly, airing on the side of being 'seen but not heard', but all in all were very efficient. It was a slight shame to be parked in the corner rather than the main dining area, but probably made sense given their were six of us. Overall (as per most reviews) no complaints and a 7 out of 10 for service.
Value for money
Whilst we expect to pay a little extra for the more contemporary Indian restaurants, it has to be well worth it if prices go above a few pounds more than average. The beauty of curries is that you can still find excellent value for well under £20 a head in London - a market where food prices are continually (and probably unjustifiably) on the rise.
For £30 each, the quality of the environment and food represented fair enough value here, but a few dishes were overpriced: the mixed grill at £20, the bread basket at £7.50 and of course the £9 tandoori broccoli. This along with the portions that were a little smaller than average meant in relative terms Est.India didn't represent the best value on offer. It's therefore a 6 out 10 for VFM.
On this occasion Wakey chose well...by getting me to choose a curry for him. It ticked all the right boxes without giving him the dreaded curry sweats we've come to expect from a man so averse to spice. The other lads were satisfied, but personally, I wasn't blown away. This probably wasn't helped by recent visits to Tayyabs and Salaam Namaste that had me eulogising, but all in all it was an enjoyable evening with good quality fare.
Est.India is certainly worth a visit for those looking for a more refined curry experience without the higher price tags of The City or Mayfair establishments, but more adventurous diners looking for a more authentic experience should perhaps look elsewhere.
Overall it's a respectable 35/50 and a complete circuit of our team rota. I'll be choosing the next curry house for the old work group in the New Year.
Address: Flat Iron Square, 73-75 Union Street, London SE1 1SG
Alcohol Policy: Licensed
Summary: Smart, modern Indian restaurant with polished curries and sundries