This leafy corner of London, between Oxford Street and Edgware Road, has quietly become an enclave of fashionable hotels and restaurants. The Georgian mews, crescents and squares here are far enough away from the hookah restaurants and shoppers to offer a bijou clutch of boutique properties and hidden gems living in peaceful harmony.
Such is the setting for Hankies Marble Arch, a new restaurant from talented Delhi chef Anirudh Arora within the comforting embrace of the Montcalm Hotel. This is Arora’s second Hankies venture following on from his street food cafe on Shaftesbury Avenue; what Arora calls “a more up-scale dining experience where I can expand the menu.”
The aforementioned ‘hankie’ is actually a roomali roti; spun-thin Indian flatbread freshly baked on a hot Tawa and folded into a hankie shape and served as basic bread side or with various fillings.
The new restaurant is a comforting blend of old and new; a contemporary airy space with antique lanterns and glassware on the tables and a proud Tawa on full display complete with a dough-spinning bread chef. I really like the golden theme too. Gold coloured cutlery perfectly matching the gold base of the wine glasses.
We start with a mix of small bites and some hankies; Sweet potato bomb (£3.50) a deliciously spicy ball of chickpeas and sweet potato on a bed of bean sprouts and chilli jam. Bhindi Bhel (£3.50) a fresh mixture of crunchy okra, puffed rice and coriander. Gol Guppa (3.50) are wheat puffs like tiny poori’s filled with sprouted lentils and pomegranate. And Bhatak Ki Kurchan (£5.50) a crispy duck dish with masala cashews, mint and watermelon. The spinach-green hankie is highly memorable, filled with spicy feta, roasted tomato and garlic herb oil.
Next, a few grills. A street style chicken tikka (£3.50) is a stand out for me. Two pieces of perfectly grilled tikka combined with mint, coriander red chilli. A skewer of chive and garlic prawns (£4.50) comes with a very agreeable shiso and cumin salsa. A surprisingly generous slab of Lochfyne salmon (£3.50) cooked with honey, dill and black pepper. Other grill possibilities I spy on adjacent tables look very tempting, including Gosht rib-eye in a garlic, paprika and masala rub (£9) and chilli lamb chops (£4.50).
We think it’s all going very well. The bread chef is still spinning his dough, and there is a constant supply of food spilling out from Arora’s kitchen.
After a well-deserved pause, we’re ready to dive in again with a selection of veggie dishes and from what Arora calls his ‘pots and pans’ menu. This is a little more traditional northern Indian cuisine. An excellent Delhi butter chicken (£7.50) in a dreamy tomato sauce, an equally succulent tarragon paneer salan (£5.50) chunks of paneer cheese in a tomato and curry leaf sauce with Padron peppers and walnuts. Last, but nowhere near least, is an excellent spinach dish saag subzee (£5.50) with chard, brussels and miniature lotus puffs.
With a goat mince keema, a black dal, and a very intriguing khumb kofta mushroom dish still to discover, there is more than enough reason for a return visit I fancy.
The dishes are not large, but by now we are more than ready to find somewhere dark and comfortable to take a nap. But our attempt at a snooze retreat is interrupted by a pudding menu of some note.
Admittedly, I am a sucker for home-made kulfi and Arora’s pistachio (£3) is a belter. Even more delectable is a trio which he calls meetha caviar (£4.50) which is a deliciously creamy cardamom and rabri cheese sitting on an ice-cold stone, fruit cake slices made into melba toast and a bowl of meetha made from cardamom and dried apricot.
Hankies Marble Arch is a food triumph for Chef Arora who quite rightly tells me “with small portion sizes, you have to have a realistic price point and I believe we have a perfect balance.” I have to agree, with the most expensive item at £9 it is a highly affordable evening out in central London.
Perhaps another hidden gem for the neighbourhood.
All images except restaurant interior, chef Arora and lamb chops (c) Andy Mossack
Tell me more about Hankies Marble Arch
Hankies Marble Arch, Montcalm Hotel, 2 Wallenberg Place, off Cumberland Place, London W1H 7TN.
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7958 3215