You might think it an impossible task to find a Mayfair restaurant with the most expensive dish priced at £9, let alone one situated inside a hotel, but then ‘Hankies Marble Arch’ isn’t your average hotel restaurant.
So it was with raised brows that ‘PlusMinus’ paid the new Indian eatery a visit with the intention of finding – and revealing – the catch.
Secreted a stone throw away from Bond Street Station, the warm glow from inside the ‘MontCalm Hotel’ caught our eyes before we even realised we’d reached our destination.
On entering the high ceilinged, low profile restaurant at the front of the hotel, we were instantly drawn to the various peculiarities dotted around the room- something we later discovered were all hand-picked from traditional Indian markets.
First impressions? If Delhi-chef and founder Anirudh Arora’s mission was to bring a taste of Delhi to London, he’d done pretty damn well.
Once we were comfortably seated on plush leather (well it is Mayfair dahling!) we spotted one chef standing spinning dough at the front of the kitchen looking onto the restaurant. This was not the show-offy spin you see being performed in ‘Pizza Express’ though. In fact, he seemed oblivious of his audience of diners, as if performing a ritual of sorts. Intrigued, I approached the chap, for a chat (between spins of course). As it turned out, it was practically a ritual. As a self-proclaimed expert in making ‘hankies’, he’d been spinning this dough for over 20 years! For him, this was more than just a job, it was a form of art.
So what the heck are hankies? Aside from being lightweight and delicious – we’ll come to that later – they are hand spun rotis, which are folded into delicate pockets and served either as a starter or an accompaniment to an Indian meal. Unlike naan bread which is thick in nature, the thin dough that makes up hankies is almost transparent when unravelled.
So it was with great apprehension that we tucked into our first ‘spinach roomali’ hankie, filled with feta and roasted tomatoes. It quickly became clear why the little pockets had become the restaurant’s namesake. If it wasn’t for the fact that this would be a very short, and incomplete, review, I think we could have happily left having just eaten plate after plate of hankies alone! The good thing is, they work well as a side for each dish so you don’t need to limit them to the category of ‘starter’.
The rest of the menu is made up of a handful of ‘sharing size’ plates, and a few bigger ‘main’ dishes. The infuriating “would you like me to run through the menu with you?”, before launching into a well-rehearsed and spoken ‘trailer’ (all spoilers included) of the menu before you’ve glanced at the thing didn’t occur here. Instead, friendly waiters nudged us in the right direction in terms of quantity of food we should order and what we might like based on our individual tastes.
I should probably note that I’d taken my fussiest friend in terms of food taste to try out the menu. He’s been known to leave whole meals based on one unidentifiable ingredient or a sauce which doesn’t look aesthetically pleasing, so I didn’t have hugely high expectations for him…
To me, everything looked mouth-wateringly delicious, and I had to stop the waiter twice as he emerged with other people’s food just to check what dishes these were. Fussy friend managed to find not one, but four dishes he was excited(!!) to try.
In terms of starters, the ‘dahi bhalla’ was my favourite, although the description – lentil dumplings, sweet yogurt, tamarind and pomegranate suggests that the dumplings are obvious to the eye. Don’t be fooled – they are in there, but they come in the form of tiny molecules hidden under a bed of yogurt sauce. It is seriously scrumptious and for £3.50, practically a steal.
If you’re into fish, try the crispy gold cod. Crispy doesn’t equate to greasy in this case, and the mix of mango sauce has us questioning whether traditional fish ‘n’ chip shops are missing a trick by limiting their sauces to ketchup and vinegar… Seriously, we’re onto something here…
As for the larger dishes, the vegetarian taragon paneer salan is bursting with flavour, but it’s the butter chicken that steals the show. Smothered in tomato sauce, the need for ‘hankies’ delicious naan bread to wipe up every last drop is absolutely crucial to the experience.
The only thing that could improve the dishes would be an option on the menu to add rice or a grain equivalent, to add bulk. However, as we filled up on bread we weren’t too fussy about this, and for those avoiding carbs, the dishes are perfect.
Throughout the meal we found ourselves sipping on some of ‘Hankies’ signature cocktails. Our joint favourite was the elderflower spritz which is an infusion of elderflower, prosecco mint and lime juice. Less sweet, more refreshing; this acted as the perfect palette cleanser between dishes and counter-balanced the richer, stronger flavours of each plate. At £5.50 a cocktail, we had to pinch ourselves to remind ourselves we really were in Mayfair!
Before you leave, be sure to check out their dessert menu. Although modest in size, both the sorbet selection and the pineapple carpaccio were of particular note, and, again, completed what had been a lovely evening.
If you want to experience real Indian cuisine, made with love in beautiful surroundings, check out ‘Hankies’. We didn’t leave having found the catch, but we definitely left with a new favourite restaurant under our (bulging) belts!