Baluchi – A Pan Indian Destination
I prepared for my favourite evening cuisine by walking to the restaurant near Tower Bridge down Brick Lane, a street that is at one end lined with dozens of relaxed Indian restaurants. These perhaps aren’t completely authentic Indian restaurants, but ones that have become authentic in the UK.
The smells were delicious and I so wanted to accept an invitation from one of the many restaurant touts for a pre-dinner snack. I didn’t cave, though, and came out into Whitechapel heading south to walk over Tower Bridge at dusk to the south side. What a beautiful approach to a new restaurant.
The LaLit London hotel is set back from Tooley Street. I am embarrassed that I’ve never noticed the magnificent building before, once St Olave’s grammar school turned film set, now a hotel. The exterior is lovely, with a beautifully lit, leaf-filled entrance. Then you walk inside . . .
The LaLit is a 5* luxury hotel chain in India. This is the first in England. The hotel’s interior has maintained its school history. There is the Teacher’s Room and the Headmaster’s Room – both are lavish bars. Take a cognac or glass of champagne in the Headmaster’s Room – this is actually what you’re invited to do – or a ginger infused cocktail next door where the teachers once kicked back. The classrooms are now bedrooms, decorated with Indian satins and velvet.
Baluchi restaurant takes over the old school’s Great Hall. It’s an impressive room that has been splendidly decorated with screens, rich coloured silk blinds and colourful leaves against the deep wood-clad walls. First thing to notice are the three enormous glass chandeliers brought from Hyderabad, lit up electric blue. At one end is an opulent bar that is the Naan’ery. It’s a bread bar for a different kind of dining, where naans are cooked in a cast iron oven, served with ‘dips’ and paired with wines at £99 for two.
Baluchi is a pan-Indian restaurant with Jomon Kuriakose as the Chef du Cuisine. He creates dishes from Kashmir, Bengal, Kerala, Goa. To start we had seabass steamed inside a banana leaf, grilled avocado with olive crumble and coriander chutney. This is a local dish to Kerala was recommended by our Keralan server. This starter wasn’t a highlight of the meal. The seabass was quite plain and avocados have lost their appeal to me post meridiem since the hipster breakfast appropriation. Our other choice, however, was one of the best of the evening (we had a few highlights). Hand Dived Orkney Scallops were big, fat and juicy, as well as naturally sweet tasting.
The trio of scallops was served on an oyster leaf with buckthorn puree, gin foam, kale powder and pickled grapes. It came under a glass dome of smoke adding flavour (or effect?) and was simply delicious. We managed to fit in three starters and ordered the Tandoori Octopus. Clay oven roasted potatoes, labneh and coriander chutney accompanied. The octopus had a traditional marinade with the perfect heat to it, the meat was charred and perfectly soft – a very well cooked dish.
The Indian wine we ordered (unsurprisingly) went wonderfully with the food. Having no experience with the wines we took advice to have a Chenin Blanc from Nashik, India; A new taste that really came in when paired with the rich flavours of the food.
The Kashmiri Lamb Shank Gushtaba was gorgeous – my top dish. Slow cooked with fennel, cashew and saffron, on top of masala mash. For me, lamb is best with Indian spices and flavours. This dish certainly feeds my conclusion. The lamb fell off the bone, the sauce was creamy, rich and plentiful and the mash was there to absorb it. We also chose the tandoori monkfish, the dish I was most looking forward to. It was beautifully served but a little underwhelming in taste, despite its five-spice flavouring. Is it strange to say that I think it has the best potential? I’d almost order it again next time to see if it had been improved with an extra flavour kick.
The Punjabi side dish of fresh spinach and paneer melted in your mouth. A tacky description but, here, a true one. It’s one of my all-time favourite dishes and this version came top. We had the speciality Dal Baluchi, which is slow cooked overnight. It was creamy in texture and a generous portion but I’ve had tastier dal, and for less than £11.50.
The mango & coconut naan was delicious, but unnecessary with all that we had ordered. Indian desserts are wonderful. Often they’re light, super sweet, and quite necessary (but so often missed) following a powerful tasting and filling meal. We had to… Cardamom ice cream was served with pineapple carpaccio infused with saffron and cooked in a tandoor. It was delicate, incredibly tasty and beautifully presented.
It was a slow meal with long gaps between ordering and each course. Dinner for two lasted three hours, which was a little too leisurely for a week-day evening meal. The service almost made up for it. It was incredibly friendly, if not yet slick, and the waiters had fun stories to distract us from our hunger and good knowledge of the old school building. There were a few other tables of casual diners, and two big family meals going on. This is how I’d come back. For a large group celebration lunch or dinner with lots of space and incredible tasting food. It’s a difficult thing to create atmosphere in such a vast room. The tables are very spaced out, so you do have privacy.
The friendliness and playful interest of the waiters made it fun, but unfortunately the quiet club music didn’t add anything to the evening, nor did it fit the grand English-Indian setting so beautifully created. Baluchi isn’t cheap, but it is certainly worth the extra for the quality of food. The style of food and the restaurant reminds me of another personal favourite, Sindhu in Marlow, a venture of Atul Kochhar.
The restaurant won’t attract footfall. It’s not at the busy end of Tooley Street, and the building, if impressive, doesn’t look like it hosts the fabulous Indian restaurant that it does within. I’d certainly recommend making the journey here for a long meal, and make sure you’re hungry.