16 Albemarle Street, W1S 4HW
Stepping off the street in one of London's most extravagantly cosmopolitan areas, it's almost ironic that stepping into an Indian restaurant has an almost homely familiarity about it in this city. Despite Chinese food overtaking Indian as the nation's favourite takeaway, (I suspect the proliferation of late night/24 hour Chinese takeaways has something to do with this...Indian takeaways rarely open during the later hours), the South Asian cuisine remains a firm favourite amongst Londoners, with more modern interpretations such as Amaya, Dishoom and Masala Zone packing out with punters as much as the ''older'' favourites.
Chor Bizarre is a bit of an oddity (as the name might suggest) amongst the others. Firstly, it's actually an import from India, where they have two branches specialising mostly in Kashmiri food, which is much milder and more aromatic than the Punjabi style curries we're more accustomed to here, but perhaps somewhat of an acquired taste for most. Chor Bizarre London actually has quite a few Kashmiri dishes on the menu, but we didn't get round to order any of them on this visit. We managed to meet the executive chef on our visit, and found out that he actually worked at Bukhara, one of Delhi's finest restaurants (it used to be on the San Pellegrino Best Restaurants list). Credentials indeed.
The restaurant itself is quite unusual in its decor, filled with a deliberate mish-mash of items procured from the eponymous chor bazaars of India, where stolen items are openly sold without any hint of remorse. It almost makes you wonder if there's some poor sod sitting somewhere in Mumbai without a coffee table whilst you're unwittingly tucking into your rogan josh and mango lassi.
|Gazab ki Tikka|
My favourite of the starters, the chicken was marinated in cream and cheese, giving it an unusual lactic sour element. The chicken itself was grilled superbly, charred and tender as a good tikka should be.
The prawns were less of a winner for me, there was a hint of bitter element in it (I'm not sure if it was part of the marinade or a result of over-charring) which distracted from the juicy, succulent in-season king prawns.
We took a while to order our mains, but this was less due to indecision, and more due to the maitre d' going through the menu with us and discussing our choices in detail. He was extremely friendly, and responded to all our questions very well. He even discouraged Owen from ordering the Lamb Yakhni explaining that it is somewhat of an acquired taste with its strongly sour elements, and something that they keep on the menu for those specifically wanting to try Kashmiri food in London.
|Thali Part 1 (Left to Right): Palak Makkai, Zeera Aloo|
|Thali Part 2: Choice of Three Flatbreads, Rice and Raita|
|Thali Part 3 (Left to Right): Dal Makhni, Kashmiri Rogan Josh, Sharabi Kebab (just out of shot)|
In the end, I went for the Maharaja Thali and Owen went for a more traditional North Indian Shehnai Gosht. The thali was huge (I couldn't even take a picture of the whole thing), but very good. There were dishes in there ranged from quite good (Rogan Josh) to the ''do you think I could order another one?'' (the incomparable Palak Makkai). The butter chicken, termed sharabi (Alcoholic) kebab was quite fun, with a hint of brandy giving it that sophisticated richness usually reserved for French haute cuisine.
The shehnai gosht was really tender and fell straight off the bone as really good lamb shank should. I think the sauce was a tad rich for our tastes though, especially with the barrage of starters that preceded it. Enjoyable overall though.
Sometimes I think that I must be ruminant. I don't know how but I always have room for Indian desserts, even after eating three starters and a full Maharaja thali. Whatever the cause, our ever reliable Maitre d' brought over two dessert ''fans'' (I think I saw two Russian toddlers using them as battle axes at the corner table) and we went about ordering some sweets.
Owen's grilled pineapple dish was very good, something quite different from the usual Indian restaurants. The pineapple was fresh and very flavourful, being right at the end of the season (I wonder if this dish is served all year round or changes with seasonality).
Overall the food was good at Chor Bizarre. It's not breaking the mould, but at least it's giving some exposure to less well known regional dishes. The service was absolutely fantastic, with special praise to the absolutely charming Maitre d', who really made us feel welcome and at home in a way that is one of the hallmarks of dining in India.
I should also say that the restaurant was packed to the brim with families (the young children in the restaurant were very well catered for). There wasn't a free table in the house across both floors of the restaurant. It's clearly doing well, which is quite a feat after spending 15 years in one of the most competitive restaurant environments in the world.
N.B. We were very kindly invited for our visit to the restaurant by the Chor Bizarre team. For reservations, you can visit their website (chorbizarre.com), email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone them at 0207-6299802/ 0207-6298542.