Do you know that expression – never judge a book by its cover?
Well at times, it really couldn’t be more appropriate for describing restaurants too. Case in point: the Painted Heron, an unassuming Indian restaurant situated in Cheyne Walk, a genteel residential area of Chelsea, overlooking the River Thames…
My friend, Caroline, and I walked in on a Monday evening to find the decor neutral and the ambience relatively muted (our fellow diners mainly seemed to be locals and regulars).
But the objective tone turned out to be the canvas for an offbeat yet outstanding dinner, where many a familiar flavour was sharpened and executed with creative flair by chef Yogesh Datta.
We started with the classics. The paneer tikka was the best I’ve had in London yet – the soft, creaminess of the cottage cheese enlivened by the subtle spices of the marinade.
While bucking tradition, my street food favourite “bhel”, involved a mix of satisfyingly deep-fried okra (ladies fingers), sweet potato and pomegranate, along with the usual tangy trimmings. It could have been a touch more crisp, but on the whole, presented a veritable riot of colours and textures to contend with!
From the contemporary selection on the recently revamped-menu, the tender wagyu beef minced “chappli”kebabs were very much to Caroline’s satisfaction too…
Some of the more traditional mains also featured an unusual twist – such as the sharp nutty tinge of almonds in Caroline’s chicken tikka masala, which neatly balanced the succulent juiciness of the meat.
As for my vegetarian option – the broccoli, cauliflower and sugar snap peas ‘poriyal’ was a lustrously hearty affair. It has to be said, that cauliflowers seem to be having a moment of late, with this humble veggie showcased on the menus at several of the trendiest new restaurants in town, from the Barbary to Chicama. The rendition here at the Painted Heron particularly won me over with its earthy preparation, which had a distinctly comforting quality to it.
It was a bit like a hug in a bowl…
As were the creamy black lentils – which were pleasantly less creamy or buttery than is usually typical of this notoriously-heavy dish, making it a much more palatable accompaniment to our dinner.
And of course, a fragrant heap of coconut rice and a sharing bread basket (brimming with crisp coriander and garlic naans) were in order as well, to help us mop up all those intensely rich gravies!
We moved to the al fresco terrace for afters and made ourselves right at home in the cosy astro-turfed spot (decked out with garden furniture to boot!).
I’m not really sure how we found room, but we then proceeded to scoff down some unapologetically sweet gulab jamuns (a spongy Indian sweet drenched in a sugary rose syrup) and salted caramel and nut slices, which although not the most inspired choice of dessert, were served alongside a lush shot of coconut cream.
And yes, we got through three scoops of green tea ice cream too! I really wasn’t expecting to see my favourite matcha-based dessert at a fine dining Indian restaurant – or expecting it to be so darn good either… but oh my bittersweet matcha, it was good.
So, my overall verdict?
Well for me, the litmus test for a good Indian restaurant is whether I can recommend it to my parents.
Their criteria is simple – home food, which is not really home-cooked. The Painted Heron delivered this in versatile and very satisfying spades.
The Painted Heron, 112 Cheyne Walk, London SW10
I was a guest of the Painted Heron; as always though, all opinions are mine alone.