A few weeks ago, I won dinner for two at the Bukhara popup. Much like it’s real home in Delhi, the popup version was located within a posh hotel, this time in Knightsbridge.
Head chef Manjit Gill came over to London to oversee the popup himself and three special tandoori oven were installed for the occasion.
On arrival in the room itself, I was a little disappointed. Despite the enormous velour-covered green elephant outside the entrance and the namaste greeting on arrival, the “restaurant” still looked very much like the conference room it usually is. It was also so dark I could hardly see the menu, even though the sun was still gloriously high in the sky outside. We asked for the curtain behind our table to be opened a little, which improved things no end.
To my surprise, most of the other tables were empty, and even by the time we left, over half of them were still without diners. Apparently, although the tickets sold out quickly, the organisers were disappointed by a high number of no shows, though given that no payment was taken on booking, this isn’t a huge surprise. A shame, given that there were many people who expressed interest in attending but weren’t able to nab a reservation.
I was very excited to try the food, as I’ve long since wanted to visit the original in New Delhi, where several family members live. Somehow, I’ve never been, in all my visits to India.
Two set menus were available, a meat and seafood one priced at £79 per person and a vegetarian one at £59.
First, we were served with enormous juicy jumbo prawns and malai chicken, both cooked in the tandoor. These came with a bowl of thick tasty raita, a plate of assorted breads and a bowl each of rich, ghee-laden dal. The prawns and chicken were not only full of flavour but also wonderfully succulent, always a tricky balance to achieve in a tandoor and the sign of an experienced tandoor chef.
Later we were served a dish with a pile of pulled tandoori lamb and unusual stuffed potatoes, formed to resemble marrow bones, it seemed to me. I liked the cumin-heavy spicing on the lamb but found the meat much too dry. The potato oddities were pleasant, if unusual. We were offered more breads and daal, if we wanted – I thought that a nice touch, though given the pricing, generosity was definitely on the cards.
Lastly, though we were already full, was a dessert of gulab jamon and phirni – fried sponge dumplings soaked in sweet syrup and ground rice pudding infused with cardamom. Both were excellent, particularly because the kitchen resisted the temptation to make them as tooth-achingly sweet as usual.
We finished with masala chai.
Full and happy, we waddled out, patting Nimbu the elephant goodbye (yes, I named him) as we went.
It was a wonderful meal, but the organisation seemed lacklustre as did the decoration of the conference venue location. Certainly there was press coverage, but much of it was published some days into the short two week stint, making me wonder whether the entire exercise was more about Bukhara being able to say they hosted a London popup than about really showcasing the best of Indian cooking to a receptive audience.
Perhaps Bukhara are considering opening a permanent London outpost and were dipping their toes in the water?