Friday, 12 August 2016

Potli, Chiswick, restaurant review

Potli (established in West London on King Street, Chiswick) for the last 5 years, has stuck by their vision of bringing real, unpretentious Indian food as it is eaten in India. Childhood memories, family recipes, market daabah cooking and street food are all inspirations here. Different areas of India provide the themes for each section of the menu. 

Authenticity is important here at Potli. All of the spices are bought in whole and every day they are toasted and ground for optimum freshness and flavour intensity. Some recipes have actually been obtained from street stalls and market traders.

The owner, Uttam Tripathy, is from Odisha, east India. In order to provide a properly representative view of Potli’s food and ethos, he decided rather than us ordering individual dishes, we would get a selection of dishes from each section of the menu. As a result, the dishes we were served are smaller than the actual portions normally served here. 
Pre-dinner cocktails - lychee and blackberry and chilli Martinis

Pre-appetisers – from the Thelas of Chowpatty

We are self-confessed chaat fans. My dining partner, Him Indoors (AKA the Hubby) has recently been converted to what are essentially vegetarian dishes, made of cheap and cheerful ingredients but which pack a huge flavour punch. Contrasting textures, blends of chutney, sweetness, sour tang and crispy crunchiness are all hallmarks of these dishes. So Uttam picking three chaat dishes to kick off our experience was always going to be a good move!

Samosa chaat £5.50

A cooked vegetable samosa (potato filled) is chopped up, and served with hot curried chick peas, chutney and yoghurt. Finely chopped raw onions and tomatoes give kick and freshness. Here the tamarind and date chutney and chick pea curry sauce clash, blend and complement each other in a way I find hard to adequately describe. Fellow chaat lovers may understand how difficult it is to describe the experience of eating this kind of dish. But rest assured, it was very tasty and the dish was practically licked clean.

Bhel puri £3.75

Puffed rice (don’t think rice crispies, think the unsweetened and unscented rice - rather than wheat - equivalent of Sugar Puffs), roasted peanuts and fried lentil flour noodles provide dry textures; crispy, crunchy, cracky. Added to this are some finely chopped raw onion, tomato and cucumber for freshness and lightness. Coriander and chilli chutney and tamarind and date chutney (along with yoghurt) are drizzled over the mixture, folded just a little. This bhel puri successfully achieves what an excellent bhel puri ought to; a clash of soft, crispy, crunchy, all tied together by the blend of chutneys which give moisture but don’t cause sogginess. 

Pani puri £3.75

The “puri” is a small fried sphere of wheat and semolina dough with the top popped out. This is then stuffed with spicy cooked potato and cooked chick peas. The “pani” is sour, tangy, spicy water flavoured with tamarind and cumin. Served separately, when you are ready to eat, the pani is spooned into the puri and immediately stuffed into your mouth ALL IN ONE. Chomp, and the puri bursts, releasing all the ingredients and flavours. This pani puri was the perfect size, some can be too big, causing premature bursting difficulties. The water perfectly balanced sourness with a hint of herby spice. A great version of a chaat house classic. 

Starters – From the Tawa of Chowrenghee Lane - Griddled

Vegetable Chops £6.50

When English people think of chops, they think of a grilled or roasted chunk of meat on the bone. When Indians, particularly east Indians, think of “chops”, they think of breaded croquettes. It’s a cultural thing. My mum makes hers from spiced cooked minced lamb, coated in mashed potatoes followed by breadcrumbs and deep fried. Here, the chops are vegetarian, made from beetroot. 

Beetroot has had a bad rap. We too quickly equate the pickled stuff in jars with the real thing. This  chopped cooked beetroot has a gentle earthy flavour with a touch of sweetness. It has been combined with peas and finely chopped carrots, a hint of chilli heat, and deep, warming spice. Coated in breadcrumbs and then fried, this is a wonderful vegetable dish; one which vegetarians will love and one which will have confirmed meat eaters realise in wonder that Indian vegetarian food can really be something special.

Masala Tawa Fish £7.50

Tilapia fish which has been griddle-fried after being marinaded in a very traditional blend of aromatics (ginger, chilli, garlic), mustard paste and spices. A small portion of teasing east Indian fish cooking, to be explored further on a future visit. 

From the Tandoor of Aminabad – Starters (clay oven)

Chicken Tikka Trio £9.50

Free range Suffolk chicken marinaded for 24 hours, then cooked to order. Many restaurants half cook their tikka in the tandoor, remove, and hang up until needed for reheating. This can result in dry and somewhat chewy meat. Here the tikka is cooked for each customer, resulting in greater cooking time (and hence waiting time) but this is worthwhile for the juicy, well preserved texture of the chicken. Patience is a virtue which is truly rewarded here. 

Malai Tikka (the creamy coloured one)

Mild and creamy tikka with lemon and cream.

Hariyal Tikka (the green one)

Coriander spicy tikka marinade delivering a vibrant green colour and a touch of fire. 

Traditional tikka (the red one)

A cut above the regular tikka, spicy, juice and tender. 

Paneer Shashlik £8.00

Paneer, the homemade unaged cheese is described in this menu as “Indian cottage cheese”. I’m not sure about this description, as cottage cheese is usually watery, bland and the kind of food I only eat when I’m trying to avoid piling on the pounds. Paneer, because it is home-made, is as varied in result as the person making it. The paneer here is firm textured, making it right for marinading and tandoor cooking. Tandoors are exceptionally hot clay ovens where food cooks rapidly. The paneer is cooked until just browned and a little charred on the outside. The accompanying mustard and coriander dressing, caramelised onions and peppers balance out the composition of this effective and enjoyable vegetarian dish.

Gilafi Seekh Kebab £7.50

Fresh herbs and a decent amount of chilli has been combined with lamb mince before being rapidly cooked in the tandoor. I enjoyed this spicy, soft-on-the-inside, charred-on-the-outside morsel of meatiness. 

Main Courses

Odia Prawn Curry £12.75

This is an intriguing and beautiful curry; a type I’ve never eaten before. An Odisha speciality from east India, the prawns are huge and just-cooked. Overcooked prawns can bring prawn curries down, in my opinion, which is why I often avoid ordering them, despite a big love for prawns. No fear here. The thick sauce enveloping each prawn is hot, sour, sweet and full of masala tones. Just the kind of consistency for eating with hand breads. The sauce is redolent with ginger, garlic, onion, chilli and coriander. 

Railway Mutton Curry £10.00

We Brits love lamb, but shun mutton, considering it “past it” and tough. A sheep need only be over a year old before being classified as mutton, so hardly an OAP! Mutton is denser and more muscular than lamb, but any perceived difficulty can be solved by slow cooking/braising. The result, when handled correctly is tender, flavourful meat and a meaty, rich sauce. This curry, typical of what you might find in a small informal restaurant by a railway station is inspired by Anglo Indian cooking from the days of the British Raj. Cooked on the bone, it is dark, rich, meaty and wonderful. 

Dal Makhni £ 5.50/£7.50

These black lentils, I have been informed, have been cooked for 24 hours. Tender, creamy, spicy, with fenugreek and tomato in the base, this is dal you can savour and enjoy as someone else has put in the hard work so you didn’t have to. Good with breads, great with rice.

Rattan Manjusha Kofta £9.00

Koftas are usually meaty affairs, so this was a surprise. Nuts, paneer, spinach and jaggery (unrefined palm sugar) meatless “meatballs” cooked in a cardamom spiced, creamy tomato sauce. Another revelatory dish, demonstrating how versatile Indian vegetarian cooking can be. The combination balanced flavours, sauce, and varied textures within the kofta themselves made this an artful, delicious dish, full of cheffy skill and panache. 


Lemon Rice £3.75

Basmati rice, cooked until fluffy, coloured with a little turmeric, flavoured with lemon juice pepped up with a little jeera and some added crunch from split, fried moong dal. I loved this; it is no so strong as to overpower the curries it is served with, but adds a little something of its own. A very nice alternative to the more mundane pilau rice.

Pudina Laccha Paratha £3, Garlic and Coriander Naan £3

Buttery paratha bread made by rolling out a cylinder of dough, forming into a spiral and cooking on a griddle. The shaping and pressing in of the spiral makes lovely little crusty edges, like layers in a croissant. It isn’t diet food, but it is rich, satisfying, and just like the hand breads some of my relatives made. The naan is light and bubbly, as it should be. Great accompaniments for the mains. 

Paan Ice Cream £5

Paan is a mouth freshener made with spices wrapped in a betel leaf. If you have ever eaten the Vietnamese dish Bo La Lot, then you have eaten a cooked betel leaf. Sometime paan has a cheeky bit of tobacco wrapped in it, but I have never actually tried this. My curiosity was piqued by the idea of a paan ice cream, but at first, I was sceptical. One of the waitresses told us it was amazing and her favourite of the desserts, so we decided to take the plunge, sharing a portion (after all the food we’d eaten, we couldn’t manage a full dessert each). This paan ice cream keeps the clean, herby, refreshing taste of the raw betel leaf, combining it with the delicate flavours of rose petal jam (gulkand). The result is creamy, fresh, sweet and floral. Palate cleansing but indulgent at the same time. It is innovative, original and most of all, tasty. 

We had a super evening at Potli. The food was, as promised, authentic, unpretentious, sincere Indian food. But it was not simple food. This kind of food is the result of preparation, care and skill. 

I liked the fun d├ęcor, 60s and 70s Bombay Filmi posters, tin signs, Indian groceries, colourful cushions and a sense of colour and informality makes this a friendly restaurant where new dishes can be discovered. 

We received kind, attentive and helpful service. Glasses refilled quickly but discreetly. Dishes explained and recommended. Genuine enthusiasm for us, for the food and the real hope we had a great evening. The staff want to make you feel at home, not only in the restaurant, but with the food, too. 

We visited on a week night, and chose to dine early as we had a long way to get back home to south east London. As we ate, we saw the restaurant fill up with local diners, and both the floors of the restaurant and the outside seating area were nearly full by the time we left. Booking, I would therefore suggest, is advisable. 

Potli is a great Indian restaurant, delivering on its mission. It is a little more expensive than the typical Friday night curry house, but you are paying for quality, authenticity and attention to detail. I have a short and sweet list of “go-to” Indian restaurants in London. Potli is joining it. I will be returning. 

319-321 King Street, Hammersmith, London W6 9NH

Snigdha and Him Indoors ate as guests of Potli. Snigdha’s words here represent her own experience and she has not received any incentive, financial or otherwise for writing this post. This post represents Snigdha’s genuine opinions and impressions.

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