I would love to say that I don't care what any other restaurant critic thinks about any other restaurant, but the sad truth is I do. I pore over Fay Maschler, nod happily at Jan Moir, and laugh out loud at AA Gill.
It never worries me when they like what I dislike, or dislike what I like. They are just wrong, that's all. But there is one particular modern Indian chef that everyone seems to adore except me, and so I am now forced to wonder - what am I not getting here? Or what are they not getting? Or what is HE not getting?
As one of the pioneers of the British reinvention of Indian dining - combining French techniques, Western plating and non-flock wallpaper surroundings - Vineet Bhatia garnered a Michelin star and enough glowing reviews to cover the walls at Zaika.
I recall the first Zaika in Fulham Road, west London, as serving subtle but hit-and-miss Indian fusion food in a luxe setting. Mind you, that was when the entire three-course lunch was less than 12 quid. My scallop starter at the new Rasoi Vineet Bhatia is £16 on its lonesome.
So now he has gone out on his own, with wife Rashima, to what was the English Garden, Richard Corrigan's elegant little King's Road outpost. The cosy Chelsea cottage features an L-shaped dining-room with conservatory roof, linked by narrow, staff-littered passages to a snug front-room and by stairs to private rooms upstairs. Walls are hung with framed collations of Indian brass artefacts, while cane lamps and hanging brass bells add a dash of Eastern promise.
The bare-topped tables are small which, alas, means the food will be plated individually, Western-style. This doesn't stop an adjacent Indian table of four from trying to share, causing a bevy of waiters to stand around holding huge platters of small nibbly things, unable to put them down. Service is of the Keystone Cops variety, falling over themselves in silent-movie eagerness yet ignoring things that need to be done. I still have to ask to order a drink, ask to order food, ask to order wine, ask for plates to be taken away.
The list of starters reads like a typical modern Brit brasserie - assorted sea scallops, duck platter, trio of chicken and warm salad of grilled tuna. Three little chutneys come first in a slim, chic sheath of china, with crisp, golden coins of tiny pappadums.
The amuse-geule shows promise: a spoonful of nicely complex sweet and sour chicken salad. If it is all like this, I can see what they are getting at.
Ah yes, the sea-scallop trio; £16, it is a lot to pay for three scallops adhered to the plate by squishes of mashed potato and topped with crushed herbs, chilli, and sesame and onion seeds respectively - especially when they taste bland and joyless.
A quartet of duck (£12), by contrast, suffers from trying to do too much. The tiny samosa is oily, a duck salad is like dry, deep-fried shredded confit, a little duck soup is quicksand with skin. Best are two fingers of moist and meaty duck seekh kebab that show good spicing.
The wine list, good grief, carries an 83 Château Latour at £310, and a 90 Penfold's Grange at an aspirational £850. Why? My aspirations reach only as far as a light, spice-friendly 2000 Trimbach Pinot Noir for £28.
Main courses are better, taste more authentic and do not, thankfully, come in trios and quartets. The classic, rich, perfumed onion and tomato sauce served with a lamb shank rogan josh (£20) is impeccably balanced. The meat is firm rather than fall-off-the-bone, but the sauce is a star.
Baked under a seed-studded pastry top, a biryani of "pickle-flavoured" chicken and basmati rice (£18) would make a pleasant though under-seasoned side dish. A stand-alone main course it is not.
A dessert trio of date crème brûlée, shrikand, and ice-cream (£8) is problematical, the brûlée curdled and cakey, and the yoghurt-like shrikand aglugg. But they do give good ice-cream. A platter of rose petal, pistachio and coriander, and mango scoops (£8) make the words smooth and creamy seem somehow mean.
Rasoi means kitchen, which suggests a rustic, family-based honest food style, quite the opposite of this ambitious mucking about. Had Bhatia and his wife opened a real rasoi in an unfashionable low-rent suburb, he would be set up for life, and so would we.
But by aiming for the top, Bhatia has doomed himself to competing for rich customers, rave reviews and Michelin stars against some of the biggest kitchens and budgets in town. I don't think he and his modest kitchen and means are up to it.
But why is this so clear to me and to no one else? They call his cooking modern, yet I find the overwrought, moulded, three-by-three food reminiscent of the French restaurants of the late 1980s. We know modern Indian food works - look at Atul Kochar of Benares where it emerges with technique, flavour and spontaneity intact. I think Bhatia is essentially a good cook gone astray, lost in a mishmash of what he perceives to be contemporary. But feel free to disagree. Most restaurant critics do.
13 Rasoi Vineet Bhatia 10 Lincoln Street, London SW3, tel: 020 7225 1881. Open for dinner Monday to Saturday. Around £125 for two including wine and service
Scores 1-9 stay home and cook 10-11 needs help 12 ok 13 pleasant enough 14 good 15 very good 16 capable of greatness 17 special, can't wait to go back 18 highly honourable 19 unique and memorable 20 as good as it gets
Second helpings: Other recent Indian arrivals
Bombay Brasserie 47 Broadway, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, tel: 01733 565 606 After 17 years in the same spot, regulars of this stalwart were discombobulated when it upped sticks and moved across the road to lighter, brighter more modern premises. Luckily for them, the samosas, mild passanda curries, chicken tikka masala and peshwari naan moved at the same time, so normal service has been resumed.
Oh! Calcutta! 216 Cheltenham Road, Bristol, tel: 0117 924 0458 The designer Indian restaurant phenomenon heads west. Moody lighting and statement chairs form the backdrop at this seven-month-old Bristol hot-spot, with movie nights planned around the large wall-screen as of next month. All the usual korma, vindaloo and tandoori fare is on offer, along with the more unusual such as machli khatta, a sylheti fish and tomato curry with fresh coriander.
Deya 34 Portman Square, London W1, tel: 020 7224 0028 While much has been made of part-owner Michael Caine's involvement, in that pathetic celebrity-dependent way of all media, I wouldn't count on seeing him here. Concentrate instead on chef Sanjay Dwivedi from Deya's sister restaurant Zaika, and his crab and corn samosas, red snapper masala and a pastry-topped seafood biryani.
E-mail Terry Durack about where you've eaten lately at firstname.lastname@example.orgReuse content