To cook perfect rice, as the actor and Indian food writer Madhur Jaffrey once said, the grains should be like brothers: close, but not too close.
Marylebone's newly landed Trishna restaurant passes the basmati test easily; its rice (£3) showing just the right amount of brotherly love. Lightly steamy, blissfully fragrant and well formed, each grain is elegantly extended along its length. It works beautifully with a market-fish curry (£12.50) built on a fried paste of coriander, cumin, chilli and roasted coconut enlivened with tomato and lime, slowly simmered with the bones of the fish to give depth, length and body. Toss in fresh seabass fillet and finish with tangy tamarind and coconut milk, and you have one classy curry.
Both dishes augur well for what Trishna's owners, the brothers Karam and Jyotin Sethi, call "coastal cooking", as practised by the 50-year-old, slightly ratty Trishna restaurant in Mumbai, which was something of a local celebrity magnet in happier, pre-turmoil times.
This Trishna is more homage than clone. The Sethis have worked closely with Trishna in Mumbai, while their head chef, Ravi Deulkar, previously head chef of Rasoi Vineet Bhatia, has spent time in the Mumbai kitchens. The result is a menu divided simply into pakoras, charcoal grills, vegetarian and "Trishna dishes" such as native lobster with black pepper and garlic, and coconut and turmeric-simmered mussels. With its south-western emphasis on seafood, coconut, tamarind and the sigri char-grill, it makes a nice change from the ubiquitous northern cooking.
The décor also avoids the Brit-Indian clichés, with a horseshoe of three narrow rooms, sparely but smartly decked out with wooden floors, white-washed brick walls, unclothed tables and the same elegant, dark, wooden Scandinavian chairs as seen at Copenhagen's mighty Noma.
Staff are well-trained and sweet as pie, with Austrian-born manager/sommelier Leo Kiem signalling the Sethis' commitment to a more modern Indian experience with an absorbing, eclectic wine list that runs to some fine Austrian reds and whites, and even a small selection from the ever-hopeful Indian wine industry. A soft, fruity 2007 Ponci Domaine du Vissoux Fleurie (£29.50) rides naturally with the market-curry spices.
The kitchen has worked hard at refining the flavours – so hard, the result is like a too-smooth motorway without the bumps and potholes that keep you awake and alive. While the fish curry and exemplary rice show the good side of such a strategy, a succession of mild-mannered and unmemorable dishes is the flip side.
Trishna Mumbai allegedly does a legendary king crab, alive with black pepper and dripping with butter, but the London version, using the much smaller Cornish crab (£17.50), is bland, with not enough spice to balance the butter. Mixed pakora are a little heavy, and a verdant mix of peas and beans, stir-fried with mustard seeds and white lentils (£6), is sweet and fresh, but lacks punch.
Hyderabadi dal (£6) is a lovely, if mild, mix of masoor and toor lentils, and grilled wild tiger prawns (£12.50) have scorch and sizzle but not much flavour. Sharing dishes in the traditional manner is encouraged, though portions are on the elegant side of sufficiency. The end comes with a flourish – a trio of little ice-cream cones holding pistachio, spice, and toffee kulfi (£6.50) presented in a lacquered Japanese temaki sushi stand.
Trishna is for those who like their Indian food with finesse, civility and good wines, rather than clatter, clout and character. Everything slides by almost subserviently, eager to please and careful not to cause offence. There are, no doubt, fine British folk who miss that form of colonial politeness, but I thought we'd left those days behind.
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
15-17 Blandford Street, London W1, tel: 020 7935 5624
Lunch and dinner daily. Around £115 for two, including wine and service
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