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Rasoi Vineet Bhatia, London SW3

Caroline Stacey
Saturday 24 July 2004 00:00 BST

The way I usually please the typical British male, without any help from Agent Provocateur, is by buying him a curry. This time I was offering the ultimate thrill: to see what comes after Zaika.

The way I usually please the typical British male, without any help from Agent Provocateur, is by buying him a curry. This time I was offering the ultimate thrill: to see what comes after Zaika.

Vineet Bhatia, one of a handful of namecheckable Indian chefs, blazed a trail across west London to Kensington. There, having become the joint-first Indian restaurant to earn a Michelin star, Zaika seemed to lose its sparkle as it gained a trophy-meal-hunting clientele.

Swanky Indian restaurants aren't rare any more. Chef patrons in central London are, and that's what Bhatia has just become. He has parted with Zaika's owners and risked the family home to open his own place. Rasoi means kitchen in Hindi, and this one is his. His wife designed the restaurant and you ring the bell to enter the Chelsea townhouse where you are greeted by the first wave of sparkly-shirted staff.

Inside, the gorgeous chocolatey-dark rooms, decorated with flashes of bazaar colour, are intimate. So much so, unfortunately, that our inconsiderately noisy neighbours are as audible as a telly accompanying a take away. Tables are laid with triangular plates stamped with Rasoi Vineet Bhatia. Yes, we are talking signature dishes. Not just the tandoor spiced smoked salmon, lobster biryani and his famous chocolate samosa; the crockery is startling. Cobra comes in a tilted glass - perhaps as a steer to the list of spice-friendly wines.

Pickles with wonderful mini poppadoms - hurray, one curry house convention survives - are bowl-lickingly good. Then, composite starters are perfect for the indecisive, the greedy, and those who want to try as many of Bhatia's kitchen tricks as possible. That's us.

As well as being the first Indian chef to create food for British Airways passengers (first class, of course), Bhatia broke new ground with a tasting menu. The Rasoi Gourmand of nine courses, from grilled spice-crusted scallop with chilli mash to crispy marbled chocolate, chenna and roasted almond samosa with Indian tea ice cream, is hard to resist, but at £65 and 9.30pm it's too much, too late. We're given a complementary shot glass of yoghurt and "the Mexican fruit, avocado". Which, plus starter, main and the free pre-pud of shrikhand (spicy, saffron and cardamom yoghurt with mango combo) before the dessert platter and the spiced chocolate petits fours, anyway amounts to seven courses and, at £60 a head, almost as much moolah as the set menu.

The seafood platter (£15) comes arranged like an Olympic victor's podium, with a crispy prawn in highest position on a china box, inside which was an ambrosial seafood risotto. Even more winning than tandoori salmon was the miniature masala crab cake with coconutty crab chutney. This dazzlingly presented line up set expectations high. And met them. A £9 medley of mini samosas was the other sensational starter.

Main courses, for around £20, arrived with everything on the same plate, Western-style. Luxurious European cooking tends to mean wanton quantities of expensive protein. Rasoi offers lobster and prawns, but also a lamb shank rogan josh and chicken biryani; then it makes them extraordinary with layers of spice that spark off in new directions, and add depth and mystery to even the humble lentils which made a sauce for smoky barbecued lamb on masala mashed potato. The small naan breads are outstanding. Grilled duck, marinated in spices of course, came with a clever spiral of fried red onion, pebble-dashed with onion seeds like a witty take on a bhaji.

We ended with more disconcerting crockery as mint tea was poured into an elegantly off-centre cup and saucer. Rasoi is an exceptional chef's very personal venture, offering all the wonderful luxury and a few of the excesses needed to be taken seriously by the star-gazers. Most importantly, for peace at home: "This is the best Indian food I've ever eaten." E

Rasoi Vineet Bhatia, 10 Lincoln Street, London SW3 (020-7225 1881)


By Caroline Stacey

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