Sindhu is one of the ventures by the Michelin-starred chef of Benares in Mayfair outside of London. Atul Kochhar was the first Indian to be awarded a Michelin star and since that first accolade for Tamarind restaurant, he has claimed huge success. I’m certain Sindhu, in Marlow – fast becoming a destination for top-end restaurants – will be no less popular. It’s traditional Indian cuisine in a contemporary manner, set against the most English of backdrops looking over the beautiful Buckinghamshire weir.
I went to Benares a few years back and had probably my best eating experience to date. It was a revelation – the most exquisite, modern Indian food with an English twist. So I jumped at the chance to review Sindhu and was expecting good things at this fresh endeavour out of town. And it was certainly up to the mark. Everything was perfectly balanced. The interior was classy but comfortable, the service was slick but friendly. Indian cuisine has long been a favourite in England, and is one of mine for sure, the colourful dishes bursting with fragrant spices and rich flavours. But Kochhar takes us beyond Indian food as we know it. “Diaspora food” is something he’s mentioned before during his career. He has travelled to places Indians left for decades-centuries ago to see how traditional recipes and the flavours have developed. It’s something he’s brought to Sindhu. Beetroot, garden peas, rabbit and cod were among the local ingredients used and mixed with the recipes and spices of India; He’s created something very special here.
Enough of the background and onto the food. Or the cocktails, rather. The Sindhu Martini was suggested and never regretted – talk about a Martini with a twist. Made with Tanqueray, curry leaves, fresh ginger, lemongrass and fresh lime it was tangy and fresh, I could have sipped it all night, was I not here to try more of the food. I am glad to report back that even though it was fine dining, a favourite ritual of mine wasn’t forgotten and a pile of poppadoms and homemade chutneys and sauces were brought out. Following this was a taster from the chef, tomato chutney on top of steamed chickpea cake with a fantastically smooth texture. We were off to a great start. The 7-course tasting menu costs £69 per person, £124 with wine pairing (there’s also a vegetarian tasting option). We were too swayed by the side orders on the à la carte menu, and I’d also spotted a favourite from Benares, so opted for choosing our own. The signature dish I recognised from the Mayfair flagship restaurant was the Kargosh Tikka Pie. And I’d choose it over and over. It’s a sublime and humorous fusion of British and Indian tastes, rabbit cooked in spices inside pastry, and far more sophisticated than it sounds. It came with a wild berry chutney and radish salad for a real kick of flavours and a wonderful mix of textures. Also for starter was Kalyera Uthapam – spiced lobster on a rice pancake, Hebridean kelp and chana lentil podi with an apple sambhar. The texture of the lobster was spot on and the clove coming through the sambhar sauce worked it perfectly.
I am It was time for another cocktail. This time a cherry-chilli mix. It was a slow burner as the chilli took over my taste buds. How to match it? The incredible strength (and smell) of old fashioned cherry. Be warned, this cocktail packs quite the punch and maybe should be left for the end of the meal, though definitely a work of mouth-art. More lobster for main (I couldn’t resist) this time roasted tail with Goan Xec Xec sauce pushing through flavours of turmeric, chilli and warm spices. My date shared with me the Meen Moilee, semolina-covered cod on South Indian Upma, a thick porridge made out of dry roasted semolina, served with coconut moilee. The fish was cooked beautifully and the whole dish was soft and so delicately flavoured. I wish this was the first thing I’d tasted in our meal as I fear our choice for bold dishes meant the subtler tastes in this incredible plate were lost on us.
So it was the sides that caught our eye, leading us away from the tasting menu. Those we chose were quite earthy and packed less new flavours than I was expecting. Perhaps it’s just that beetroot and peas as so deeply rooted in my mind as old fashioned ‘British’ vegetables, but the sides – although each had a certain flair – didn’t compete with those main courses recommended by our expert waiter. Note to self: Take their good advice; There’s a lesson that didn’t need re-learning. It’s why I’m heading back for the tasting menu right away. Something I noted during each beautifully constructed, colourful dish was the wonderful combination of textures in the food. It all worked so well, soft and crunchy, moist and dry, and that’s just on top of the incredible play with flavour. On the Sunday when we visited, Sindhu was full of British Asian families enjoying the atmosphere and wonderful food. Never mind Kochhar’s Michelin star, this is surely the most reliable tribute to his superb culinary credentials. Later in the evening, the restaurant was quieter, but still full, mostly with couples who had travelled from near and far for the experience, and judging from the buzz and happy atmosphere, they weren’t disappointed.
Mango Bhapa Doi – yoghurt cheesecake – came for dessert and we were persuaded, again quite rightly, to add mango and pistachio kulfi (ice cream) to the order. A perfectly light, fruity way to finish the dinner. In all, it’s sophisticated cuisine in a comfortable dining room with hella good views of the Thames at Marlow. Sindhu is a restaurant to head to and I am so pleased I made the journey up-river to try something new. Stay at the Compleat Angler hotel where the restaurant is located and take in the other 2 Michelin restaurants in Marlow over a weekend. Is that a the best offer for an English weekend of feasting or what?
Sindhu by Atul Kochhar
The Compleat Angler
Marlow Bridge Lane