Atithi devo bhavah is part of a Sanskrit verse and means ‘The guest is God’ or ‘Guest become God’. It’s a thoughtful phrase and indicates that the team here have considered even the name of the restaurant carefully. I hoped it would be an indication of the general ethos …and it was.
We arrived on one of the first hot evenings of the much-anticipated summer. Probably not the best time to see the restaurant at its busiest, as folks preferred to walk by the Thames and sip alfresco cocktails. The restaurant did begin to fill just a little later, when people made hungry by promenading sought sustenance. Atithi already has regulars even though it’s a relatively new opening on Twickenham’s main thoroughfare.
The walls are clad with blond wood panels punctuated with illuminated niches displaying Indian folk crafts and musical instruments. The walls that at first seem to give a nod to Scandinavia during daylight, are seen at their best as dusk falls. They take on a richer and warmer yellow hue as the streets darken.
Michelin Bib Gourmand-awarded chef Krishnipal Negi was trained at one of the most celebrated hotel groups in India and has been associated with the renowned Swagat just up the road in Richmond, which has a similar menu. His confidence and flair shine through a bill of fare that is appropriate for the size of restaurant and that offers a few craved classics as well as innovation; and all at very reasonable prices.
There are many appealing dishes to try on the Atithi menu, most of which I reserved for a future visit. I am a local and I have the sense that this Indian restaurant will be my ‘local’. Note, dear reader, that I describe Atithi as a restaurant rather than a curry-house, which is the style of ‘Indian’ eatery more often found fringing our high streets. Yes, their food has its place, it’s comforting and familiar, but Atithi offers a more refined cuisine.
Garlic Mushrooms – fresh button mushrooms mixed with chopped garlic, chilli, and coriander and batter-fried – might well be my starter next time, although Prawn Naryali – king prawns marinated in coconut and grilled in the tandoor – would also be tempting. Ambhi Paneer Tikka – fresh Indian cottage cheese in a spiced yoghurt marinade and further seasoned with a delicate char in the tandoor – was more flavoursome than similar dishes I have tried recently. These squares of soft cheese were served with a garnish of mango sauce and mint chutney. Paneer is so often rubbery, dense and unappetising but chef Negi has chosen a well-textured product as his culinary canvas. This cheese doesn’t have much taste itself but is prized in the Indian kitchen as a carrier of other flavours. A substantial and delicious starter for any vegetarian.
Murg Malai Tikka – chicken marinated in a mild cheddar cheese, lightly spiced and grilled in the tandoor – was my guest’s choice. Cheddar might seem a strange ingredient to find listed but it is used very often and to great advantage in many Indian dishes as part of a marinade or in kebabs. The chicken was moist and flavourful and flecked with colour from the intense heat of the tandoor. It’s a difficult cooking method to master and one often finds one’s tikka overcooked. The chef here has an evident deft hand with the tandoor skewer.
Prawn Molee – prawn cooked in coconut sauce – is a dish typical of South India, which has access to fresh seafood as well as the ubiquitous coconut. Curry leaves are also used to give an unmistakable aromatic note, along with tempered mustard seeds. One of my favourite dishes.
Gilafi Handi is an Atithi speciality – spring lamb, diced and marinated in garlic, chilli and mint then cooked with onion, tomato and spices – was rich and comforting. If I used those much-loved comments of “melts in the mouth” or “you could cut it with a spoon” you might think I was exaggerating, but they are both apt descriptions of the texture of the lamb, which had obviously been cooked long and slow. It arrived with a pastry lid, looking more like a pie than a curry. This must have been applied for the final heating of the dish and to retain the flavoured steam. The cutting of the crust added a little element of theatre and heightened the anticipation. A must-try for any carnivore.
Sabzee Panj Rattanee – Stir-fried seasonal vegetables tempered with mustard seeds and garnished with fresh coconut and coriander – was our vibrant and fresh side order. This is the type of dish that one sees illustrated in stylish cookbooks but seldom finds in such glorious technicolour on one’s restaurant plate. I noted the baby sweetcorn in this preparation was cut in lengths – a little culinary detail that indicates the care taken to present food that’s flavourful and sophisticated.
Chef Krishnipal Negi and his team offer a delicious and broad-based menu that is fast becoming popular with both locals and those visiting. It’s a refuge of calm good taste in a sea of mediocrity.
Lunch: 12 noon – 2:30pm
Dinner: 6pm – 11pm.
27 York Street, Twickenham TW1 3JZ
Phone: 020 8744 3868
Visit Atithi here
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018