(This restaurant is now closed).
Chor Bizarre – Mayfair’s most striking Indian dining spot – is a legend, at least with those who have crossed the threshold even once. It is a little corner of real India. My guest, an Indian lady with impeccable taste in both food and decor, remarked that it was truly a replica of a corner of Chor Bazaar in her home town of Mumbai, where one could unearth dusty and hidden treasures. Well, Chor Bizarre is mercifully dust-free and the treasures are shown off to great advantage for the pleasure of diners. It should be noted (to the great joy of many) that those artefacts and objets d’art could be going home with you at the end of the meal – make your waiter an offer he can’t refuse.
This restaurant is a vision of dark wood, red velvet, mirror, old prints, carved screens and tables – yes, I know, dear reader, they are handy in a restaurant. The tables at Chor Bizarre are somewhat different from the norm and they are also different one from another. Carved stone legs support a white marble top here, an ornate grilled window has been transformed into a table for two over there, and the Indian four-poster bed seats a larger group. The concept of mis-match…. Hang on! What was that about a bed? Yes, a glorious big bed provides space under a canopy. The bed theme is found elsewhere with intricate metal and wood bed-heads providing backrests to banquettes. The chairs are an eclectic mix of upholstered classics and masterfully turned ethnics, as well as a red two-seat sofa.
It’s a restaurant with only 80 covers but its floor plan provides for a few cosy nooks and corners. There is a Kashmir-inspired booth which would encourage any visitor to linger rather than head for the Tube. That aforementioned Underground station is Green Park just a few yards from Albemarle Street. It’s Mayfair in all its up-swept glory, although Chor Bizarre offers charming substance rather than glitz.
Chef Manpreet Singh Ahuja is a charismatic figure whose enthusiasm for his restaurant and its food is infectious. He trained in Mumbai at the same catering college that has produced so many of London’s greatest Indian chefs and food writers. He draws his inspiration for his truly unique menu from his native Delhi as well as Kashmir and other regions. Chor Bizarre is the only restaurant outside the Kashmir Valley that has access to the secrets of the ‘Wazwan’ – the legendary ceremonial feast of 36 courses. One does, however, have the impression that Chef Ahuja could present his guests with dry toast and it would contrive to be the most vibrant scrap of bread you would ever encounter.
Chor Bizarre’s menu offers some authentic street-fare, like the samosas, chaat and pakoras that have been a draw in Delhi’s street markets for 700 years or so. Anything that has endured for that long was bound to be worth trying while we perused our other courses. Aloo Tikki Chaat encapsulates all that is enticing about street food. It’s soft, and tangy with tamarind and mint. Purani Dilli ki Papri Chaat is another casual dining delight, but the memorable snack was the outstanding Prawn Tak-a Tak. The dish is named for the sound of the slice on the griddle as it chops the meats. This form of cooking hails from the Punjab, the spices were South Indian, and the flavourful Missi Roti bread is from the North. A famous recently-departed TV chef would have described this dish as ‘India on a plate.’
We started our exploration of this tempting menu with a selection of Tandoori-baked goods. The Sampler offered us Sufiyani Salmon – flavoured with cumin and dill, Adraki Chaampen – lamb chops marinated in fresh ginger and spices, and Gazab ka Tikka – a restaurant special of marinaded chicken cooked with cream, mild and aromatic. An introduction to the quality of the food here: even the more common dishes exemplify the best of their genre.
The vegetarian main course introduced me to Kurkuri Bhindi. This should be a signature dish. It was a crunchy and gloriously tongue-tingling bowl of crisp fried okra seasoned with mango and chilli powder. This made a spicy foil for the creamy Dal Makhni – always a favourite with its comforting texture. These black lentils are simmered overnight in the cooling tandoor.
One of the features of Delhi cooking is its reliance on meat, but Chef Manpreet Singh Ahuja has chosen to include poultry and lamb dishes from other regions as well. Chor Bizarre has Keralan Chicken Stew and Chicken Chettinad amongst others, and we enjoyed our Kashmiri Rogan Josh. This lamb shank was meltingly tender with a rich sauce aromatic with cardamom and cloves. Just some steamed basmati rice was all that was needed to complete the meal. Charles Metcalfe has paired wines with the menu, so you are sure to find something that lays the myth that ‘you can’t drink wine with Indian food.’
Chor Bizarre has hosted and catered for many high-end events such as an Indian Evening at the Cannes International Film Festival; an exclusive café at the Georgian Restaurant at Harrods; a Tea Promotion at the Ritz, Paris. Chor Bizarre is home to London’s first truly authentic Indian Tea Bar ‘Chai Bazaar’ (nifty name), which gives its visitors afternoons of tranquillity as well as 30 or so teas from the subcontinent, along with a High Tea platter. More on that in the summer.
I am lucky enough to be able to visit fine restaurants all over the capital. They vary in style and cuisine but the best ones manage to transport the diner to a place away from their regular lives. An ambiance of opulence, a hint of Zen tranquillity or a glimpse of centuries past can provide much-needed distraction. Chor Bizarre is a unique portal, a gem in an already illustrious crown. There is much to discover, and it demands several visits. The literal translation of Chor Bazaar is ‘Thieves Market’. You might have your heart stolen away here, but you will in turn be stealing several hours of exotic bliss and unbeatable food.
16 Albemarle Street, London W1S 4HW
Telephone no: 0207-6299802, 0207-6298542
Facsimile no: 0207-4937756
Mon – Sat
Lunch: 12:00 noon – 03:00 pm
Dinner: 06:00 pm – 11.30 pm
06:00 pm – 10:30 pm
Private Parties: Private room for 25 people for full day conference & cocktails/dinner. Private catering.
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018