[This venue is now closed]
There are indeed many Indian restaurants named after buildings, but unlike curry houses claiming to be the Taj Mahal, Dockmaster’s House truly is the house of a dockmaster …or at least it once was.
London’s Dockland has had a history of vibrant activity and that continues today, although the action now revolves around leisure rather than heavy labour. For centuries these docks bustled with stevedores unloading cargo from around the world and some of that would likely have been exotic spices, so there is a degree of delicious continuity.
The striking brick building that is now home to the Dockmaster’s House restaurant is a listed three-storey model of Georgian architecture. Built 200 years ago it has gone through several incarnations including that of a pub called the Jamaica Tavern, and in 1926 the building became the offices for the Dock Superintendent and his staff; it remained a dock office until 1980.
A remarkable building deserves a chef of equal stature and it has just that in the guise of chef Navin Bhatia. No, you don’t see him gracing your TV screens and his name might not be familiar to most regular restaurant-goers. He is, however, one of the most respected chefs in contemporary Indian restaurant circles. He has the highest of culinary pedigrees.
Navin attended the Institute of Hotel Management in Mumbai and from there he moved to the prestigious Oberoi School of Hotel Management. (It has changed its name since then, and is now known as The Oberoi Centre of Learning and Development.) That temple of gastronomic excellence has turned out some of the world’s finest chefs.
Navin came to London in 1998 and he got the opportunity in 2006 to come to Dockmaster’s and redevelop the place from its previous existence as a ‘curry house’. Over these past years it has gained a reputation for quality restaurant dining as well as providing excellent catering for events, including weddings. The building lends itself to smart soirees, with much of that Georgian grandeur remaining, but now trimmed with contemporary comfort.
Dockmaster’s House is a superb spot for summer dining and even barbecues, as there is a quiet garden that invites warm-weather lingering. That verdant space still enhances the restaurant ambiance with the onset of cooler weather: it’s delightfully lit by night, creating a romantic and calming vista.
Navin Bhatia takes his inspiration from across India and he is imaginative. We attended an event for Zomato, the new restaurant guide. This gave our chef an opportunity to shine still further and ring some changes to an already mouth-watering bill of fare. I particularly enjoyed Prawn Balchao, a traditional spicy prawn curry from Goa. It’s a unique dish often described as a pickle with sweet and sour flavours. On this evening it was presented on a steamed bun that offered a foil to the heat of the prawns. Very different from the expected rice but this bread worked admirably.
Sea Bass with Malabari Coconut Sauce was acclaimed by the whole table as a triumph. Navin has a deft hand with the spice tray – this dish was well-balanced and delicious. The sauce was the kind that one would eat even without the garnish of succulent fish, and indeed eat by the bucketful. This should be a signature dish and you won’t want to miss this on your visit to Dockmaster’s House.
Lamb rump was our main course and each slice was cooked to a delicate pink and with a rich sauce that enhanced the flavour. A pastry-topped biryani was the side dish, although that golden-crested bowl of rice would have been a very acceptable stand-alone meal. With every course, each jockeying for position to be the favourite for the evening, came an introduction or an anecdote from Chef Navin.
Dockmaster’s House has architectural charm by the boatload, the food is memorable and noteworthy, but perhaps the biggest asset of this fine restaurant is its chef. Navin Bhatia has an easy way with his guests; he is a natural speaker and a fine ambassador for his restaurant and for Indian food, for which he shows so much enthusiasm.
For lunch or dinner, the Courtesy Car Service to and from Dockmaster’s House will pick up diners from anywhere in Canary Wharf and surrounding areas and take them straight to the restaurant free of charge. To book the car, phone: 020 7345 0345.
1 Hertsmere Road
London E14 8JJ
[This venue is now closed]
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018