Potli – an Indian market kitchen: that’s how it’s described on the website. In fact that home page is a stylish introduction to the ethos of the whole restaurant. Vibrant and inclusive, fun and tempting. This isn’t a part of the swathe of “fine dining” Indian restaurants that seem to be the norm in new openings. Potli holds to the principles that made Indian food in the UK so popular in the first place.
I have no axe to grind regarding Indian fine dining. There is a place for every presentation of Subcontinental food, but a glinting French chandelier does not a tasty dinner make. There are many good high-end restaurants around that offer food in a polished environment and they are special spots, but Potli has gone for a more relaxed and rustic tone. This is a restaurant that you’ll likely want as your local.
Potli has an enviable location on King Street. It has a fleet of buses rolling past the door and is within walking distance of several Underground stations in both Hammersmith and Chiswick, so its catchment area is huge. The facade is light and contemporary and Potli is blessed with a wide pavement area which will be decked with tables and chairs in the warmer (we hope) months.
The bar at Potli is quite a draw: not only is it just about the first feature you see but it’s also a magnet for those who want to enjoy some distinct and striking cocktails, and perhaps a starter while waiting for friends. The restaurant has only been open a few months but its reputation has grown, not only for its food but also for its cocktails. It is banishing the myth that six pints of larger is the acceptable beverage option. Indian food and alcohol pairing has come of age at Potli. They offer a menu of both exotic and classic cocktails at £7 or less, which makes this a classy rendezvous for them-in-the-know. There is also plenty of choice for those who want a simple aperitif – Prosecco is less than £5 per glass.
The restaurant has neutral-coloured walls hung with Indian chachkies and artwork. The banquettes splash vivid green and the hessian cushion covers introduce that textile theme that is continued on menus and blinds. Dark wood tables are set with brass chutney carriers, and even the cutlery is rustic and wrought. There are lots of thoughtful design elements at Potli that contrive to give an agreeably casual backdrop to some high-end food.
We arrived at 7pm and the restaurant was quiet, but it seems that was the lull before the regular storm of diners, who turned up in couples, groups and shoals shortly thereafter; a mix of both Asians and Europeans and all seemed familiar with the menu. A good sign for even a long-established restaurant, and an accolade for a relatively new opening.
A Chilli-Ginger Martini – a spice-infused house special made with fresh chilli, crushed fresh ginger and vodka – was my libation and it was a cracker. That chilli really did pop and the ginger added a warming mellow glow. A must-try cocktail.
The Potli is, unsurprisingly, the signature cocktail here. Basil, cardamom, limoncello and Hendricks’s gin are mixed to give an aromatic drink that is unmistakably Indian-inspired, and was very much appreciated by my guest. The cardamom was evident, with basil giving a verdant accent. Truly unique and worthy of a second glass.
The food here takes its cue from celebrated markets and street stalls across India. They each have their specialities and many of those have found their way onto the Potli menu; so we grazed by course and by geographic location.
Chowpatty is the popular beach in Mumbai which is celebrated for its street food stalls. We ordered the Bhel Puri which is a Mumbai -style puffed rice dish made with roasted peanuts, finely chopped onions, tomatoes, cucumber and served with chutneys. We enjoyed this with our drinks while waiting for our starters. The combination of textures and tastes is moreish.
Chandni Chowk is an ancient corner in the heart of Delhi and is said to serve some of the best Indian marketplace food. Chicken 65 is a dish that is increasingly found on menus here in London. It’s a preparation of chicken strips, coated in batter which is flavoured with crushed black pepper and fried curry leaves. This is just the starter to order if you visit for only a drink and a snack. The dish got its curious name not from the number of spices used but because it was number 65 on a menu: Chicken 65 is alleged to have been a dish found in a military canteen. Their menu made no mention of meat, to avoid offending the largely vegetarian local population; when the soldiers wanted chicken they ordered item number 65 …or so the story goes.
Aminabad is the most famous market in Old Lucknow, known to have been around since the days of the Mughal Empire and noted for its kebabs and tandoori dishes. Bharwan Shimla Mirch is beautiful to look at and delicious – a whole red pepper is grilled in the tandoor to give delicate flecks of char. It’s stuffed with onions, mashed potatoes, sultanas and paneer: a mild and comforting dish.
Prawn Jhal Diye sounded intriguing. This hails from Chowrenghee Lane, the iconic street food neighbourhood in the centre of Kolkata (Calcutta). Indian Ocean king prawns in a spicy marinade are wrapped in banana leaves and charred. The chef has a deft hand when it comes to this delicate seafood. Prawns can so easily turn to rubber when over-exposed to heat but this was moist and well flavoured. A definite signature dish.
Our tour continued with Goan Prawn Balchao. This must be one of the most popular dishes from that region and is made of king prawns, spiced with Potli balchao masala, and cooked with cloves, chillies and black pepper along with vinegar – not a common ingredient in India but that’s the Portuguese influence. A delight with some Roti bread to mop up the sauce.
Shrikhand is a traditional dessert of sweetened hung yogurt flavoured with saffron, pistachio and cardamom. It made a light yet rich end to a delightful meal. We ordered tea alongside and Potli offers not only the ubiquitous Masala Chai (spiced tea with milk) but also Kali Chai which is black tea with black salt and peppercorns, and no milk. This was refreshing and not over-spiced.
Potli is a winner in every regard. The owners have a passion for good food. The chef, Jay, is Oberoi-trained as are many of the most visible Indian chefs in London – yes, those guys you have seen on TV. Potli is a casual restaurant but that term only applies to the ambiance that is cosy and embracing. The food is as good as you will find anywhere in London, even in restaurants with chandeliers …and then there are those cocktails.
Potli – An Indian market kitchen
319-321 King Street, Hammersmith, London, W6 9NH
Phone: 020 8741 4328 / 020 8741 5321
Visit Potli here
Ravenscourt Park or Stamford Brook: 3-4 minutes walk
Hammersmith: 8-10 minutes walk
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018