I first met Chef Gopalakrishnan when he was working at a Michelin-starred restaurant in London; a smart and charismatic young man who is known by his friends simply as Gopal. He was born in a small village called Sholingur in Tamil Nadu, 100km from Madras (now Chennai) into an orthodox Brahmin family who were vegetarian – and Gopal still is! His early childhood was spent in a town called Athur where his Dad had his own restaurant. “I think cooking runs in my blood – my Granddad had a wedding catering business, and my Dad used to run the restaurant. So we spent a lot of time in the kitchens after school. I was inspired by my Mum’s cooking – even now I think her cooking is the best! Whenever I go home I will ask her to cook something, anything, for me.”
Gopal wanted a career in catering and hotel management, and joined a 1-year course in Food Production at the Institute of Hotel Management and then moved to the Hotel Taj Connemara, and trained in the Chettinad speciality restaurant, the Raintree. “My experience at the Connemara helped me decide to become a chef, to enable me to focus more on the kitchen side.”
When the group opened a hotel in Chennai he was part of the pre-opening team, with the New Zealand chef Willie Wilson at the helm. “It was quite a learning experience – setting up the kitchen, installing all the equipment, finding suppliers for meat, fish, vegetables – which you might learn theoretically, but in practice it’s very different! I owe a great deal to Chef Willie, who really instilled a lot of interest and passion into what we did. He always impressed upon us that we must do our best the first time – consistency is the key to success. He would always get us to push our boundaries so we would never become complacent. I have had a very good culinary journey ever since.”
Sindhu by Atul Kochhar is the latest venture by the Michelin-starred chef of Benares. This is a cool and contemporary restaurant which fits its location in stylish fashion. It’s by the river. That’s not estate-agent speak for a restaurant that has distant views of water but only in winter when the leaves have fallen. No, the river is just outside the beautiful leaded windows. Low ceilings and a muted colour palette make this a cosy evening retreat, garnished with outstanding food.
This restaurant offers an array of menus: Tasting Menu – 5 Courses, Tasting Menu – 7 Courses, Vegetarian Tasting Menu and an A la Carte menu. There is something here for any occasion and for lunch or dinner. It’s a restaurant that offers a fine dining experience in a more accessible atmosphere. There are some familiar dishes alongside innovation, but all served with flair.
We were expecting good things from Gopal but he, in fact, presented excellent. Nandu Varuval – Crisp Soft Shell Crab with Squid Rings, was a contemporary and classy starter. But there is also more familiar fare here and I ordered Gilafi Seekh Kebab – Skewered Minced Lamb with Basil and Peppers and finished with a Mint Drizzle. These morsels were melting, flavourful and succulent. It’s this kind of dish that has helped make Indian cuisine one of the most popular in the UK. Traditional, without a doubt.
Kaalan Melagu Peratti – Wild Mushroom with Thellicherry Pepper in a Filo Wrap with Coconut Moilee Sauce was my guest’s choice. Tellicherry black peppercorns come from the Malabar Coast of India and are left on the vine longer so they can develop more complex flavour than regular black peppercorns. This was a fusion which was pronounced as outstanding by my guest. I tasted the sauce and I can confirm it is for which to die.
Murgh Makhan Palak – Tandoor Smoked Chicken in Creamy Tomato and Fenugreek Sauce is a departure from another familiar dish that has helped our love affair with Indian food. This was a comforting preparation that will gladden the heart of any lover of curry.
Mullanti Veppudu – Parsnip and Jerusalem Artichoke Tossed with Coconut and Spices is an unmissable side dish. I will be demanding the recipe which I will shamelessly use chez nous and likely pass off as my own. This is the first time I can recall having Jerusalem artichokes in anything other than a soup.
Head Chef Gopal Krishnan comes to Sindhu with impeccable credentials. The restaurant is evidently in safe hands. I don’t doubt Gopal brings with him diners who will be delighted to follow his continuing culinary journey. It’s been a long and eventful one, which offers the promise of future inspiration and innovation.
Sunday: noon till 3:15pm
Monday – Saturday: noon till 2:45pm
Monday – Saturday: 6:00pm till 10:30pm
Sunday: 6:00pm till 10:00pm
The Compleat Angler
Marlow SL7 1RG
Phone: 01628 405 405
Visit Sindhu here
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018