The New Zaika, Kensington – restaurant review

The New ZaikaThe name Zaika means ‘fine flavour’ in a South Indian dialect, and this restaurant has been known for that since its opening in 1997, although now the owners, chef and managers have all changed.

It’s a Grade II listed former bank building which would be described as having “many original features, with a striking dining room” if you saw it in an estate agent’s window. It was built when Kensington was being developed in the 1850s. It’s smartly located in Kensington, opposite that corner of Hyde Park known as Kensington Gardens. It’s an attractive building of brick and stone in the very Victorian late-gothic style. It was originally built for the London and County Bank to the design of celebrated architect Alfred Williams, who also worked on Harrods.

I knew that there had been a degree of refurbishing and I was expecting the dreaded ‘modernisation’. Those original features were beautiful and iconic of the era but, thankfully, here they remain. High ceilings and double-height windows, lots of carved stone and those glorious wooden panels. The major change from the Zaika of old is the bar which is long and impressive but perfectly in keeping with the subtle tone of the restaurant.

This new Zaika is part of the renowned Tamarind Group so diners can expect food and service that reflect the ethos of quality found in Tamarind restaurant in Mayfair, which was the first Indian restaurant to be awarded a Michelin Star. The food here is authentic, imaginative and served in traditional fashion. I know it’s down to personal taste but when I eat Indian food I prefer to have dishes presented separately so each person can serve themselves.

The New Zaika prawn

The food here is described as ‘creative and contemporary cuisine from the Awadhi traditions of Northern India’. Awadhi is heavily influenced by the Mughal and Nawabi kitchens, and that means the chance of rich dishes with silky sauces or slow-cooked preparations with aromatic spices. The opulence of the restaurant reminds one of the long-gone days of the Raj and feasts fit for Rajahs and Ranis.

This cold Wednesday evening found Zaika filled with diners, many of whom were evidently regulars. That’s quite an achievement for any restaurant in a neighbourhood of fine-dining options. Candles burned in the hearth, brass reflected warm light, woodwork made a mellow backdrop …and, less poetically, it was very cosy.

Yakhni Shorba was my guest’s choice of starter. This was a soup that I had not come across before. Lamb stock was the base but it didn’t have that unpleasant ‘lamby’ greasiness that encourages many cooks to avoid using it. This was a light broth with the very essence of lamb, as well as vegetables. This is a must-try.

Jhinga Shimla-Mirch – grilled tiger prawns marinated with pureed red-pepper and spices – was an absolute triumph. I am lucky enough to visit the best of restaurants and I have enjoyed stunning meals but I consider these prawns to be outstanding; they deserve to be cited as a signature dish. Succulent, well-spiced and substantial, these were grilled to a delicate perfection.

Gosht Dum Biryani was my guest’s main dish: Goat biryani served in its individual metal pot and sealed with a puff pastry crust. This is a classic dish and it’s marvellous when done well. It’s that enticing combination of flavourful rice and meat. The archetypal Indian one-pot meal and a manly portion too – and done very well at Zaika. A dish, the remains of which, one would like to have taken home!

The New Zaika BiryaniMurgh Handi Lazeez, Chicken tikka simmered in a sauce of browned garlic, tomato, cream and spices, was my choice of main dish. This is ‘comfort on a plate’ and offered everything that I expect from a ‘gravy’ dish.  The flavour was vibrant and the sauce was moreish. Some naan bread for dipping is the essential accompaniment.

Nimboo Tart, Lime tart served with white chocolate ice cream, is the ideal end to any Indian meal.  One might assume that citrus tarts are a French patisserie confection but remember how popular limes are in India and Indian cooking. The clean sharpness of this tart is refreshing, enabling the diner to enjoy just another bite – proving that there is always room for dessert.
Zaika has already garnered a creditable reputation. The restaurant is stunning and classy but the food is the element that will encourage many return visits. Regulars will enjoy the comfortable familiarity and first-timers will appreciate a glimpse of a gentler age. Everyone will find the food memorable and delicious.

Zaika of Kensington
1 Kensington High Street
W8 5NP
United Kingdom

Phone: +44 (0)20 7795 6533
Fax: +44 (0)20 7434 1479

Visit Zaika here

Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018